5 Best performances of NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in the 2019 Playoffs
"Kawhi Leonard is the best player in the world."
Just a few months back most people would have scoffed at the notion. Today while the question may still be up for debate, Kawhi Leonard is the clear frontrunner, with the only real contenders being LeBron James who miraculously continues to keep father time at bay and Kevin Durant whose offensive prowess looks like a computer simulation.
Kawhi has always been a great basketball player, but no one expected him to scale to the heights he now has. He was 'California Mr. Basketball' in his senior year of high school. He was a four-star recruit and played two years for San Diego State University where he led them as far as the sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament earning a Second-Team All-America selection in the process. He was then selected with the 15th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers before being traded to the San Antonio Spurs.
Under the tutelage of legendary coach Gregg Popovich, Kawhi steadily rose up the ranks to the very top of the NBA. By his 3rd full season, he was a Finals MVP. During his first 6 seasons with the Spurs, he was selected twice to the All-NBA First Team, thrice to the All-Defensive First Team and won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in successive seasons. He worked himself from scoring in the single digits in his first season to being a 20+ points per night scorer and was well and truly the face of the San Antonio Spurs.
Leonard injured his leg during Game 1 of the Conference Finals in the 2016-17 season and was unable to continue playing. His disagreement with the team on the direction of his treatment saw him play just 9 games during the 2017-18 season. The growing tension made Leonard overlook the possibility of signing the biggest contract in NBA history and request a trade.
Despite Kawhi expressing an interest to play in his hometown Los Angeles, Masai Ujiri the president of basketball operations for the Raptors decided to make a trade and bring the superstar to Toronto, in what was then a controversial deal. Now that Kawhi Leonard has done the impossible and defeated the Golden State Warriors to bring Toronto its first NBA Championship, the trade will forever go down as a brilliant move even if he decides to take his talents elsewhere in free agency.
Anybody who has followed the 2019 playoffs will know that Kawhi was by far the best player in the tournament. He put together one of the best individual playoffs runs in history, scoring more than 30 points on 14 separate occasions. Only Michael Jordan with 15 has more.
At the age of 27, Kawhi Leonard has already achieved more than most Hall of Fame players. As an unrestricted free agent this summer, Kawhi has the right to join any team he wants and all 30 teams would welcome him with open arms and give him a max contract.
Given the heights he scaled after just one season in Toronto it would be surprising if he decided to take his talents elsewhere. At just 27 years of age, Leonard may not even be at the peak of his powers and it shouldn't surprise anyone if he sets the playoffs on fire for years to come.
On that note, here are five of Kawhi's best performances in the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
#5 Game 4 NBA Finals: Raptors vs Golden State, 36 points (11-22 FG)
Result: Toronto wins 105-92
Despite leading the series 2-1, the pressure was on Toronto to win this game, with Klay Thompson back from injury and Kevin Durant's impending return to the lineup looming over them. Kawhi Leonard put up another blockbuster performance with 36 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 steals. He was 5-9 from the 3-point arc and a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line.
Kawhi took over in the third quarter hitting back to back threes to give his team the lead in the very first minute of play. He scored 17 points in the quarter as his team outscored the Warriors 37-21 to practically seal the game and take what proved to be an insurmountable 3-1 lead.