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Kawhi Leonard
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Basketball Daily Dose

Kawhi Carries Toronto to the Finals

by Tommy Beer
Updated On: May 26, 2019, 4:06 pm ET

Toronto Raptors 100, Milwaukee Bucks 94:
The Raptors franchise came into existence in 1995, and they had never advanced to the NBA Finals. However, the team had never had a player as dominant as like Kawhi Leonard before.

It looked like we were headed to a Game 7 in the ECF, as Milwaukee jumped out to a 15-point lead in the third quarter on Saturday night. However, just as they had done on Thursday night when they erased a 14-point deficit, the Raps came storming back, courtesy of a 26-3 run. They grabbed the lead in the fourth quarter and never relinquished it. With Leonard leading the way, Toronto knocked off the Bucks in Game 6 and is headed to the championship round to take on Golden State. Kawhi, who had been incredible all series long, closed out Milwaukee with another phenomenal performance. He scored 27 points (9-of-22 FGs, 8-of-11 FTs), ripped down a career-high 17 rebounds, dished out seven assists, and tacked on two steals and two blocks for good measure. Per Basketball-Reference, Kawhi joins LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as just the third player in NBA history with at least 27 points, 17 boards and seven dimes in a Conference Finals game.

Leonard finished the Eastern Conference Finals averaging 29.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.8 treys in 41.2 minutes per game. Over the entirety of the postseason, he’s tallying 31.2 points and 8.8 boards a night, while shooting 50.7 percent from the floor. He has a chance to become the fifth player in league history to average more than 31 points (on better than 50 percent shooting) and eight rebounds over a complete postseason run. The current members of this elite club are Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Kyle Lowry also played a key role in the Raps moving past Milwaukee. Lowry had 17 points (on 6-of-10 shooting) five rebounds, eight assists, one steal and three 3-pointers in 41 minutes on Saturday. He was terrific in the final three games of the series, averaging 19.7 points (on 50 percent shooting), 5.7 boards and 6.7 dimes. Pascal Siakam finished with 18 points (on 7-of-17 shooting), four rebounds, a block and a steal. Marc Gasol got in early foul trouble and had just six points and three boards in 26 minutes but knocked down two huge 3-pointers late in the game. Serge Ibaka supplied nine points, three rebounds and plenty of energy off the bench. 

Fred VanVleet also played a crucial role as a reserve for the Raps. He scored 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 4-of-5 from downtown. It’s been an incredible turnaround for FVV. Starting with Game 1 in the Sixers series through Game 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Milwaukee (a total of 10 games), he scored a combined 24 points on 44 FG attempts (shooting 16 percent). Then, after his girlfriend gave birth to their baby boy, FVV averaged 16.0 points on 68 percent shooting over the final three games of the series.

On the flip side of the coin, Danny Green was unable to snap out of his nasty slump. He failed to score a single point for the second straight games, missing all seven of his FG attempts over the finals two games of the series. The Raps will need him to knock down corner treys if they hope to beat the Warriors. The NBA Finals tips off on Thursday night when the Raptors host the Warriors. It’s worth noting that Toronto swept Golden State in the regular season.

The Bucks season obviously ended disappointingly. After leading the ECF 2-0, few folks expected Milwaukee to lose four straight games for the first time all year. Over their first 11 games of the postseason, the Bucks went 10-1 and Giannis averaged 27.4 points while shooting over 51% from the floor.

However, the Raptors were able to keep Antetokounmpo in check over tt close out the series. On Saturday, Giannis scored 21 points (7-of-18 FGs, 5-of-10 FTs) with 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals, three blocks and two 3-pointers in 41 minutes. He shot below 55 percent from the floor and 60 percent or worse from the free-throw line in each of the last four games of the ECF. It was the longest such streak by Giannis since his rookie season in 2014. However, it’s important to remember he’s just 24 years old. Expect him to work on his jumper and FT shooting over the summer and bounce back with a vengeance in 2019-20. 

Khris Middleton hit a few 3-pointers early, but was quiet for most of the second half, tallying with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting, four rebounds and four 3-pointers in 41 minutes. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Brook Lopez did all he could for the Bucks, especially in the fourth quarter. He finished with 18 points (5-of-12 FGs, 8-of-9 FGs) nine rebounds, one assist and three blocks in 34 minutes. Eric Bledsoe showed some signs of life in the second half, ending up with eight points, five board and seven dimes. Malcolm Brogdon had ten points, three rebounds and two assists. He’s a restricted free agent this summer. Ersan Ilyasova chipped in 13 points and six boards in 22 minutes off the bench. Nikola Mirotic was smacked with a DNP-CD.