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NBA Finals

NBA Finals 2019: How Kawhi Leonard has dominated the Golden State Warriors from the free throw line

#Klaw

Kawhi Leonard - like the rest of this postseason - has been phenomenal in the NBA Finals.

He has his Toronto Raptors leading 2-1, most recently stealing Game 3 on the road against a short-handed Golden State Warriors squad.

Leonard's scoring in The Finals is on par with the rest of the playoffs, averaging 29.0 points per game. His efficiency has dropped and his 17.0 field goal attempts per game is his lowest average for any series this postseason. So with all that in mind, how has Kawhi been able to keep that scoring average up?

He's putting pressure on the Warriors defence by using his strong frame and great body control to aggressively attack the rim, forcing Golden State to foul him to prevent easy buckets.

Leonard averaged 7.1 free throw attempts per game this season, the second-highest average for his career. He converted those attempts at an 85.4% clip - the third-best of his career.

But this postseason Kawhi has gotten to the line at an average of 9.1 free throw attempts per game - the highest average of his career in the regular season or Playoffs. His free throw percentage has increased with his number of attempts, knocking down shots from the charity stripe at an 88.5% clip.

His 9.1 free throw attempts per game are the fourth-most this postseason behind Giannis Antetokounmpo (11.2 FTA), Kevin Durant (10.1) and Paul George (9.8), but his 191 total free throw attempts are the most of any player this Playoffs.

Of course, playing a playoff-high 21 games makes an impact on that number of attempts, but it doesn't take away from the fact that Leonard has made the free throw line one of his most lethal weapons this postseason.

In each series, Kawhi has gradually increased his number of free throw attempts per game. Starting with an average of 5.6 attempts against the Orlando Magic in the first round, that number has skyrocketed to 13.0 attempts in the NBA Finals. Take a look:

Kawhi Leonard's free throw numbers by series
Opponent FTA per game FTM - FTA FT%
Magic 5.6 25 - 28 89.3%
76ers 9.0 54 - 63 85.7%
Bucks 10.2 54 - 61 88.5%
Warriors 13.0 36 - 39 92.3%

Leonard got to the line 16 times in the Raptors' Game 2 loss against the Warriors. That's a number he's only reached three other times in his career, and he buried all 16 attempts.

He's reached double-digit free throw attempts in all three games of the NBA Finals so far, which is a big reason why his scoring average in this series has remained close to his scoring average for the entire Playoffs despite his field goal percentage (43.1%) and 3-point percentage (33.3%) being the lowest of any series.

Kawhi's damage at the free throw stripe has increased with his number of attempts, and his percentage of points from the line has followed suit.

Opponent FGA per game PPG FG% 3P% % of points from FT
Magic 18.0 27.8 55.6% 53.8% 18.0%
76ers 23.4 33.0 53.0% 33.3% 22.2%
Bucks 21.5 29.8 44.2% 34.4% 30.2%
Warriors 17.0 29.0 43.1% 33.3% 41.4%

A remarkable 41.4% of his points have come from free throws in The Finals. His aggressiveness in getting to the hoop has led to more open looks for his teammates as well, with Leonard averaging a playoff-high 4.7 assists per game in The Finals.

You saw that on display in Game 3 where Leonard dished out six assists resulting in five 3-pointers, creating 17 points for his team off of three 3's from Danny Green, a 3 from both Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, and a wide-open dunk for Marc Gasol.

The Warriors have been forced to bring help on Kawhi's drives leaving open looks on the perimeter, and if they don't bring the help, the defender is put in a bind where they need to foul.

Leonard's dominance has been a thing of beauty this Playoffs but his assertiveness in The Finals has led to freebies for him and open looks for his teammates.

The Warriors need to find a solution and fast before they let their 3-peat hopes slip away.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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