Toronto Raptors

Former Toronto Raptors coach Phil Handy reveals Kawhi Leonard wanted Giannis Antetokounmpo challenge in 2019 Eastern Conference Finals

Raptors-Bucks (NBA Getty Images)

There's nothing like a flashback to the Toronto Raptors' first-ever NBA title, am I right?

Former Raptors assistant coach and current Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy went on the "All The Smoke" podcast hosted by Matt Barnes and Steven Jackson to discuss a number of topics, including how he got to where he is in his career and a number of stories he's lived through along the way.

Among the items discussed: Toronto's run to the 2019 NBA championship.

Handy told a story that dated back to the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals, where the Raptors found themselves in a 2-0 hole against the Milwaukee Bucks, just two losses away from elimination. The Bucks had only lost two games in a row once the entire season, so how was a team going to beat them four times before they win another two games to advance to the NBA Finals?

Following a 22-point blowout in Game 2 in Milwaukee, adjustments were needed to be made by Toronto if it was going to get back into the series. 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was having his way with the Raptors, averaging 27.0 points and 15.5 rebounds through the first two games, and something had to be done.

Handy spoke on the key adjustment that helped change the series.

"The man is like The Terminator, for real," Handy said of All-Star forward and 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

"We were down 2-0 against Milwaukee, (head coach) Nick Nurse came into the locker room and said, 'we're gonna make some adjustments, we'll get back Toronto and we'll be ready.' And Kawhi said, 'the adjustment is I'm guarding Giannis.'"

The very next game, Antetokounmpo had his worst scoring output of the postseason, going for just 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting from the field as the Raptors finally got on the board in the series with a win. You know how the rest went: Toronto won four-straight to advance to the NBA Finals and eventually claim the title.

The conversation couldn't be more timely, as one-time Defensive Player of the Year Antetokounmpo is going up against an all-time scorer in Kevin Durant in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, although he's barely drawn that assignment.

MORE: The complications of Giannis defending Durant

At the same time, amidst a dominant postseason so far, Leonard is out indefinitely with a knee injury as the Clippers are just one win away from the franchise's first-ever Conference Finals appearance.

The former Raptors assistant had high praise for Leonard's demeanour, comparing him to some of the best to ever play the game.

"Kawhi is cut from the same cloth as Kobe, LeBron as MJ," Handy explained.

"The first time we worked out together after the trade stuff cleared, I reached out to him. I said, 'I'm just excited to build with you,' and he was like, 'when are you coming to San Diego?'

"We got in the gym, and he said, 'look coach, I like the gym quiet, I don't like people in the gym. I like to get my work in.' That set the tone. He's just one of those dudes that's really just about getting better."

Handy went on to win consecutive NBA titles as an assistant coach - in 2019 with the Raptors and 2020 with the Lakers. It was the third NBA championship of his coaching career, as he was also on the Cleveland Cavaliers' coaching staff in 2016 when they defeated the Golden State Warriors.

You can find the full interview with Handy on "All The Smoke" below.

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