Kawhi Leonard scores 45 points for Raptors

Kawhi Leonard put on the kind of show against the 76ers that had the Toronto crowd chanting “M-V-P” all night long.

A barrage of offence from Leonard and Pascal Siakam, combined with punishing team defence, ensured the Toronto Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 108-95 in Game One of their semi-final series.

Leonard scored a new post-season career-high of 45 points on a wildly efficient 16-of-23 from the field. Furthermore, he added 11 rebounds — joining Vince Carter as the only Raptors to score 40-plus in a playoff game. Meanwhile, Siakam recorded 29 points on 12-of-15 shooting and also helped himself to seven boards. Furthermore, Kyle Lowry added nine points and eight assists.

“I’m just thinking of the next game,” said the straight-faced Leonard afterwards. “Tomorrow, this is gonna be erased.”

Toronto held Philadelphia’s star-studded team to 39.3 per cent shooting. JJ Redick led Philly with 17 points in the loss — including five three-pointers. All-star centre Joel Embiid was held to 16 points and eight boards while being guarded by Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Ben Simmons had 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists.

It was a franchise-record fifth straight playoff win for the Raptors. Leonard, personally, improved to 14-0 all-time against the 76ers.

Both teams had punted their first-round opponents in five games, several of them blowouts — Toronto against the Orlando Magic, and Philly versus the Brooklyn Nets. This second-round series, bursting with incredible talent, had an increased intensity from the tip-off.

The two franchises were meeting in the post-season for the first time since 2001. The Raptors started slowly defensively in the opening minutes.

Siakam and Leonard exploded for 17 points apiece in the first quarter. With both of them on 7-from-9 in the field. They traded off buckets like it was a competition. Leonard charged, spun, and turned to the hoop. Siakam hit a pair of three balls and pin-balled off defenders with force. The dynamic duo combined for 34 of the Raptor’s 39 first-quarter points. In doing so, they constructed a 39-31 lead going into the second.

“I didn’t think we were moving great at the start, again; it’s the start of another big series, and we weren’t pushing as hard as I would have liked,” said Toronto Coach Nick Nurse. “[Leonard and Siakam] kind [of] bailed us and actually played enough offence to get us a nice lead there at the start. It was big to have those two guys step up and jump-start us.”

This NBA match-up was alluring and drew out all the stars. Toronto Blue Jays superstar newcomer Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was in the house and drew a standing ovation. Handmaid’s Tale actress Elisabeth Moss was in the crowd, so was pop star Shawn Mendes and Canadian basketball star R. J. Barrett. Meanwhile, Drake was in his courtside seat. The half-time show was a league-wide favourite — the uni-cycling teacup juggler, Red Panda.

Nurse was happy with the defensive partnerships. He said: “I thought the combination of Marc and Serge did a good job. [Embiid] was taking some tougher shots.

“I thought we had him picking up the ball a little further away than maybe he wanted a few times and then our team help was pretty good, too. I thought we were crowding the paint a little bit, making it look a little crowded in there for him so he wasn’t comfortable.”

Game two is on Monday night in Toronto. Before the series swings to Philly on Thursday.

Peace,

Burke.

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