Tag Archives: Kawhi

1 year later, the Kawhi shot still amazes

“It’s off to Leonard… defended by Simmons… is this the dagger?… … GAME, SERIES, TORONTO HAS WON!” – Kevin Harlan, TNT

“Kawhi up top, looks at the clock, turns the corner, for the wiiiiiiin… … GOT IT… KAWHI LEONARD… WITH THE GAME-WINNER!” – Matt Devlin, Sportsnet

It’s May 12, 2019, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors.

The Raptors had undergone a major makeover in the off-season. First, long-time head coach Dwane Casey was fired after yet another dispiriting loss to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the previous year’s playoffs. He would be replaced by assistant Nick Nurse.

Then, former franchise centrepiece DeMar DeRozan was shipped to the San Antonio Spurs for a disgruntled, injured Kawhi Leonard and sharpshooter Danny Green.

The new-look Raptors raced to second in the East, with Leonard taking every few games off for what became known as load management. At one point, he referred to the regular season as “82 practices.”

Toronto vs. Philadelphia

After disposing of the Orlando Magic in the East quarter-finals, Toronto met third-seeded Philadelphia, featuring an ascendant Joel Embiid and hired gun Jimmy Butler.

The teams had last met in the playoffs in 2001, when Raptors star Vince Carter went toe-to-toe against 76ers foe Allen Iverson. Down 88-87 and two seconds remaining in Game 7, Toronto put the ball in Carter’s hands with a trip to the East final on the line. 

Carter missed, and it would be 15 years before the Raptors won another playoff series.

The 2019 series, meanwhile, was tightly contested right up until those final 4.2 seconds. Embiid largely carried the 76ers, with his team cratering whenever he sat. Likewise, Leonard carried the Raptors — the highlight being a three-point dagger in Game 4 to help Toronto even the series.

Each team featured pending free agents (Leonard, Butler and the 76ers’ Tobias Harris), and the thinking went that a trip to the East final would help solidify a case to keep them. A second-round exit would likely seal the opposite fate.

WATCH | The 1st Game 7, series-clinching, buzzer-beater in NBA history:

Kawhi Leonard poured in 41 points, including a dramatic game-winner as the Toronto Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 92-90 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. 1:23

Kyle Lowry, Raptors guard: We only won one quarter [the first quarter]. There were a lot of things we could have done a lot better.

Fred VanVleet, Raptors guard: It was a back-and-forth game. Not the prettiest of basketball. But that’s just the way this series has been.

Marc Gasol, Raptors centre: Like any other Game 7, every possession, every inch, every loose ball — it means a lot, obviously. You know those games tilt one way or the other with small details. We played unbelievable defence to get to that point. That’s what you try to do — you try to create opportunities and chances to win the game and hopefully you get a lucky bounce that allows you to go to the next round.

Danny Green, Raptors forward: Offensively, we didn’t have it going. We did well defensively — we rebounded and boxed out. But we couldn’t get the pace we wanted, or the open looks.

Nick Nurse, Raptors coach: We actually kinda had a little more control of the game there at the end than it appeared. We were leading, leading, leading, leading. And always by more than one possession, or at least three with the ball.

For nearly two minutes at the end of the quarter, tied 85-85, neither team can score. At the 1:41 mark, Leonard hits a contested jumper. A dunk from Pascal Siakam puts the Raptors up four, before Butler hits a free throw. Leonard misses another jumper; Embiid responds with two more free throws.

Down one with 11 seconds remaining, the 76ers are forced to foul. Leonard hits the first, but misses the second. Harris collects the rebound and flings it forward to Butler, who hits a lay-up that Serge Ibaka just misses blocking. 90-90. Nurse calls a timeout.

WATCH | Panel discussion on the impact of The Shot:

CBC Sports’ Andi Petrillo hosts a panel discussion including Doug Smith, Devin Heroux, Mark Blinch, William Lou, Ashley Docking and Seerat Sohi, to talk about Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater against the 76ers and the impact that had on Canadian basketball fans. 22:45

Mark Blinch, photographer: During the timeout, I took a quick peek through all my lenses and decided I’d go a little looser than I had been shooting previously. I chose to shoot it with a looser lens that has less zoom. I wanted to get some of that atmosphere and try to get everything in the picture.

Leonard: I was very mad [after missing the free throw that led to Butler tying the game at 90-90]. I tried to race down and get a rebound. I probably should have sprinted back to give some help on that layup Jimmy made. But after that I was just like, “whatever play [coach] drew up, I’m about to get to my spot and shoot it, and shoot it with confidence.”

Nurse: The lineup was funky. Danny [Green] was out, Marc and Serge [Ibaka] were in. So all four guys moved to a new position on the play, except Kawhi. Kawhi stayed in his spot.

Green: I was in the corner, on the bench, waiting for it to drop in.

Nurse: I guess I didn’t really contemplate how I felt about going into overtime.

Blinch: Classic basketball training shooting photography is that whenever it’s a buzzer-beater type of moment, you always want the ball, the basket and the player in the frame.

Leonard: A couple possessions before that I had the same kind of shot from three and I just knew I had to put it up even higher than that.

Lowry: That was the play, give ‘Whi the ball up top. We ran a play that we’ve run before — give ‘Whi the ball, and he got to his spot and basically we watched greatness.

Nurse: I actually didn’t think he was going to get anything off. He kept getting bounced out wider and wider. And then Embiid came flying. If the centre reads it right, he can get to that sometimes.

VanVleet: I thought there was no chance it was going in. Standing behind him, you could see the trajectory of it. It looked like it was going off to the left.

Lowry: My view was standing in the other corner. He shot it high enough where he gave himself a chance.

Green: I thought it was going to overtime at first. It didn’t look like it was on target. It bounced, and it gives you a little bit of lightning. It bounced again and you’re like, OK, we may have a shot here.

WATCH | Full recap of Game 7 between the Raptors and 76ers:

Leonard`s fadeaway from the corner at the buzzer lifted the Toronto Raptors to a 92-90 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Toronto advance to their 2nd Conference finals in team history. 2:33

Leonard: Embiid was guarding me, you know he’s taller, longer than me. So I end up finding a spot that I like, that I work on, I end up getting to a spot and I just knew I had to shoot it high.

Gasol: You felt the electricity in the building. Everything kind of stopped.

Norman Powell, Raptors guard: The anticipation of the shot, we didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do for like a split second. Then I just ran over to Kawhi.

Green: And everybody went crazy.

VanVleet: I was right there in the mix. It’s a fine line between being happy and not trying to get hurt. You don’t want to get trampled and rolled on. Nobody fell, which was good.

Leonard: It was great. That’s something I never experienced before — Game 7, game-winning shot. So it was a blessing to be able to get to that point and make that shot and feel that moment. It’s something I can look back on in my career.

Blinch: Usually for big moments, I take a minute to pause and I don’t directly look at the camera. I sort of pray that it’s there. But when I was scrolling back when I saw the shot with the ball through the iron, I was relieved.

Mark Blinch shot his award-winning photo from the rafters of the Scotiabank Arena. (Mark Blinch for NBAE, World Press Photo via AP)

Seerat Sohi, Yahoo! Sports NBA reporter: The four bounces was probably the most prominent part because that was this moment where everybody in the building is silent and it was almost like a religious experience.

Blinch: I always say that those four bounces created such an amazing tension in the arena. I don’t think for me the picture would be as good if the ball just went straight in. It was the one second that created all the tension in the arena.

Lowry: I think the only other time I’ve seen it like that [in the arena] was when we first made the playoffs after the [five-year] drought, the first game, Game 1 against Brooklyn [in 2014]. Other than that it hasn’t been like that.

Doug Smith, Toronto Star Raptors reporter: There was a measure of vindication for [Raptors general manager] Masai Ujiri for having fired Dwane Casey and traded away DeMar DeRozan … I don’t think anyone was surprised [Kawhi] took the shot, but it was sort of a cathartic moment for the franchise who had undergone such great change.

Sohi: I had never seen anything like that where there were 20,000 people, who just seconds ago were all screaming and then all of us are holding our breaths, all of us are watching the exact same thing. And for this fan base that has expected for things to never work out, it actually finally works out when everyone’s watching.

Smith: That’s the lovely part of sports that great moments are basically fate. If Vince’s goes in and Kawhi’s doesn’t, what’s the difference in the trajectory of the franchise? Of the sport? One of my first reactions was this was a mirror image to 18 years earlier.

Blinch: I’m not sure that we’ll ever get a moment of that magnitude again. Maybe we’ll win again, of course, but I think in that dramatic fashion, what he’s left Toronto and Canada as a country, I’m content.

Nurse: I was thinking we better enjoy this for a day. I even told the team “that was a hell of a series and that was a hell of a team we just beat.”

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CBC | Sports News

Toronto photographer’s iconic shot of Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater wins top sports pic

For all the sporting moments Mark Blinch has captured through his lens for nearly two decades, there is only one he has taken the trouble to hang in his home.

A photo so extraordinary, so fulsome, encompassing and slammed with every emotion imaginable, even Blinch, who is his harshest critic, can admire it.

Blinch’s iconic snap of Kawhi Leonard’s famous bounce-around-the-rim, physic- and logic-defying buzzer-beater against Philadelphia in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last May has earned him the top prize in photography.

On Friday, Blinch’s photo was named winner of the World Press 2020 photo contest in the sports category.

“This is absolutely a top honour. A World Press photo is a milestone I’ve been working toward my entire life,” Blinch told CBC Sports.

Mark Blinch (Mark Blinch photo)

The photo is laced with expression, both from players and fans, as they watch the basketball hang on the rim. A new detail seems to jump out at Blinch every time he looks at it. 

“There’s actually a little part of the photo to the left where you can see a woman’s eye pop through the bars holding up the net. You just see her one eye. That’s pretty funny,” he said. 

Blinch, 37, grew up in London, Ont. before moving to Toronto in his early 20s to attend Ryerson University for photography. He’s the team photographer for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and also shoots for the NBA, Canadian Press and Globe and Mail.  

Blinch had received an award from the News Photographers Association of Canada every year since 2008, and from organizations such as National Newspaper Awards and Pictures of the Year International.

But this shot, in that moment, with so much riding on a split-second frame, has catapulted Blinch into a league of his own. 

Blinch’s capture beat out a photograph highlighting fans of Brazil’s Flamengo football team cheering after the team scored a goal against defending the champions from Argentina, and one of Liverpool football fans lining the streets to celebrate the team’s Champions League title.

Silvia Izquierdo photo of fans cheering Brazil’s Flamengo soccer team took second prize. (Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press)

This image of the celebration of Liverpool’s Champions League title won Oli Scarff third prize. (Oli Scarff, Agence France-Press, World Press Photo via AP)

Blinch would have normally found himself courtside during a basketball game, a familiar spot he photographs from during Raptors games.

But with the stakes so high in Game 7, the NBA brought in one of their senior photographers. That forced Blinch into a perch high above the court inside the media gondola at Scotiabank Arena.

Throughout the dramatic battle between the Raptors and Sixers, Blinch maneuvered himself above the court trying to find the best angles to shoot from. Then came the moment where he turned to his instincts to capture the now iconic photo.

With 4.2 seconds remaining a timeout was called. The Raptors were drawing up their last-second play — Blinch was also preparing his plan of attack.

“Classic basketball training shooting photography is that whenever it’s a buzzer-beater type of moment, you always want the ball, the basket and the player in the frame,” Blinch explained.

“That was my first thought.”

Classic basketball training shooting photography is that whenever it’s a buzzer-beater type of moment, you always want the ball, the basket and the player in the frame.– Mark Blinch

He decided on his position. Then he decided on what lens to use.

“During the timeout, I took a quick peek through all my lenses and decided I’d go a little looser than I had been shooting previously,” Blinch said. “I chose to shoot it with a looser lens that has less zoom. I wanted to get some of that atmosphere and try to get everything in the picture.”

Then it happened.

All of the hours in the gym and on the court leading to this moment for Kawhi Leonard to take one shot to win it all — it’s such a rare and fleeting event for any player to have that opportunity. One shot to win a series.

The enormity of the moment wasn’t lost on Blinch and just like Leonard, he leaned on the hours of training for his craft to also try to win the moment.

“I’ve been telling colleagues that photo is years of hard work, lessons, mistakes, everything. And of course, a little bit of luck in there too,” Blinch said. “Something like that is a culmination of all the life lessons and thinking about how to capture a moment. Even that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it.”

When Blinch reflects on what led to the magic of his photo, he’s almost lost for words. He said it’s hard to dream up another scenario that could lead to a singular photo telling the story of a moment.

‘It’s the anticipation’

“It’s the anticipation. I don’t think that picture happens if it goes right in. It’s the four bounces that did it. If it’s a swish they would have been jumping all around and there would have been no squat, and everyone wouldn’t be on their toes,” Blinch said.

“That to me is what makes it a special moment.”

In the midst of the madness and hoopla all Blinch saw was Leonard launching the ball and the first bounce off the rim. He thought Leonard had missed and the game was headed to overtime but he kept shooting.

“I always go back to the first bounce. As it kept bouncing it just gave more time for that tension to build up. It gave Kawhi enough time to squat down and look at it.”

WATCH | The physics of Leonard’s amazing shot:

A physicist explains how Toronto Raptors’ forward Kawhi Leonard made the shot that beat the buzzer in Game 7 to win against the Philadelphia 76ers. 2:07

And that Kawhi squat, as he agonizingly watches the ball hang on the rim, is what Blinch loves most about the photo.

“I love how everyone is there. Kawhi is obviously my favourite part because he’s squatting down and waiting for the ball.”

Blinch said he’s not sure the photograph would carry the same impact it does today if the Raptors hadn’t gone on their remarkable run to a championship.

“It becomes even better after they win the championship. It grows in legend. At the time I was ecstatic,” he said.

Humble to a fault, Blinch is quick to deflect any praise regarding the photo. But he knows it’s good — it’s why it’s the only photo to hang in his house.

And yet all Blinch could do when he took a first quick glimpse on his camera screen to see what he captured in the seconds that followed the buzzer-beater shot, was breathe a deep sigh of relief that hadn’t missed it. 

Both didn’t. Kawhi made it. Blinch captured it.

The rest is history.

‘The Shot’: Spot the differences


– Ben Simmons’ number removed

– third red-shirt-guy from the right is gone

– middle fan in black jersey’s number changes from #43 to #7

– Norm Powell shirt colour change

– woman on the left is no longer holding a cellphone, she’s holding a ball

– Drake has been added behind Joel Embiid

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CBC | Sports News

Kawhi Leonard won’t be surprised to hear some boos tonight in return to Toronto

Kawhi Leonard drew a crowd in his return to Toronto on Wednesday.

While downtown billboards heralded his return for the first time as a Los Angeles Clipper, the 28-year-old faced a media throng at the morning shootaround.

Leonard’s five-minute scrum attracted 60-plus media members and a dozen cameras. An unfazed Leonard, who led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title in his one season north of the border, said simply he was happy to be back.

Leonard, who will collect his championship ring prior to tipoff against the Raptors on Wednesday night, said he expected a mixed reaction from the fans despite the country’s past love affair with the close-mouthed NBA star.

“There’ll be some cheers but definitely, I think, more boos because they want to win the game,” he said, engulfed by media courtside at Scotiabank Arena. “They’re not going to be cheering for a player that’s on the opposing team. They’re still rooting for the Raptors.”

But Clippers coach Doc Rivers dismissed any thoughts of a negative reception from Raptors fans.

“He’ll get a great one … I don’t know if he promised a championship, but he fulfilled it anyway. I think it will be an amazing reception.”

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment laid out the welcome mat with tributes on giant video screens at Scotiabank Arena and BMO Field.

“Fun guy in town,” read the caption at the outdoor screen at Scotiabank Arena next to a photo of Leonard celebrating the NBA championship.

“Board man gets his ring,” read the caption on the BMO Field screen beside a picture of Leonard holding up the trophy.

The references were to T-shirts Leonard famously wore.

At the downtown intersection of Yonge and Dundas streets, New Balance — a Leonard sponsor — and Leonard thanked the fans of Toronto on a giant billboard.

Leonard said he got “flashbacks” from the Raptors’ victory parade as the Clippers came to the arena Wednesday morning.

“Obviously it was different playing here for a whole country. They’re all going for this one team,” he said. “The ride [with the Raptors] was fun. I had a great time last year with the coaching staff, the front office and the players. It was a great experience.”

Leonard signed as a free agent with the Clippers in early July, less than a month after leading the Raptors to their first NBA title.

He said he took his time making his decision, and thought long and hard about staying in Toronto.

“I gave it big consideration … I talked to the front office in deep detail,” he said. “It was a hard choice to make.”

He returned to his native California after the Clippers swung a deal to get Paul George from Oklahoma City in exchange for Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari, plus five first-round draft picks.

“I’m happy to be there. Having a great time,” Leonard said of life in L.A.

Leonard signed a three-year max deal with the Clippers that could be worth nearly $ 110 million US, although the third season is at his option.

Asked what he had done with the championship ring he won with the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard offered one of his trademark no-nonsense replies.

Leonard has said part of the reason for leaving the Raptors for the Clippers was the opportunity to play with pal Paul George. (Getty Images)

“I wore it a few times and then kept it in a safe place.”

Leonard came into Wednesday’s game averaging 25.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 18 games with the Clippers.

He averaged 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals over 60 regular-season games with the Raptors in 2018-19, turning it up a notch in the playoffs. Leonard averaged 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in 24 post-season games to earn his second Finals MVP award.

A man of few words, Leonard became part of Toronto sports lore with an Eastern Conference semifinal series-winning shot in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers that bounced on the rim four times before falling in.

Leonard had an uneven game Nov. 11 when the two teams met in Los Angeles. Struggling on 2-for-11 shooting in the face of double coverage, he finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and nine turnovers in a 98-88 Clippers win.

Toronto played without the injured Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka that night.

The Clippers have gone 11-3 and the Raptors 9-4 since that November meeting.

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CBC | Sports News

Kawhi Leonard’s impending return has Raptors fans more grateful than hateful

Two nights after Paul George’s hostile treatment in Indiana, it should be nothing but love for his teammate Kawhi Leonard in Toronto. 

Leonard will be presented with his NBA championship ring in a pre-game ceremony Wednesday in a city that appears to be more grateful than hateful toward the enigmatic superstar who left for his hometown L.A. in the off-season.

“It will be great, man, a guy like [Leonard] coming back to a place that he called home for a year, and helped us do some fantastic things,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “I think it’s going to be an unbelievable night — rather for the first five minutes, and then after that it’s a basketball game.”

It was an unbelievably ugly night for George on Monday. More than two years after he left the Pacers, he’s still Public Enemy No. 1 in Indiana. The ugly jeering threw off Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who told ESPN he was “shocked” and “ill-equipped.”

“It was offensive to me,” Rivers said. “I was unprepared for that.”

The boos failed to throw the 29-year-old George off his game. He scored 36 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lift the Clippers — who were playing without Leonard — to an 11-point win over Indiana.

“That’s Indiana for you,” George told reporters afterward. “You know what, some day I’ll do a ‘tell-all,’ and I’ll tell the leading events of how I left Indiana. And I promise you I’m not the one to boo.”

The story of Leonard’s departure, while heartbreaking for fans, had a much more positive spin. There were tribute videos to the player dubbed King of the North in the wake of his exit. He received a hero’s welcome in a pre-season game in Vancouver. Leonard said he’s been approached by numerous Canadians in California who wanted to say thanks.

Wednesday’s pre-game ceremony at Scotiabank Arena — where two seats behind the broadcast table were going for more than $ 10,000 apiece on the secondary market Tuesday — should prompt a similar outpouring of gratitude.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse expects “an amazing ovation.”

“If they give him one-fifteenth of what they gave us on opening night, it’s still going to be something. It was really amazing the night we got ours,” the coach said.

Lowry said he remains friends with Leonard. They text and joke regularly. There’s something special and lasting, Lowry said, about a group of players who win a championship together.

“It will be good to see him,” Lowry said. “Once he sees [his ring] and puts it on … he’s going to go ‘Wow!’ and then he’s going to be ready to go hoop.”

Lowry had reporters laughing when asked if he learned anything from Leonard last season. Lowry answered yes. Could he provide an example of such learning?

“Nope,” Lowry said. “That’s what I learned from him.”

WATCH | Raptors drop 1st game against Leonard in L.A.:

Toronto lost 98-88 to Los Angeles despite limiting the former NBA Finals MVP to 12 points. 1:50

Leonard had one of his worst games of the season when the Raptors visited L.A., scoring just 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting and coughing up a career-worst nine turnovers in the Clippers’ 99-88 win.

The Raptors were missing both Lowry (fractured thumb) and Serge Ibaka (ankle straight) that night, while OG Anunoby left the game in the first two minutes after Leonard swatted him in the eye.

The Clippers were also shorthanded. George was still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.

While Toronto has fared well in slowing down several NBA stars this season, Nurse will have to dig deep into his defensive bag of tricks to stop both Leonard, who’s averaging 25.1 points on 44.7 per cent shooting, and George (23.9 points on 44.6 per cent).

The Raptors managed to cool off red-hot James Harden last week with a halfcourt trap, but Harden happily drew the double team that left numerous Rockets wide open. They punished Toronto to the tune of 19 three-pointers. Ben McLemore had a season-high 28 points, making a career-high eight threes.

Marc Gasol, who was outstanding defensively in Toronto’s 93-92 win in Chicago on Monday, said the Raptors will be all-business in welcoming Leonard. Any pre-game emotions won’t be felt on the Raptors’ side of the floor.

“Obviously we’re going to try to beat them, just like we did in L.A.,” Gasol said. “It’s not going to be emotional because we already got our rings. Hopefully it’s very emotional for him, but for us it’s going to be pretty business-oriented.”

The teams have similar records. The Raptors are 16-7 and 7-3 in their 10 games. The Clippers (18-7) have won eight of their last 10.

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CBC | Sports News

As Raptors face Kawhi Leonard for 1st time since Finals win, load management is a hot topic again

He play.

At least that’s what should be expected of Kawhi Leonard when the Los Angeles Clippers host the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center on Monday night. 

The load management strategy is still very much in effect, but Leonard will have had three full days of rest ahead of the first meeting between the reigning NBA champions and the Finals MVP who led the team there.

While load management is now a household term for NBA enthusiasts, it was just last season that sports-science guru Alex McKechnie unleashed it in Toronto.

Now promoted to vice-president of player health and performance with the Raptors, McKechnie devised a plan to keep Leonard fresh and allow him to be in peak form for the playoffs after appearing in all but nine games the previous season due to injury.

WATCH | Kawhi Leonard thanks Raptors fans after leaving as free agent:

Kawhi Leonard has nice words for his former team and the city of Toronto during his introductory press conference with the L.A. Clippers. 2:09

Apparently this plan followed Leonard in free agency to his hometown Clippers. 

Just last week, the Clippers held Leonard out of a matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks. Predictably, this didn’t sit well with fans and media who were hoping to see Leonard go toe-to-toe with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The widespread disdain for the Clippers’ decision to sit Leonard against Milwaukee also took into account that Leonard would instead play the next night in a less-hyped tilt with the Portland Trail Blazers.

ESPN analyst Doris Burke did not mince words when she was asked to weigh in on the load management phenomenon. 

“It is mind-boggling to me that Kawhi doesn’t want to play against the reigning MVP and he’d rather play against Portland on TNT,” Burke said.

Burke acknowledged the thinking behind the strategy, but also sees this as a bad look for the league. 

“The Clippers obviously have a responsibility to Kawhi and to winning and to long term,” Burke said. “But the league also I believe is and should be concerned that their best players are not playing on nights when they are on national television.”

California love

Leonard, 28, is very much the player Raptors fans remember from the championship run when he appeared in 60 of 82 regular-season games.

Through seven games this season, Leonard is averaging a career-high 29 points per game, while logging fewer minutes this season, down from 34 in 2018-19 to 30.9 per game.

Andrew Greif, a Clippers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, has been impressed by the all-star forward so far. 

“He’s been as advertised,” Greif told CBC Sports. “A strong defender and an at-times unstoppable scorer. We knew all that, before, of course, with his performance in last season’s playoffs the most forceful example yet of his ability to influence the game on both ends. But his ability to get to his ‘spots’ offensively is something I didn’t appreciate until I began watching him live, night-in and night-out.”

WATCH | Kawhi Leonard takes flight in debut with Clippers:

Leonard scored a game-high 30 points in the Clippers 112-102 win over the Lakers. 0:13

However, Leonard is carrying a considerable amount of the load despite the decrease in minutes as his usage percentage (plays that result in a field-goal attempt, free-throw attempt or turnover) has sky-rocketed to 39.5 per cent (league-average usage is 20 per cent), trailing only James Harden in that category. 

The Clippers, who have dropped a pair of games without Leonard, don’t appear to be hitting the panic button, especially with fellow all-star Paul George expected to make his debut in the coming weeks. 

The Clippers abide, mostly

There is also no sign of the Clippers caving to the cries of fans and media to ditch load management. 

At this point, there is really no reason to as the league has approved the process as was made evident prior to the Clippers’ 129-124 loss to Milwaukee.

“Kawhi Leonard is not a healthy player under the league’s resting policy,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement on Nov 6. “And, as such, is listed as managing a knee injury in the Clippers injury report. The league office, in consultation with the NBA’s director of sports medicine is comfortable with the team medical staff’s determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games at this time.”

In a strange twist, the Clippers were fined $ 50,000 US the following day because coach Doc Rivers said Leonard was “healthy” after the NBA had confirmed Leonard’s load management for injury was consistent with league rules. 

For now, the Clippers will continue to keep us guessing regarding Leonard’s availability for back-to-backs. 

“I understand the frustration from fans, especially those who’ve paid for tickets and might not be able to watch another Clippers game live this season,” Greif said. “But to paraphrase Clippers coach Doc Rivers’ counter-argument from [earlier this season]: Clippers fans might be upset in the short-term, but long-term, they will cheer if the strategy pays off with a championship.”

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CBC | Sports News

With regular-season title in hand, Wolfpack can nurse injuries and manage like Kawhi

Now it is official. The Toronto Wolfpack is untouchable.

The heavy lifting has been done and the mission accomplished. Others will scrap, battle and clamber to join the Wolfpack in the promotion playoffs, but none can surpass what has already been achieved. The Wolfpack are regular-season champions.

Yet these are dangerous times for a team that can’t be caught.

On the surface it is purely academic. The Wolfpack’s narrow win over Widnes renders the remainder of its regular season meaningless. There are 5 games remaining and Toronto can afford to lose them all.

But below the surface, there is much to be done. Coach Brian McDermott has set a high bar and must not allow standards to drop. His players cannot merely coast to the finish line. To do so would set a precarious precedent.

Rest vs. rust

McDermott must ensure minds and bodies are focused. Professional athletes are, by definition, competitive. It is simply part of their DNA, but even the best have a bad day at the office from time to time.

Is it time to protect the players? It must be tempting to wrap them up in cotton wool and wait for the post season. That way they don’t risk a serious injury in a game that has no bearing on their path to promotion.

WATCH | Wolfpack clinch Betfred regular-season title with win over Widnes:

Watch the Toronto Wolfpack face off against the Widnes Vikings in Betfred Championship Rugby League play. 1:56:02

Tempting, but erroneous. Injuries and suspensions are part and parcel of the game — a fact accepted as an occupational hazard by players and coaches alike. Athletes cannot live in a bubble — they live for the excitement of the weekend.

It would also be a very long wait. Having already locked up first place in the regular season, the Wolfpack is guaranteed a bye in the opening round of the playoffs. By my reckoning, Toronto’s next ‘meaningful’ game doesn’t take place until the third week of September.

Players, naturally, just want to play. They also want the routine of regular practice and the challenge of weekly goals. McDermott could stand down most of his senior squad for a month or more but it would surely play havoc with their equilibrium.

Opponents still hunting for playoffs

It might also be unfair on their opponents. Toronto may have nothing more than pride to play for but that is certainly not the case for the teams the Wolfpack will face in the coming weeks. For some their seasons are on the line.

Take their next opponent for example. McDermott is preparing the team for Sunday’s tilt against his old club, Bradford. The Bulls are playing catch up — desperate for a win to remain in the hunt for a post-season berth.   

The Wolfpack’s final four games take place in Toronto and all will have significance for the visitors. York City and Leigh Centurions are battling for higher seedings in the playoffs while Barrow are trying to avoid relegation alongside Rochdale.

McDermott and his staff will do what is right for the Wolfpack players. A little squad rotation won’t do any harm. It will keep everyone on their toes and eager to prove they can earn a starting role when the playoffs begin.

Game management can be a great asset when done properly. Look how the Raptors managed Kawhi Leonard’s game time in the lead up to the post season. The medical staff got him fit and, crucially, kept him healthy when it really mattered.

The Wolfpack has strength in depth. Every successful team must have genuine competition for places and Toronto is no exception. It has come through two big tests recently — and had to make do without Gareth O’Brien, Ricky Leutele and Matty Russell in beating the resilient Vikings.

None need to be rushed back. Sixteen straight wins have bought Toronto the advantage of a little more time to heal the walking wounded. But the weekly application and intensity must remain. McDermott will see to that.

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NBA champion Kawhi Leonard thanks Raptors, city of Toronto

Star forward Kawhi Leonard, who led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title in June, opened Wednesday’s introductory news conference with the Los Angeles Clippers by thanking his former team, the city of Toronto and fans across Canada.

Leonard, who was named Finals MVP, was arguably the most coveted prize in this year’s free-agent class, and met with several teams including the Raptors, Lakers and Clippers in his hometown of Los Angeles.

Speculation rose to a fever pitch that Leonard would re-sign with the Raptors after he flew to Toronto to speak with the team and president Masai Ujiri.

WATCH | Kawhi Leonard thanks Toronto for ‘amazing season and best parade ever’:

Kawhi Leonard has nice words for his former team and the city of Toronto during his introductory press conference with the L.A. Clippers. 2:09

But in the end, Leonard chose to return home and sign with the Clippers. He helped orchestrate the blockbuster trade that saw the Clippers obtain Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, forward Danilo Gallinari and five first-round draft picks.

Leonard reportedly signed a three-year, $ 103-million US deal with the Clippers with a player option for the 2020-21 season.

Former Raptors’ star forward Kawhi Leonard and fellow Clippers newcomer Paul George show off their new jerseys at Wednesday’s introductory news conference in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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Kawhi Leonard officially signs with Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers signed free agent forward Kawhi Leonard, this year’s NBA FInals MVP with the Toronto Raptors, to a reported three-year, $ 103-million US maximum contract, and officially completed a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George.

The Clippers completed their blockbuster trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, acquiring George for guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, forward Danilo Gallinari and five first-round draft picks.

The Clippers surrendered their first-rounders in 2022, 2024 and 2026, plus sent ones for 2021 and 2023 that were obtained through Miami, to Oklahoma City.

Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, announced the moves Wednesday, but did not disclose terms of the deal, which have been reported by multiple outlets.

“This is a historic moment for our organization and our fans,” said Frank. “We are grateful and honoured that Kawhi Leonard has decided to come home and join the L.A. Clippers. Kawhi is a peerless two-way player, a relentless worker and a natural fit for the serious, professional culture our group has established. He wins everywhere he goes, and he always has, from King High School to San Diego State to the NBA. Having him on our side is a tremendous privilege and a massive responsibility, one we will take very seriously. His expectation, and ours, is to contend for championships.”

The person spoke to the Associated Press about Leonard’s deal on condition of anonymity because the Clippers did not release its final terms. The Athletic first reported the three-year term and option provision in Leonard’s deal.

That would allow Leonard, a 28-year-old Southern California native, to opt out and become a free agent again in 2021.

It was originally reported that Leonard would receive a four-year, $ 142-million maximum contract.

Leonard and the Clippers had talked about a full four-year max as well, but eventually agreed on the shorter deal which preserves the future contract flexibility for the two-time NBA Finals MVP.

“Having him on our side is a tremendous privilege and a massive responsibility, one we will take very seriously,” Frank said. “His expectation, and ours, is to contend for championships.”

Leonard led San Antonio to the NBA title in 2014 and Toronto to its first title last month.

WATCH | Raptors take down Warriors in Game 6 to win NBA title:

The Toronto Raptors won their first NBA title in franchise history with a 114-110 win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals over the Golden State Warriors. 2:56

George, traded by the Clippers to pair with Leonard, also has two years guaranteed and a player option remaining on his deal.

“Paul George is one of the greatest two-way players in our game,” said Frank. “He is both an elite scorer and a relentless defender whose versatility elevates any team. When you have the opportunity to acquire a contributor of his caliber, you do what it takes to bring him home. Paul is a native of the Los Angeles area and an ideal fit for the Clippers, thanks to his selflessness and drive. Following the lead of [owner] Steve Ballmer, we have plotted an aggressive course to build a championship contender, and acquiring Paul is a critical step.”

‘Unreasonable’ demands of Raptors

Leonard, who last month led the Raptors to their first NBA championship after he was acquired in a trade from the San Antonio Spurs last July, reportedly selected the Clippers over the Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers. According to TSN of Canada, Leonard made “unreasonable” demands of the Raptors during contract talks.

Leonard averaged 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds over 60 regular-season games with the Raptors in 2018-19. Over 24 playoff games, he averaged 30.5 points with 9.1 rebounds.

In the NBA Finals, Leonard scored 28.5 points per game with 9.8 rebounds as Toronto defeated the Golden State Warriors in six games, dethroning the defending champs.

The three-time all-star, who was drafted 15th overall by the Indiana Pacers in 2011, has averaged 17.7 points and 6.3 rebounds over 467 games (440 starts) with the Spurs and the Raptors.

Along with Leonard and George, the 2021 free-agent class could potentially include the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, and LeBron James, who has a player option for 2021 on the four-year deal he signed with the Lakers last off-season.

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With Kawhi Leonard headed to Los Angeles, what should the Raptors do now?

He (didn’t) stay.

Star forward Kawhi Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers for the maximum four years, $ 142 million US, the franchise confirmed on Saturday.

The Raptors did all they could to keep their Finals MVP. At his introductory press conference in Toronto, Leonard stated two priorities: To be healthy, and to win. The Raptors gave him both, carefully managing his load through the regular season before giving him the spotlight in the playoffs.

Now, the Raptors are tasked with replacing him. Except, as we just saw, Leonard is pretty close to irreplaceable.

With Leonard gone, the Raptors remain above the $ 109-million salary cap. That means the Raptors won’t be major players for the remaining free agents. In the NBA, you can only exceed the salary cap to re-sign your own players, barring a couple of complicated exceptions.

The road to improvement is virtually non-existent, unless we see a massive leap from younger players.

There are two paths Toronto could take: Stay the course, or blow it up.

Staying the course is dependent on the continued improvement of their young stars such as Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to try to compensate for the glaring hole left by Leonard. That team would be good, but not many would consider them favourites to repeat.

Blowing it up would entail a complete rebuild. Think Toronto Maple Leafs circa 2015. Trade everyone, hand the roster over to the kids and tank for a pick. There are four unrestricted free agents after next season on the team: Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet. If the Raptors choose this route, those players could all be gone.

Neither option is ideal. But which one is preferable?

Stay the course

With news of Leonard’s decision, Danny Green already bid goodbye to Toronto, heading to Leonard’s cross-town rival Lakers on a two-year deal. The Raptors likely weren’t interested in pushing past the salary cap and into the luxury tax just to pay the sharpshooter, anyway.

Ownership just proved it would empty its pockets for a title, but without Leonard, the Raptors aren’t championship contenders. Still, the case to stay the course is twofold — business and spice.

The business reasons are fairly obvious. The Raptors just won the title, and won over tons of new fans along the way. It would be a bad look to turn heel and trade the likes of Lowry and Ibaka for future assets.

And they’re still a likely playoff team even without Leonard. Pascal Siakam won Most Improved Player last season and found himself in the all-star discussion. He’s still growing as a basketball player. Lowry’s been an all-star five consecutive years. In fact, Siakam and Lowry led the Raptors in scoring in the clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Siakam is poised to be the Raptors’ next star, so it would be wise to surround him with a competitive team, not a tanking one.

WATCH | Siakam pours in 26 points as Raptors win NBA title:

The Toronto Raptors won their first NBA title in franchise history with a 114-110 win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals over the Golden State Warriors. 2:56

Their starting lineup could look something like Lowry-Norman Powell-Anunoby-Siakam-Gasol. Mix in VanVleet and Ibaka off the bench and there’s a decent rotation — especially if one of their G-League contingent (Malcolm Miller, Chris Boucher, Jordan Loyd) prove to be serviceable.

The Raptors would also have something called the non-taxpayer mid-level exception contract to hand someone (up to four years, beginning around $ 10 million with five per cent annual raises). Former Raptors such as Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph reportedly landed slightly above this salary range, for example.

Anunoby is also an interesting case. Before the season, he was pegged by some as the likeliest Raptors breakout player, even ahead of Siakam. The death of his father and a bevy of injuries threw a wrench into those plans, but the flashes Anunoby showed with shooting and defence in his rookie season shouldn’t be forgotten.

His game and quiet demeanour even reminded some of a young Kawhi Leonard.

Blow it up

Masai Ujiri’s swap of DeMar DeRozan for Leonard signaled the Raptors president of basketball operations was unwilling to float along as mildly competitive.

It wasn’t good enough to win a round or even two. The Finals — and that Larry O.B. — were the goal.

A decision to stay the course now would thrust the Raptors right back into the DeRozan era in terms of competitiveness. And even that competitiveness would only last one year before the foursome of free agents hit the market.

If Lowry, Ibaka, Gasol and VanVleet all stay, the first three would be in the declining stages of their careers. Would it really be prudent to tie up cap space in that aging core and possibly cost yourself a chance to go big-game hunting in free agency in 2021, when reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo could be available?

Blowing it up would likely involve trading at least some of the four free agents to recoup draft picks and young players that could form the core of the next winning Raptors team. Lowry has value, though his nearly $ 35-million US salary greatly limits the number of interested teams. Same goes for Ibaka and Gasol.

Kyle Lowry may follow Kawhi Leonard out the door if the Raptors choose to begin a rebuild. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

Another consequence of trading veterans is the acquisition of cap space. Toronto could weaponize that theoretical cap space by taking on other teams’ bad deals with a sweetener of future draft picks, the same way the Carolina Hurricanes acquired Patrick Marleau along with a first-round pick.

That could allow the Raptors to line up their cap sheet for a pursuit of Antentokounmpo in 2021.

However, shedding the salaries of the incumbent free agents would be tough at this point of the off-season, with other teams already having used up most of their available money.

The Raptors, in this scenario, would likely miss the playoffs and enter the draft lottery, where we just saw the team with the eighth-worst record move to first overall and draft a generational talent in Zion Williamson.

A new young core would be well on its way. But first, as another Toronto coach once famously said, there would be pain.

Ujiri made a bold move last summer trading for Leonard. It might be time for another.

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