The Toronto Raptors fought back from a double-digit deficit on more than one occasion during their pivotal Game 5 matchup on the road versus the Milwaukee Bucks en route to the biggest and most important win in franchise history, one that — you may have heard — now leaves the Raptors one win from reaching the NBA Finals.
Needless to say, it was Leonard who held the spotlight following the win. Here’s a roundup of what the out-of-market media are saying about Kawhi and the Raptors:
USA Today’s Andy Nesbitt fawns over another outstanding performance from Leonard:
Kawhi Leonard is a man of very few words.
So yet again he let his game do most of the talking Thursday night and that game said he’s the best player in the league right now and he’ll rightfully be the most coveted free agent this summer.
Because what a Game 5 he had in Milwaukee. Leonard finished with 35 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and just one turnover as the Raptors beat the Bucks for a third straight time and moved to a win away from going to the NBA Finals.
We all need to bow down to Leonard, because what he’s doing right now is just ridiculous.
Leonard, who is playing on a left leg that is not doing well at all, scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, seemingly willing his team to a win that puts them one home victory away from a date with the Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
…What’s he’s been able to do against the Bucks, who had the NBA’s best record in the regular season, has been nothing short of incredible, especially when you see him with ice on his knee when he’s on the bench or when he’s driving through the paint and jumping off his wrong leg in order to protect his bum leg.
He’s quietly refusing to allow his team to lose, just like he did when he hit that buzzer-beater against the Sixers that got them here.
Now he just needs to lead them to one more win in front of Drake and what should be a raucous Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night.
Kawhi will likely be the quietest guy in the place. But the guy with the weird laugh that everyone made fun of before the season, could end up being the one who laughs last at the end of it.
And we all need to start appreciating him even more.
A few hours after guaranteeing a Bucks victory, Charles Barkley marvels at Kawhi and the Raptors’ comeback:
ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz breaks down what went right for the Raptors on Thursday, beginning with…you guessed it… and takes some time to admire Toronto’s roster-building this season:
…In the biggest quarter in Raptors franchise history, the thaw of a long, cold spring had finally arrived — and Leonard was the heat source turning thick ice into a steady flow. The Raptors would ride Leonard — who scored or assisted on a career-high 62 points — to a 35-point, 9-assist, 7-rebound performance to defeat Milwaukee 105-99 and take a 3-2 series lead.
…In many respects, the Raptors are beating the Bucks with the brand of scrambling, quick-to-collapse/quick-to-recover defence that had become Milwaukee’s calling card. With Leonard taking the lead, Toronto accounts for Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo with multiple bodies, help coming from all directions — weak side, baseline, perimeter.
In Game 4, we saw the collective intelligence of Toronto’s core on the offensive side with smart ball movement, heady misdirection and timely passing. In Game 5, that high IQ was evident in a masterful execution of the defensive game plan.
…This is entirely by design. Through a series of trades over the past year, the Raptors have populated their roster with two former defensive players of the year in Leonard and Gasol; three more All-NBA Defensive Team honorees in Lowry, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka; a spidery young stopper in Pascal Siakam; a bulldog in VanVleet; with Norman Powell no slouch for a wing of his size. There’s not a weak defensive link on the roster, no one who can’t be trusted with a help decision.
The Ringer’s Dan Devine takes a look at Leonard’s all-encompassing impact while he’s on the floor:
The resurrection of Fred VanVleet’s jumper, the all-court poise of Kyle Lowry, the devastating defence that has banished Mike Budenholzer’s half-court offence to the deepest recesses of postseason hell—all of it played crucial roles in the Raptors’ 105-99 Game 5 win over the Bucks on Thursday, which gave Toronto a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. Let’s not get too cute about this, though. The Raptors won Game 5—in Milwaukee, where the Bucks had been a domineering 39-9 this season—in large part because, when it mattered most, they had Kawhi Leonard, the best player on the court, in this series, in the conference, and maybe, at this moment in time, in the whole goddamn league.
…Leonard was everything the Raptors needed, every time they needed it, and the result was another unbelievable game in a postseason full of them. He finished with 35 points on 11-for-25 shooting, including a 5-for-8 mark from three-point range and 8-for-9 at the foul line—his seventh outing of 35 or more in these playoffs, making him just the 11th player ever with that many in a single postseason run. He totalled a career-high nine assists—all of which led to three-pointers, meaning Kawhi directly accounted for 59 percent of Toronto’s offensive output in Game 5. And he also had seven rebounds, two steals, and only a single turnover in 40 minutes of work. All while guarding one of the most unguardable players in the world.
This was it: the opportunity for two of the best basketball players on the planet to write the next chapter in their stories, to assert their primacy in the Eastern pecking order, to burnish their bona fides as the kind of superstar who can tilt the highest-leverage games there are through peerless skill and sheer force of will. This was the moment. Leonard seized it.
…A sudden Fred VanVleet hot streak kept Toronto in it for the third, with Milwaukee coming out at a 75-72 advantage. The Raptors wound up hitting some clutch shots in the end, while Milwaukee made some foolish errors and will need a win in game six to save this campaign.
Kawhi Leonard was an absolute monster for the Raptors in all facets of the game, going for 35 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. He shot just 11-25, but made plenty of timely threes including 5-8 from deep. Fred VanVleet translated his hot streak from north of the border, going for 21 points including 7-9 from deep.
Stat that Stood Out: 41.9 per cent to 32.9 per cent. What else could it be. Despite the Raptors shooting well worse than the Bucks from the field (45.2 per cent to 36.9 per cent), their prolific three-point percentage kept them in it the whole game to give them the unfortunate victory for Bucks fans everywhere.
Jeff Zilligitt examines Leonard’s place among his peers after his dominant performance, which came hours after being named second-team All-NBA:
Maybe he should have been first-team All-NBA?
Is he the best player in the game today? Not best player in the playoffs. He’s definitely that.
Is he the best player? Better than Kevin Durant? Better than LeBron James? Better than James Harden?
…It will be a wild scene in and around Scotiabank Arena on Saturday, and it is made possible by Leonard, who has taken over this series with his offence and defence and is doing it less than 100 per cent healthy.
The playoff numbers are stellar for Leonard. He is averaging 31.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals and shooting 51.2 per cent from the field and 41.1 per cent on three-pointers. Durant is the only player close to matching those stats this postseason.
…He’s making his case for NBA’s best player, too.
“I know that I put the work in,” Leonard said. “I can live with the results because I’m having fun and I’m putting my all out on the floor.”