Kawhi Leonard finally faces off against the Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Kawhi Leonard will face off against the Toronto Raptors for the first time since leaving this past summer. What an occasion it could well be.

Though Kawhi Leonard’s stint with the Toronto Raptors was short-lived, it proved to be the most memorable year in Raptors history – culminating in the team’s first-ever trip to the NBA Finals and it’s first-ever NBA title. Without the help of Kawhi Leonard, none of that would have been possible.

After a momentous first, and only, season with the Raptors, Leonard elected to move home to Los Angeles and join the LA Clippers in free agency. No one will chastise him for his decision. The Raptors managed Leonard’s workload, and in return, he played a prominent role in helping the Raptors deliver their first championship. A mutually beneficial relationship if there ever was one.

Leonard averaged 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game, on 50-percent from the field and 37-percent from three, playing in just 60 regular-season games due to a much-maligned, but well-devised and highly successful load management regime. His performances in the playoffs would go down in Raptors folklore and he put his name in the hat for greatest Toronto Raptors player of all-time.

He was adored, appreciated, and successful during his time north of the border. It seemed like the Raptors were the perfect fit for Leonard. They adhered to his quiet nature and just let him concentrate on basketball. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough and Leonard desired home. While the decision still stings, there was nothing more the Raptors could really do. His decision was no slight on the franchise or Canada as a whole – he simply wanted to go home.

Now, for the first time since leaving the Raptors back in July, Leonard will face off against his former team at the Staples Center – his new home. Both the Raptors and Clippers have endured successful starts to the season, but it’s actually the Raptors who have had more success, albeit one win more.

The Clippers were one of the outright favourites to win the NBA title this season, such was the vast success of their offseason. As well as picking up Leonard in free agency, the Clippers made a blockbuster move for Paul George, who is nearing his return to the court.

However, the Raptors were written off early before the season had started, but their promising 7-2 start to the season, as well as an impressive victory over the Los Angeles Lakers – without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka – has made people think a little differently about the team.

The Raptors will be without Lowry and Ibaka once more and on the second night of a back-to-back, coming away with the victory will be just a little tougher. Leonard has started the season in prime form for the Clippers too, averaging 29 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game in 30.9 minutes a night.

Replacing Leonard in the lineup has been OG Anunoby, and his return to the starting five has been filled with promise. Anunoby has consistently looked like one of the best defenders in the NBA for the first part of the season and has been able to offer a strong offensive output, averaging 13 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game, shooting 55-percent from the field and 53-percent from three. The matchup between the two will be a feisty affair on the wing.

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While it doesn’t have the same big fight feeling as Leonard’s return to Toronto later on in the year, it’s the biggest matchup of the season so far for the Toronto Raptors. Even without Lowry and Ibaka, they’ll take the fight to the Clippers and Kawhi Leonard.