Counting down Kawhi Leonard’s 10 greatest Toronto Raptors moments


Kawhi Leonard celebrates his last-second bucket with Raptors teammates in a Game 7 win over the 76ers. (Frank Gunn / CP)

“What it do, baby!?”

Do you remember that? Of course you remember that.

Though it was a short ride, Kawhi Leonard undoubtedly left an indelible mark on the Toronto Raptors and their fans.

More specifically, Leonard left behind a legacy of unforgettable moments during his one season as a Raptor.

With Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers coming to Toronto for the first time since he left in free agency, we figured now’s as good a time as any to recall, exactly, just what those moments were.

Along with some honourable mentions, we’re counting down Leonard’s 10 greatest moments as a Raptor.

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Honourable mentions

Because Leonard had just so many remarkable moments as a Raptor, it was actually quite hard to pare it all down to just 10 without feeling like some stuff that left us going “Wow!” would unfortunately be left out.

As such, here’s a few honourable mentions that didn’t quite crack the top 10 – with Leonard’s “What it do, baby!?” quote at the top of this post also a part of these moments.

• Dec. 7 at Brooklyn: Ovetime dunk over Jarrett Allen.
• May 7 vs. Philadelphia: Big one-handed slam on Joel Embiid in Game 5.
• May 21 vs. Milwaukee: Rolls to the rim and catches Giannis Antetokounmpo with a left-handed jam in Game 4.
• May 23 at Milwaukee: Back-to-back fourth-quarter triples over Brook Lopez in Game 5.
• June 17: Leonard’s championship speech and his final laugh.

And now, without further ado, let’s get to the countdown.

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10) April 11: That episode of Serge Ibaka’s cooking show “How Hungry Are You?”

Spoiler alert in case you haven’t seen this episode yet (and, really, why haven’t you seen this yet?), but we felt that this incredible appearance by Leonard on Ibaka’s cooking show deserves a top-10 nod for a couple reasons.

First off, there’s no denying that Ibaka did a good job in his interview with Leonard, getting the notoriously soft-spoken superstar to open up about a number of topics, while also trying to sell Leonard on staying in Toronto. It was some impressive work.

And, of course, you’ve gotta give major props to Leonard for being served bull’s penis pizza a few days before starting a playoff run, and then going out and doing what he did. That’s some major focus.

9) Oct. 24 vs. Minnesota: The no-look steal

In just his fourth game played as a Raptor, Leonard showed a glimpse of just what kind of all-world defender Toronto had picked up with this astounding no-look steal against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Perhaps even more impressive than the play itself is the fact Leonard is absolutely defensively fundamental throughout this entire sequence. One of the first things a coach will tell you when learning how to play basketball is “see man, see ball,” referring to using peripheral vision to keep an eye on your assignment while tracking where the ball is.

Leonard does exactly this, and does it so well that he seems to bait Gorgui Deng and Jimmy Butler into thinking there was an open cutting lane, knowing that he’d be able to come up with this diving steal should Deng try to make the pass.

8) Feb. 11 vs. Brooklyn: Game-winning bank shot with 4.2 seconds to play

Regardless if he called “bank” on this shot or not, this play, in hindsight, gave us all a good prelude of just what kind of clutch performer Leonard actually is.

This is the kind of cold-blooded, no-hesitation shot that only the game’s true premier clutch performers seem to have in their bag.

Yes, it does appear to be a set play to get Leonard the ball in motion, but you can tell as soon as he received the pass from Kyle Lowry, he was going to take one dribble to his right, get to that elbow spot and take his chances, likely knowing it would take Allen by surprise.

7) March 1 vs. Portland: Foreshadowing “The Shot”

Leonard drives to the right-side baseline, just inside the three-point arc. He rises up, slightly off-balance and leaning to his right. The ball leaves his hand, it takes four bounces and goes in, ending the Portland Trail Blazers.

Sound familiar?

Yes, before there was “The Shot,” there was this shot against the Blazers that was a near carbon copy of what he would later do in May.

6) Feb. 22 vs. San Antonio: The strip of DeMar and slam dunk to end the Spurs

On Jan. 3, DeMar DeRozan and Leonard faced off against each other with their new clubs, and things didn’t go very well for Leonard and the Raptors as DeRozan exploded for a 21-points, 14-rebounds, 11-assist triple double in a big 125-107 San Antonio Spurs win.

Fifty days later, with the scene shifting to Toronto, the story changed in a big way as Leonard managed to get his revenge against his former club, highlighted by this steal against DeRozan, beginning from some full-court pressure and breakaway dunk that put the Raptors up for good with 15 seconds left to play.

5) June 7 at Golden State: Back-to-back statement triples to start the second half of Game 4

If there’s actually such a thing as a “swing game” in a playoff series, then Game 4 was certainly it in the Finals. Win and the Raptors take a commanding 3-1 lead, lose and doubt starts to creep in as the two-time defending champions even the series.

And, to this point, if “momentum” actually exists within a game, then these pair of triples would be good examples of this intangible aspect of sports.

Coming out of the half down four points, Leonard appeared to be a man who wanted to send a message to all of the Bay area with these two above-the-break, right-wing, it-doesn’t-matter-if-Draymond-Green-is-in-my-face, “eff-You” three-pointers to give the Raptors the lead, and send them to a big 37-point third quarter that proved to be the deciding factor in Toronto’s 105-92 victory.

4) May 19 vs. Milwaukee: The Fast-break jam in Game 3’s double-overtime epic

To the critics of Leonard’s load-management program last season, allow us to present Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final as definitive proof as to its benefits: 52 minutes played, 36 points, nine rebounds, five assists and one drain-the-energy-out-of-you dunk in the second overtime.

This slam put the Raptors up three with just a little over three minutes to play in the grueling second extra period, and they never looked back from there. Leonard’s jam effectively took the fight right out of them.

3) Sept. 24: The “Fun Guy” introduces himself with the most meme-able laugh in history

After the Raptors traded for Leonard, no one had heard from him until this fateful moment during the team’s official media day.

What spawned was a quote that ended up becoming one of Leonard’s nicknames, and a laugh so memorable and famous that he even made fun of it himself during his championship speech (see the honourable mentions section).

They say first impressions are everything, and boy did Leonard leave a lasting one with Toronto.

2) May 25 vs. Milwaukee: The Game 6 posterization of Giannis

With just a little under seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final, Lowry steals the ball and leads a break. He knows Leonard is trailing right behind him and after he gets into the paint, he turns around to find Leonard and, like everyone else in the building, watches in awe as Leonard rises up above Antetokounmpo’s outstretched arm and throws a left-handed hammer all over his face.

A dunk for the ages, it helped put Toronto up by eight and reach its first-ever NBA Finals. It also symbolically appeared to vanquish league MVP Antetokounmpo and the league-best Bucks. After this dunk, there’s was nothing that was going to stop Leonard and the Raptors from reaching the Finals.

1) May 12 vs. Philadelphia: “The Shot”

For the longest time the moniker of “The Shot” belonged to Michael Jordan’s game-winner over Craig Ehlo in Game 4 of the 1993 Eastern Conference semifinal.

With all due respect to “His Airness,” that title should now belong to Leonard.

With about four seconds to play, Leonard received the inbounds pass at the left wing, circled around to the right-side baseline just inside the three-point line and took a semi-off-balance jumper over the outstretched arm of Embiid while the buzzer sounded. Then, seemingly just for dramatic effect, the ball took four bounces before dropping in. Game over. Raptors take Game 7 of their hard-fought Eastern Conference semifinal against the Philadelphia 76ers.

This was the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in history, but more importantly it became a symbol and a rallying cry from the Raptors and their fans to the rest of the NBA: We’re here, we’re for real and you can no longer ignore us.

The championship was the incredibly sweet cherry on top of everything, but the infectious movement Leonard helped to create for the Raptors last season was largely thanks to this shot.

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