With 28.5 points per game in the NBA Finals, including 22 on Thursday night in Game 6, Kawhi Leonard earned the Finals MVP award as he led the Toronto Raptors to their first-ever NBA championship. They defeated the Golden State Warriors, 114-110, to win the series, 4-2.
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It capped a dominant postseason for Leonard, who averaged 30.5 points over 24 playoff games. His 732 total points are the third-most in NBA history behind Michael Jordan’s 759 in 1992 and LeBron James’ 748 in 2018.
“This is what I play basketball for,” Leonard said on ESPN after the game about winning his second career title. “This is what I work out for — all summer, during the season. And I’m happy that my hard work paid off.”
Kawhi Leonard accepts the 2019 Bill Russell #NBAFinals MVP trophy! #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/VtnTvARm6K
— NBA (@NBA) June 14, 2019
Leonard captured his first championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, when he was also named Finals MVP. He becomes the first player in NBA history to earn the Finals MVP with teams from both conferences, and just the third player to win the Bill Russell Trophy with two teams (after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the Bucks and Lakers, and LeBron James with the Cavaliers and Heat).
It all comes less than a year after Leonard was traded from San Antonio to Toronto following a tough season. He played just nine games for the Spurs in 2017-18, and felt the team mishandled his right quadriceps injury. Leonard’s subsequent hesitation to return to the court soured many Spurs fans.
So on July 18, 2018, Leonard and teammate Danny Green were sent to Toronto. Thus, Leonard started over with the Raptors and became the go-to guy on a team that finished second in the Eastern Conference. He earned a trip to the All-Star Game this season for the third time in his career.
In the playoffs, Toronto first took out Orlando in five games, but needed a last-second buzzer-beater from Leonard in Game 7 of the second round against Philadelphia to advance. Just inside the 3-point line, he released a shot over center Joel Embiid’s outstretched right arm. The clocked expired while the basketball flew through the air, then the city of Toronto erupted after the ball bounced four times on the rim and fell through the basket for a 92-90 win:
🚨 THE SHOT. THE BOUNCE. THE WIN. 🚨
Kawhi Leonard drops in the #TissotBuzzerBeater to lift the @Raptors to the Game 7 win! #ThisIsYourTime #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/bpRx7GXiKu
— NBA (@NBA) May 13, 2019
After the series-clinching bucket, Leonard was asked how he overcame one of the toughest episodes of his career to get to where he is now. Leonard looked to the Lord.
“God is good,” said Leonard, who has “Fear God, not them” tattooed on his right arm. “I prayed every day and then ended up getting healthy. Now I’m able to play basketball, and you could just see what He does for you.”
Said Leonard on Thursday, “Last summer man, I was going through a lot. I was going through a lot and I had a great support system. I just kept working hard, working hard, and had my mind set on this goal right here.”
Soon, his mind will need to focus on free agency. He can exercise a player option for next season to stay in Toronto, but many expect him to become an unrestricted free agent.
Leonard said Thursday he will think about that soon enough. For now, he’s going to enjoy this championship with his teammates, and bring the Larry O’Brien trophy to Canada for the first time.
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