In a dominant 36-point effort, Kawhi Leonard has brought the Toronto Raptors to within one game of their first championship with a 105-92 win over the Golden State Warriors, and at Oracle Arena, no less. Leonard and the Raptors were stellar on both ends of the floor, and the punishment of playing 100 playoff games in the last five years have finally caught up the Warriors; Kevon Looney forced himself to play through a fractured collarbone, Klay Thompson was visibly hindered by his hamstring injury at times in Game 4, and they’re still without Kevin Durant after the superstar strained his calf during the Western Conference Semifinals.
But none of that changes the fact that Leonard, after another monster performance, was made for this exact scenario. He’s a perfect player for the playoffs in this era, and for all the jokes we make about his robot-like personality, he truly could have been made in a factory by a mad basketball genius. He shoots 40% from three, 90% from the line, uses his monstrous hands and gigantic wingspan to constantly disrupt the opposing offense, and his release point on all of his shots makes it nigh unblockable.
The midrange shot has been denounced as the worst shot possible in today’s league, but Leonard’s comfort and consistency from that range has been invaluable. He can get to his spot and hit his shot when the Raptors need a bucket to steady things out, and he did so on numerous occasions during Game 4.
The last time Leonard was in the NBA Finals, he put an end to the dynasty that was the Miami Heat. His sole duty was to make the life of LeBron James as difficult as possible, and he did that better than perhaps anyone in history. He may do it again five years later. For all the talk of unicorns in today’s NBA, there isn’t anyone quite like Leonard. There are guys who can defend as well as Leonard (although not many) and there are guys who are better scorers than Leonard, and some can do both. But no one can defend and score at the same level that Leonard can right now.
The Raptors are a team on a mission, and Leonard is leading the charge without a smile nor a scowl. His cool demeanor, impact on every area of the floor, and sheer determination make it clear: he was made for this moment, and only needs one last superstar performance to prove it to the world.