Toronto advance to 19-4 on the season with a 131-128 overtime win over Golden State Thursday night. It was the first time since 2014 that Raptors defeated the Warriors, snapping an eight-game losing streak in the series.
Back-to-back Finals MVP Kevin Durant had a monster night with 51 points, but the Raptors withstood his efforts to escape with a statement win in front of a sold-out Scotiabank Arena crowd thanks to the play of two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard.
As Toronto continues to build momentum, here are five takeaways from its statement win over the defending champs.
Kawhi Leonard's Elite Play
If there was any lingering doubt concerning whether or not Kawhi was back, it should have gone out the window after tonight's performance.
The 2014 Finals MVP did not back down from any of the challenges presented by Kevin Durant, attacking on offence and making things as difficult as he could on the defensive end.
It was almost as if Kawhi was in a different gear for a game of this magnitude, as he finished the night with 37 points on 14-for-24 shooting by scoring at all three levels. Leonard was 3-for-6 from beyond the arc, got to his bread-and-butter in the midrange and attacked the basket, going 6-for-6 from the free throw line.
Sure, Kevin Durant scored 51 points, but when Leonard was guarding him, he had to work for each bucket. Thursday night Kawhi looked every bit of the elite two-way player that Toronto traded for, and he will be the team's go-to guy as the stakes continue to get higher.
Instead of shying away from the moment, Kawhi relished in it, and that can take this Raptors team to new heights.
The Importance of a Fast Start
Toronto came out the gate firing on all cylinders, shooting 16-for-22 (72.7 percent) from the field and 6-for-10 from deep to end the first quarter with a 38-25 lead over Golden State.
With Thursday night's win, the Raptors advanced to 14-1 on the season when leading after the first quarter, emphasizing the importance of starting games off strong.
Through the first frame, Kawhi Leonard had a game-high 13 points and Pascal Siakam was not far behind with 10 points. Kyle Lowry has established his presence as a playmaker early on as well, dishing out five of his game-high 12 assists in the first 12 minutes of action.
While Golden State shot just under 58 percent from deep in the first quarter, Toronto separated itself with its 3-point shooting - the Warriors failed to connect on a 3-pointer in the first quarter. As evidenced by their record when leading after one, the Raptors' starting unit has a big hand in dictating the direction in which games will go.
Kevin Durant is on an absolute tear
The Warriors' superstar forward entered the night fresh off of back-to-back 40-point performances in wins over the Kings and Magic. Not only did Durant pick up where he left off Thursday night, he took things to another level.
The take over began in the third quarter, where Durant scored 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting, pulling up from the Raptors half-court logo to close the quarter. Durant seemingly had an answer for each run made by the Raptors and kept the Warriors within striking distance despite being shorthanded.
Durant finished the night with 51 points on 18-for-31 shooting from the field and 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range, including two extremely difficult 3-pointers at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime.
Withstanding such a performance from a superstar is big for the Raptors, who played spoiler to his season-high performance.
Playing with a Lead
The Raptors' biggest lead of the night was 18 points and they held a 17-point lead at one point in the third quarter, yet they still found themselves battling in overtime with the Warriors.
While Golden State is an extremely difficult team to maintain a big lead against, it is becoming a concerning trend for Toronto to let teams back in, as Detroit, Orlando and Miami have all chipped away at big deficits to make things interesting down the stretch.
Moving forward, the Raptors can and will improve upon the ways in which they play with a lead provided they learn from common themes in the games in which leads were cut into. Withstanding runs and remaining poised in high-pressure situations is crucial, and the Raptors did enough of that to win Thursday night.
Pascal Siakam's Career Night
It's almost to the point where we should just leave the field for Siakam's career-high blank until the season ends because he continues to reach new heights.
Thursday night, the Raptors' third-year forward scored a career-high 26 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the field and 3-for-4 shooting from 3-point range - his three treys tie a career-best as well. Siakam also stepped up to knock down seven of his eight free throw attempts, including three to ice the game late.
As Siakam continues to grow and improve, he is developing into the Raptors' third star, and could very well earn a nod for this year's All-Star Game. At just 24 years old, it's a safe assumption that Siakam isn't done setting new highs this season.