Bumps, Bruises, Giannis: Kawhi Surviving It All to Get Raptors Back in Series

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2019

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 19: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors looks on during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on May 19, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

With just over three minutes left in the second overtime of Sunday's Game 3 between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors, Kawhi Leonard picked up a loose ball, went coast to coast and took off for a lefty slam from well outside the restricted area. Toronto's Scotiabank Arena erupted, the Raptors went up 108-105 and Kawhi grimaced on his way back to the bench:

Leonard's final stat line in the 118-112 victory? Over a whopping 52 minutes, he scored 36 points, hit 12 of his 13 free throws, grabbed nine boards, handed out five assists, swiped two steals and blocked a shot. He was plus-10 in a game the Raptors won by six.

All that after he suffered an apparent leg injury early in the first quarter, hence the grimace in double-overtime. All that after 37.7 minutes and 31.7 points per game in 14 previous postseason outings. All that amid constant speculation about his impending free agency.

With his team on the verge of a three-game deficit, Kawhi blocked everything out and just hooped. In the fourth quarter and two overtimes alone, Leonard had 19 points, three boards and two steals on 6-of-12 shooting.

"When it's winning time, Kawhi shows up," The Athletic's Dave DuFour tweeted. "That dude is a killer."

And he does it on both ends. Shortly after the slam described above, Kawhi jumped a passing lane, stole the rock from Khris Middleton and threw it down again:

"First of all, his defense was probably the biggest key of the game," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters. "Not only did he just play good, but he made some huge plays with some steals and ripaways and breakaways that were, you know, offense was hard to come by there for both teams for a while, and anytime you can get a steal and a breakout, it's like, a huge momentum play."

On top of the huge individual plays, Leonard was a critical part of stopping—or at least slowing down—Giannis Antetokounmpo. He was matched up with him directly on several possessions, and his Raptors teammates were consistently ready to form the kinds of walls that would make Stan Van Gundy proud every time Giannis ventured inside the three-point line.

Together, they made every attempt difficult. Several even hurt the MVP finalist.

With 7:14 left in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Marc Gasol fouled Antetokounmpo under the rim. Before he attempted his free throws, Giannis stood for a few seconds near halfcourt, hunched over with his hands on his knees.

The Raptors took something out of one of the game's greatest players, holding him to 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting. A player who often seems invincible looked tired. And Toronto, despite needing two overtimes, took some momentum back in the process.

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 19: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives to the basket against the Toronto Raptors during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on May 19, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ont
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

With a chance to tie the series looming Tuesday, Leonard finally got a little help. If Gasol and Pascal Siakam can repeat what they gave on Sunday, and Kyle Lowry—who was plus-15 before he fouled out—can recapture the magic he had in Game 1, Toronto has a good chance to tie this series up at two games apiece before it heads back to Milwaukee. 

After going a combined 3-of-20 in the first two games, Gasol told the NBA on TNT crew he'd felt sick over his performance for the last 48 hours. His 16 points, 12 boards, seven assists and five blocks on 5-of-10 shooting should be good medicine.

Siakam bounced back, as well. He went 10-of-29 in Milwaukee, but he had 25 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and a block while shooting 9-of-18 from the field Sunday night. 

What has to be scary for the Raptors, though, is that it took all of this to squeak out a double-overtime victory at home. If Gasol or Siakam isn't quite this good, or if Giannis breaks through on a couple more drives, the Bucks have a commanding 3-0 lead.

Toronto will have to be at least this effective for three of the next five games to advance to the NBA Finals.

The Raptors, however, have been able to count on Kawhi this entire postseason. Injuries, fatigue, rumors? It doesn't matter what's surrounding him. He's been a machine since this playoff run began.

After Sunday's game, Leonard's postseason averages stand at 32.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.2 threes and 1.3 steals. Whether he's hampered or not, the Raptors are going to need every bit of that production to upset the Bucks.

"I think he's OK," Nurse said when asked about his star player's health. "That was a lot of minutes, but I think he's OK."

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