Kawhi Leonard was remarkable once again in Game 5 as the Raptors earned a statement victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee to get within one win of the NBA Finals.
But just how good was Leonard?
Let’s start with the basics. He had 35 points on 11-of-25 shooting (5-of-8 from deep) to go along with seven rebounds and nine assists. That’s a solid game by any account, but was it one of the best of his career? The numbers say so.
Leonard’s career-high nine assists all led to three-pointers. That’s tied for the most threes assisted on in a playoff game by any player over the last 20 postseasons with Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams and Blake Griffin. Toronto was 9-of-12 from deep off Kawhi’s passes, compared to 4-of-23 from long range on passes from anyone else.
A big part of the Raps’ success in Game 5 was the play of their bench, most notably point guard Fred VanVleet, who dropped a playoff-high 21 points and was 7-of-9 from three. It was Leonard who got him going as VanVleet was a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond the arc off passes from Leonard. The duo became the first in Raptors history to each make at least five threes in a playoff game.
Toronto shot just 36.9 per cent from the field in Thursday’s game compared to Milwaukee’s 45.2. On most nights that disparity would indicate a loss and maybe even a blowout. But not the way Toronto shot the three. The Raps made 18 threes, their most in a game in franchise history, compared to just 13 twos. It was also the first time they’ve made more threes than two-pointers in a single game.
Translation? Without their outside shooting – and without Leonard leading the charge with his shooting and facilitating – the Raptors would almost certainly be down 3-2 in the series.
Leonard recorded his seventh game this postseason with at least 35 points Thursday night and joined some elite company. The only other players with that many games of 35-plus before the NBA Finals are Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Elgin Baylor, Hakeem Olajuwon and Bernard King.
Most 35-Point Games Before Finals
|Year||Player||Team||Games with 35+|
He also has 11 games of 30 or more this postseason and trails only DeMar DeRozan for the team record of playoff games with 30-plus points (14). Not bad considering DeRozan had five years’ worth of playoff runs in Toronto compared to Leonard’s one.
So between the 35 points Kawhi scored and the 27 points worth of threes he assisted on in Game 5, the Raptors’ star was directly responsible for 62 of the Raptors’ 105 points. Not to mention the other opportunities he created with his two steals, three offensive rebounds and swarming defence leading to fast breaks.
Speaking of defence, Leonard continues to prevent Giannis Antetokounmpo from taking over the series. The Bucks’ star has averaged 23 points per game on 46 per cent shooting through the first five games, well down from his season average of 27.7 a night at a 57.8 per cent clip.
According to Second Spectrum, Antetokounmpo has been matched up against Leonard at least 35 times in each of the last three games of this series after never having been matched up against Kawhi more than 30 times in any of their previous 13 head-to-head meetings. With Leonard’s increased attention to him over the last three games, Antetokounmpo is 7-of-22 when guarded by the Raps’ star in the half court compared to 13-of-26 when checked by anyone else.
This isn’t new. Giannis averages 19.3 points per 100 possessions and the Bucks average 85.5 per 100 possessions when he’s defended by Leonard. Both totals are the lowest against any defender in the half court this season with a minimum of 50 possessions (via Second Spectrum).
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that Kawhi is Antetokounmpo’s Achilles heel. For the Bucks to have a shot at advancing, Giannis is going to have to solve the two-time defensive player of the year, and fast.