Toronto Raptors

NBA Playoffs 2019: Kawhi Leonard is not afraid of the moment

At this point, there's really nobody that should be surprised whenever Kawhi Leonard starts to take over a game late.

He did it throughout the regular season when he made more go-ahead shots in the final minute than any player in the entire league.

He did it in Game 4 of the last round against the Philadelphia 76ers, hitting a step-back 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Joel Embiid with a minute left in a game the Raptors needed to win to avoid falling down 3-1.

He did it later that series in Game 7 when he hit what will go down as one of the most famous shots in NBA postseason history.

He did it again on Thursday, scoring 15 of his 35 points to steal Game 5 on the road and pull the Raptors to within one win of the NBA Finals.

Leonard spent several minutes speaking with reporters after that emphatic win in Milwaukee. Amidst all of the questions and comments, one statement in particular stood out. When asked about his mindset in the fourth quarter of big games, Leonard responded with a calm, quiet and cool confidence that's come to define his outward persona.

"I'm not afraid of the moment, I enjoy it."

Those nine words mean everything for a franchise that's time and again fallen short in the moment.

Whether it's losing Game 7 to Philadelphia in 2001, consistently and notoriously struggling in Game 1s, repeatedly coming up short in winnable series, falling in spectacular fashion to LeBron James not once, not twice, but three years in a row... "the moment" has more often than not been too big for a franchise yearning to make some serious noise when it matters the most.

Thursday's Game 5 was one of those moments. As was Game 4. As was Game 3.

After dropping the first two games of this series in Milwaukee, the Raptors have played three straight games with their season on the line and the stakes getting just a little bit higher each time.

No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit. To avoid it, the Raptors squeaked out a double overtime thriller, with Leonard logging a career-high 52 minutes while scoring eight points in the second OT period.

Only 6% of teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit. To avoid it, the Raptors overcame a slow start to blast the Bucks in Game 4 with Leonard locking down Antetokounmpo on essentially one leg.

No team had won in Milwaukee after trailing by double digits at the end of the first quarter.

No team had won in Milwaukee after trailing by any amount entering the fourth quarter.

And yet that's exactly what the Raptors did on Thursday, seizing the moment in a manner that would have seemed utterly ridiculous prior to the Kawhi Leonard era in Toronto.

Kawhi Leonard's no fear mentality has the Raptors one win away from their ever first trip to the NBA Finals.

Should they finish the job against Milwaukee, one word that would describe that moment?


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

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