A Legendary Post Season Run
The NBA Playoffs are a holy grail that stems from an 82-game season full of drama, excellence and movement. They are the culmination of a long season in which we all dream about the “what ifs” and “maybe’s” of what could be, at the beginning of the season. As nature takes its course, we see the best teams with the most talented players succeed while those with inexperienced ineffective rosters endure failure. The NBA playoffs, however, are about anything but failures/losers. It is the best 16 teams divided across 2 conferences competing against one another until the best from the West take on the beasts of the East in a 7 game series to decide the best team in basketball. Poetic right? Wrong. The NBA playoffs are a great spectacle, however many have longed for changes, citing the advancement and progression of the game. Some believe the playoff format and/or certain specifics should be changed. Many believe as the game evolves the rules and format should as well, however, the one thing that's always been around is players. Not just any regular players, I mean great players who made their careers in the playoffs. Legends like Duncan, Jordan, Russell, Wilt, Shaq, LeBron, Kobe and most recently our very own, Kawhi Leonard.
The moniker “playoff Kawhi” is no longer a culturally formulated tag to represent Leonard’s focus in the playoffs. That nickname has become fact. Kawhi has continually stepped up in the playoffs. He has historically improved come post-season time virtually every year. But what he's doing in these playoffs is something we've never really seen before. We are all aware of his resume: one of the youngest NBA Finals MVP winners ever, doing so without being an all-star yet, two-time defensive player of the year and consensus top-five player in the league in 2017. However, in his first playoff run with the Raptors, Kawhi has reached monstrous heights. He has managed to be everything everyone expected and so much more. There are “carry-jobs”, then there is what Kawhi Leonard is doing for the Raptors. He has been a man on a mission averaging 31 points, 8 rebounds and 3.5 assists through the first two rounds. On top of his statistical contributions, Leonard is the defensive leader of the team, picking up the opposing teams greatest offensive threat every possession. In this Sixers series alone he has a ridiculous average of 34.6 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 59% from the field, and 40% from 3-point range. The only players in history to statistically have a better conference semi-final than Kawhi is LeBron and Michael. He has a true shooting of .704 in the playoffs while averaging nearly 40. Now for people who don’t understand that sentiment, it means he’s doing a really good job. Kawhi is in many opinions the best player so far in the NBA Playoffs. After the continued bashing of his “load management”, the Klaw has proven his methods correct in these playoffs, taking his game to new heights.
He has managed to be the main reason the Raptors were considered legitimate “title contenders” going into these playoffs. However, his play has proven that 10-fold. Kawhi has led this team so well no both ends of the court, it's literally making up for everybody else being less than subpar. I’m not sure if Raptors fans truly grasp this or not, but the team is not in its best place right now. The bench has still yet to produce a monster game. Although Ibaka and Green have had their share of productivity, they haven't had any overwhelmingly good performances. Fred VanVleet has maintained his poor form and has been demoted to a much lesser team role. Maybe it was not as prevalent in the first round series against Orlando, however, this Philly series has proven Kawhi is without a doubt, the foundation and everything in between for this team. He has single-handedly carried the majority of the load for the Raptors thus far. Without Leonard’s efforts, there could be a legitimate argument that they would have been swept in not only this Philly series. It has been the commitment to winning from Kawhi that has ignited a new attitude in a historically losing culture.
After a special performance in game 5 from the Raptors not named Kawhi, it's important to understand that even though we need him to maintain spectacular form, the likes of Green, Powell, Gasol, Ibaka, VanVleet need to step up yet again. I continue to stress that without the bench and supporting cast being productive in their roles, our glory will be short-lived. As much as he’s proven to be our superhero, the Klaw is only human (probably). We can’t expect to ride him out until his wheels fall off. We have a real opportunity to win a championship this season, however, Kawhi will need everyone else to have his back.