Kawhi Leonard is saving the Raptors' season by doing something Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant never accomplished

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  • Kawhi Leonard helped the Toronto Raptors tie their playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers at 2-2 with a monstrous, 39-point, 14-rebound performance.
  • Leonard is now averaging 38 points per game on 60% shooting in the series, something Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James never did.
  • In a high-stakes playoff series for both teams, Leonard is proving the gamble the Raptors took in trading for him was worthwhile.
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The Toronto Raptors evened their second-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers at 2-2 on Sunday, thanks to a heroic performance from Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard scored 39 points on 13-of-20 shooting to go with 14 rebounds and 5 assists (and 7 turnovers), carrying a Raptors offence that once again struggled to do much when he wasn’t involved.

Unlike the Raptors’ ugly Game 2 and Game 3 losses to the Sixers, Leonard did receive a bit more help from players like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. But even in Game 4, a virtual must-win for the Raptors to avoid going down 3-1, no other player scored more than 20 points.

In the playoffs, Leonard is now averaging 32 points on 57% shooting, 50% from 3, with 7 rebounds and 3 assists per game. Zoom in just on the second round series and his 38 points per game on 60% shooting puts him into a category unto himself.

Leonard’s final points were his most crucial.

With the Raptors leading by one with just over a minute to play, Leonard isolated on the perimeter on a switch with Joel Embiid. With the shot clock winding down, Ben Simmons then left Gasol to double Leonard, when Leonard rose up over Embiid and Simmons and hit a fading, 26-foot three-pointer as time expired to give the Raptors a four-point lead.

The difference in the Raptors offence with and without Leonard is stark. During the playoffs, with Leonard on the floor, the Raptors have an offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 116.2, a mark that would have ranked best in the NBA during the regular season.

With Leonard off the court, their offensive rating is 73.2 –31 points worse than the league-worst New York Knicks.

Though Leonard’s game is more isolation-heavy than some other players, it still has primarily been the Kawhi Leonard Show on offence. In the second round, a whopping 76.4% of his field goals have been unassisted.

Others in the NBA world have made comparisons to past NBA greats.

“The stuff that he can do to create his own shot is Kobe-like,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.

Raptors guard Norman Powell several times compared Leonard to Bryant, according to The Athletic’s Eric Koreen.

Raptors guard Kyle Lowry told ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz that he’s only played with one other player who was unstoppable like Leonard.

“Kawhi is dominant, just dominant,” Lowry said. “I’ve only played with one other guy like that, Yao Ming, where when he got it rolling, you can’t stop him. Kawhi has been doing this for a month.”

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said Leonard is like Michael Jordan, in that he has a chance to ruin the 76ers playoff goals single-handedly.

“The closest thing to Jordan that the Philadelphia 76ers have seen,” Smith said of Leonard’s “level of dominance.”

He added: “Jordan has ruined a lot of careers. Guys that had championship potential in their vision, in their eyesight, and suddenly they ran into Jordan and ultimately it was squashed. Philadelphia has been fantasizing about a championship this year. Kawhi Leonard is single-handedly standing in their way.”

The stakes are huge for both teams. The 76ers made two big trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, impending free agents who can command max contracts this summer. The result of the playoffs could determine how their summer goes.

The Raptors made a bold trade for Leonard last summer, knowing it could be a one-year rental. Nobody in the NBA world seems to have a real grasp on what could keep him in Toronto vs. moving closer to home to one of the Los Angeles teams in free agency this summer.


Read more:
The NBA playoffs have the highest stakes in years, and it could lead to a massive summer

But Leonard is proving that the trade was a worthwhile gamble for Toronto, if only because they have never had a player who could carry a team like this. With the series now becoming a best-of-three and the Raptors re-gaining home-court advantage, they need two more heroic Leonard performances to advance and perhaps increase their chances of keeping him.

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