The Toronto Raptors are heading into Oracle Arena for a showdown with a desperate and proud dynasty led by the greatest backcourt in NBA history. It's the final game ever at Oracle Arena, which means the crowd will be whipped into a frenzy unlike anything we've ever seen. It's the definition of walking into the lion's den.
Which makes this moment all the more magnificent for Kawhi Leonard.
If what we saw in Games 3 and 4 are any indication, he's built for this opportunity. Just how sensational has he been?
Going back 35 years, there have been over 450 players to play in at least three road games in the NBA Finals. It's a group that includes the best of the best: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson and Hakeem Olajuwon to name just a few.
Kawhi's been better than all of them.
Heading into his third road game of this Finals, Toronto's superstar has posted averages of 33.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game while shooting 51% overall, 47% from the 3-point line and 19-20 from the charity stripe.
He's been utterly ridiculous.
Putting it all together, there's a number called Game Score that takes into account everything which goes into a box score. Through two road games, Leonard's Game Score is 30.1, which is better than any of those aforementioned players.
Make no mistake, what we've seen from Leonard so far at Oracle Arena simply doesn't happen on this stage.
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Though he's already cemented his status in the lore of greatest postseason runs in NBA history with clutch shots against the Philadelphia 76ers and spectacular two-way play against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, Game 6 provides the precious opportunity for a true legend-making moment. This is the situation where some of the sport's biggest icons became immortal.
Michael Jordan may have already been the greatest player in NBA history. But when he took over Game 6 on the road in Utah in the final minute of the 1998 Finals, it served as the cherry on top of a legendary career. The image of Jordan holding the follow through after sinking the game-winning shot over Byron Russell is burned into the forefront of every NBA fan worldwide.
Magic Johnson became MAGIC JOHNSON in 1987. Sure, he was a two-time Finals MVP, a First-Team All-NBA playmaker and the unquestioned best point guard in the league prior to that season. But up until that point most would admit he was still playing second fiddle to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Less than a month after winning the first of three regular season MVP awards, Johnson poetically used Kareem's signature shot to etch his name into stone as a Finals legend.
Two words: the skyhook. On the road in a hostile Boston Garden in Game 4, Johnson spearheaded a furious second-half rally after the Lakers trailed by 16 at the half. The penultimate moment came down 106-105 with seven seconds. Johnson caught an inbounds pass and with no hesitation, unleashed a skyhook over the outstretched arms of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish and in that precise moment, secured basketball immortality.
LeBron James needed 2016 to complete his ascension to the very summit of NBA's Mt. Olympus. Yes, he had won four MVP awards. Yes, he had won two championships. Yes, he was unanimously regarded as the best player in the world. But without a Cleveland championship, his legacy felt incomplete. Without a Cleveland championship, James couldn't make a true case for GOAT status.
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Then it happened. In a tie game with under two minutes left in Game 7 at Oracle Arena against the 73-9 record-breaking wrecking ball of a team, James chased down Andre Iguodala on a fastbreak. Instead of watching the Warriors take the lead, James swatted Iguodala off the backboard and in doing so, swatted away the notion that he couldn't rise to become a basketball saviour in a city starved for glory.
To say this game looms large for the Raptors is a colossal understatement. A loss in Game 6 means a Game 7 in which anything could happen. A Game 7 opens the door for the possibility that the Warriors somehow snatch victory from the hands of the Raptors who had their first title all but clinched in the final moments of Game 5.
With the series suddenly in doubt, an entire country now holds its collective breath waiting for the oncoming asteroid that is the Warriors to deliver a fatal big bang.
Kawhi Leonard has a chance to make sure that doesn't happen.
Kawhi Leonard has a chance to not only ensure survival, but to become a living legend.
Kawhi Leonard has a chance to walk the same line that the biggest names in the game once walked, to forever etch his name into the collective conscience of basketball fans everywhere.
Game 6 is Kawhi's moment. Get ready.
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