WILD FIN­ISH IN WASH­ING­TON

‘He did some strong­man stuff,’ Lowry says of 41-point, 11-re­bound game

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - DOUG SMITH

Kawhi Leonard plays ‘like a su­per­star’ with 41 points in win over Wizards,

There is a com­mon theme to al­most any dis­cus­sion with Toronto Rap­tors coach Nick Nurse when the sub­ject of Kawhi Leonard comes up.

Yes, the coach says, Leonard is an ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent hav­ing an ex­cep­tional year, yet Nurse is al­ways hint­ing that there’s a bit more Leonard could be pro­vid­ing. His com­fort level with his team­mates and his role are ever evolv­ing and ever im­prov­ing, but there’s still an­other level to go.

And then Leonard goes out and has an­other crazy good game, mak­ing plays and reads and shots and de­fen­sive plays he hasn’t made be­fore and you think, yep, Nurse might be on to some­thing.

Sun­day was a per­fect case in point. Leonard made a se­ries of “holy crap” moves that point to him be­ing even bet­ter, more ver­sa­tile, more com­fort­able than he has been.

“I know when I’m stand­ing over there, I like watch­ing him play, I don’t want to miss it,” Nurse said last week. “So our guys, they weren’t used to watch­ing this guy kind of dis­sect peo­ple, and they have been watch­ing. Again, I don’t think he’s been in this sit­u­a­tion as much, where he’s got the ball and he’s try­ing to fig­ure out where the pieces are mov­ing, and see­ing so many bod­ies come at him, and hav­ing to find it.

“He kind of played, he was rusty, then he started scor­ing. And then teams all of a sud­den started send­ing mul­ti­ple peo­ple at him and he didn’t do a great job of get­ting it out of there. And then all of a sud­den he started fig­ur­ing that out. You can see it kind of evolv­ing.”

On Sun­day, in a 41-point gem of a game in a 140-138 dou­ble over­time vic­tory over the Wash­ing­ton Wizards, Leonard did a bit of ev­ery­thing:

He pa­tiently waited out a post-up dou­ble team in the first quar­ter, spot­ted an open Serge Ibaka and calmly passed off for a three-pointer.

With the ball at the el­bow and de­fend­ers about to swarm him, Leonard waited a split sec­ond be­fore ri­fling a pass to a back­door-cut­ting Pas­cal Si­akam for a base­line dunk.

Leonard went up in traf­fic be­tween a cou­ple of Wizards in the third quar­ter, sim­ply out­mus­cled two de­fend­ers and ripped away an of­fen­sive re- bound that he kicked out to start a play that led to an­other three-pointer.

With the game in the bal­ance, he scored 11 straight points span­ning the end of the fourth quar­ter and all of the first over­time pe­riod, miss­ing a po­ten­tial game-win­ning shot he makes far more of­ten than not.

On the game’s de­ci­sive bas­ket, a Serge Ibaka three-pointer with about 14 sec­onds left, Leonard re­bounded his own miss, knew where to look for an open team­mate and fed Ibaka per­fectly for his fifth as­sist of the night.

“Kawhi re­ally led us, took over the game,” Kyle Lowry told re­porters. “Some un­be­liev­able re­bound­ing, strong­man stuff. He did some strong­man stuff.”

“I think tonight he played like a su­per­star, that’s how we need him to play,” Ibaka said.

Leonard has now scored 20 or more points in 19 straight games and has had 30 or more in nine of them. He’s shoot­ing 52 per cent from the field and 39 per cent from three-point range in that stretch and has had 38 steals in the same pe­riod.

Early on Leonard went to the locker room with leg stiff­ness, but re­turned to play 45 min­utes.

ROB CARR GETTY IMAGES

Kawhi Leonard’s com­fort level with his team­mates and his role with the Rap­tors con­tinue to grow.

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