Make no mistake about it: Kawhi Leonard is firmly in the conversation for best basketball player on planet earth. The only argument against that is he may actually be a robot instead of a human being.
Despite the greatness from the likes of Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokic most notably this postseason, “The Klaw” has absolutely separated himself as the best player in these NBA playoffs.
Just a week back it looked like the Raptors magic had run out with Kawhi’s absurd game winner to put away the 76ers in the previous round. They looked dead in the water after Milwaukee routed them to go up 2-0 in this series. Since then, Kawhi has gone full cyborg mode and led his team to three straight wins, now inches away from an NBA finals birth.
Looking at his supporting cast in Toronto, reaching the finals with this roster would be an incredible feat. Although the Raps have plenty of savvy veterans with playoff experience, both Philadelphia and the Bucks have more complete teams.
If Kawhi is able to close the Bucks out this would be a huge legacy boost for a guy who has already won a title, been named finals MVP, and has won Defensive Player of the Year twice with San Antonio. Especially when considering the eastern conference is the most competitive it’s been in years, this carrying act by Kawhi is history in the making that we should all be marveling at.
Essentially facing elimination and a 3-0 deficit in game 3 versus the Bucks, Toronto head coach Nick Nurse made the adjustment that defined the turning point in this series. He’s given his guy Kawhi the defensive assignment on the probable MVP of this season in the “Greek Freak.”
Antetokounmpo is one of the most unstoppable attackers of the basket in league history. He’s impossible to shut down completely. But Kawhi has thoroughly outplayed him these last three games, in large part to his defensive effort on him.
Raptors point guard and five time all star Kyle Lowry has appeared to exorcise some of his playoff demons during this stretch. He’s been a nice sidekick to Leonard. However, outside of Lowry, the likes of Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Fred VanVleet have had their moments, but have been models of inconsistency throughout this postseason.
Kawhi is a silent assassin that chooses not to lead vocally. On the flip side, Michael Jordan was a fiery personality who took drastic measures to help lift his team to wins. He even got so emotional one time that he punched a teammate during practice. From a personality standpoint him and Kawhi are quite different.
However, you’ve got two guys who can dominate the game on both ends of the floor. Two guys who from a stature and motion with which they play draws plenty of similarities. Both are graceful athletes, more than capable shooters, and efficient performers who have no wasted energy in their game. They’re the antithesis of James Harden’s playing style.
All that’s left for Leonard to complete this run through the eastern conference is closing out the Bucks. Entering this season we were all wondering who would fill the void LeBron James left after leaving the conference this offseason. It’s looking like Kawhi is snatching that spot from the “Greek Freak” at the moment. We’ll see if he can do what made Jordan the greatest to ever play, in a close out situation in Jurassic Park on Saturday night.