((‘”””\*LIVE~HD*/”””>>4K~NOW!!!Toronto Raptors vs Milwaukee Bucks (NBA) Live Stream
The shot changed everything, right? It changed everything. Kawhi Leonard hit The Shot and the Toronto Raptors won Game 7 and it felt to Raptors fans like the world was reborn anew. It was emotional.
But as the Raptors open the Eastern Conference final against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night, the same fundamental questions have to be answered. Technically, Toronto is halfway to a title: eight wins down, eight to go. But the Raptors are only about halfway to determining their proper identity, too. See: Kawhi.
“We really lean on him a lot,” said Raptors centre Marc Gasol, whose offensive reticence was an issue in the 76ers series. “Sometimes maybe a little too much, obviously.”
Toronto is clearly an elite defensive team. In Game 7 they often suffocated the 76ers, and there were no obvious weak points. They switched, doubled, recovered, helped, and became at their best a multi-limbed amoeba that devoured whole possessions. For most of the game, and especially down the stretch, it was magnificent to watch.
“We just were doing it all,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse after Game 7. “We were pressuring the ball, we were corralling the right guys for a split second with two, we were either rotating or hustling back to our own, so just because we put two on the ball it didn’t mean something was automatically open. And then we rebounded it after we contested. Those possessions defensively were awesome.”
And at the other end, that connection cracked, and the offence often became Kawhi. Despite sitting for 21/2 minutes after halftime, the 27-year-old superstar took 23 of Toronto’s 48 second-half shots, all five of their free throws, had two of their 10 assists and two of their three turnovers. He wasn’t afraid. He hit the shot.
But with Toronto missing shots that were falling down the stretch of the regular season, Kawhi’s gravity has pulled more and more possessions into his orbit, and that won’t work. In the regular season, Leonard used a superstar-appropriate 30.3 per cent of Toronto’s offensive possessions, meaning he ended them with a field-goal attempt, a turnover or by getting to the free-throw line.
Against Philadelphia it was 35.6 per cent. In Game 7 it was 45.5. Only Houston’s James Harden uses a higher percentage of offensive possessions than Kawhi in the playoffs, and Harden is a great passer. Kawhi, for all his gifts, is not.
So yes, The Shot. But against Milwaukee, the ball needs to move. It’s the chicken and the egg, and the mystical connections of the game. When players touch the ball, when the ball moves with rhythm, shots come easier. Kawhi doesn’t create that, but it has to be created.