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Playoffs 2019

NBA Playoffs 2019: What happens to the Toronto Raptors when Kawhi Leonard is out of the game?

The Toronto Raptors are down 2-1 to the Philadelphia 76ers following the loss in Game 3 and suddenly it feels as if the series may be starting to slip away.

When the Raptors won Game 1 comfortably behind a vintage performance from Kawhi Leonard, there wasn't much thought to what the Raptors could have done better.

Criticism was mostly directed in the way of the 76ers:

In hindsight, Leonard's ridiculous performance - 45 points on 23 shots, 11 free throw attempts, a team-high 11 rebounds and stellar defense - masked what was actually a fairly underwhelming performance by the Raptors.

Outside of Pascal Siakam, who scored 29 points on 12-15 shooting, the Raptors didn't really get much else offensively. Kyle Lowry scored in single digits while missing all four of his 3-pointers, the bench was badly outplayed by Philadelphia's bench and they were beat repeatedly on the glass.

MORE: Lowry on Leonard: "We've all gotta help him."

Those same issues manifested themselves in Games 2 and 3, the difference being that Leonard slipped from otherworldly to simply very good, unable to cover up for pedestrian performances from the rest of the roster. The bench in particular has struggled though it goes well beyond the play of the second unit.

The team's biggest issue? Generating any sort of consistent offence whenever Leonard needs a break. Let's go game-by-game to break down exactly what's happened when their superstar forward has sat.

Game 1

In the series opener, Toronto played 10 minutes without Leonard on the floor and was outscored 24-11. If you throw out the closing minutes of garbage time, the Raptors were still outscored 17-10 in about seven minutes. Taking out garbage time really doesn't impact the bottom line which is that even in the win, Toronto couldn't muster much without Leonard.

For the game, the Raptors shot just 4-16 from the field including 0-3 from beyond the 3-point line. Add up the woeful shooting along with three turnovers and the Raptors posted an offensive rating of just 47.8… a whopping 78 points worse than when he was on the floor.

The 76ers actually did the Raptors a favour as they were unable to capitalize further, shooting just 6-20 in those non-Kawhi minutes. Had they been able to buy a bucket themselves, there's a decent chance this series is currently 3-0.

Game 2

The Raptors were lucky to be as close at the end as they were in Game 2 as Danny Green missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds after they trailed by as many as 19 points earlier in the game.

A reason for that big hole?

In the 6:09 without Leonard in the game, the Raptors were outscored by nine points while shooting just 2-12 from the field.

The most troubling stretch came during the first 3:23 of the fourth quarter. Here's what Toronto mustered on offense over that span:

  • Missed 22-footer by Kyle Lowry
  • Missed 3-pointer by Pascal Siakam
  • Missed 19-footer by Fred VanVleet
  • Made 15-footer by Serge Ibaka
  • Missed 4-footer by Serge Ibaka
  • Missed 3-pointer by Kyle Lowry

What was a six-point deficit entering the final period ballooned to 11, all without Joel Embiid on the floor.

For the game, the Raptors mustered an offensive rating of just 35.7… THIRTY FIVE POINT SEVEN!!!! … without Leonard on the floor.

Game 3

That stretch at the start of the fourth quarter in Game 2?

It happened again in Game 3.

The Raptors came up empty on their first five possessions to start the final period, all with Leonard on the bench.

By the time Leonard subbed in, a seven-point deficit - more than manageable - had turned into a far more menacing 16-point deficit. The damage was done and Toronto never threatened.

For the game, the Raptors shot just 6-22 in the 11 minutes that Leonard was on the pine. The scariest part? It was actually the best Toronto's offense looked without him in this series. Here are the points per 100 possessions with and without him on the floor so far in this series:

That's umm... not good.

What happens next?

Sunday's Game 4 is critical as NBA history tells us that coming back from a 3-1 deficit is quite the tall order. Entering this postseason, teams to trail 3-1 in a best-of-7 series had just a 11-233 series record. Those are not kind odds.

MORE: "Kawhi Leonard reminds me of Michael Jordan."

For the Raptors to even the series and avoid that nearly insurmountable series deficit, they must get more from the rest of the roster. It's not reasonable to expect 48 minutes of top-notch play from Leonard and at the very least, they need to be able to steal a few minutes and tread water whenever he needs a blow.

If the Raptors don't figure out how to do that, there's a good chance that this series could end in Game 5 on Tuesday.

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

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