Photo credits: Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images (left), Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images (right)
Kawhi Leonard’s 45 point performance in game six of the Los Angeles Clippers playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks last week was just the latest reminder of how truly dominant he can be. The former two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time finals MVP put the Clippers on his back during clutch moments to force a game seven.
It was truly a Jordan-esque performance, but for Toronto Raptors fans that were watching, it was like deja vu. During the entire 2019 playoffs Leonard averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Those stats are similar to his averages so far in this series against the Mavericks, but what’s most impressive in Leonard’s game right now is how efficiently he is shooting the ball.
We all know Kawhi Leonard has the rare ability to carry a team to a win, and he has exhibited that ability in crucial playoff moments time and again. The 2019 Finals MVP was in rare form throughout their championship run, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot while also regularly defending the opposing team’s best player.
But Leonard didn’t have the same results during the 2020 NBA playoffs last year as he did in 2019, and that’s not because he didn’t play up to his usual playoff standards. Even in this series against the Mavericks, Leonard has been dominant at times and still, the Clippers will have to win a tough game seven tonight to advance out of the first round.
The Clippers’ supporting cast is lacking
Leonard is one of the best players of this generation and even one of the great two-way players to ever play the game, but the fact still remains that championships are never won alone.
The Clippers have a talented, although inconsistent supporting cast. Paul George verges on superstar status at times but also has a bit of a history of disappearing in big moments. Most notably in the Clippers’ game seven collapse last playoffs against the Denver Nuggets where they dropped a 3-1 series lead. Both Leonard and George were held scoreless in the fourth quarter of that game.
Rajon Rondo has yet to find a rhythm in this series, Serge Ibaka has missed games due to a back injury and Patrick Beverley has fallen out of the rotation.
The 2019 Champs were special
More credit needs to be given to the team effort that was on display that supported Leonard’s dominance in 2019.
There is really no comparing this Clippers roster to the 2019 Raptors squad. Offensively, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry gave Leonard the scoring relief he needed at times, with both of them averaging over 15 points per game throughout the 2019 playoffs. Defensively the Raptors were elite, with savvy veteran defenders like Lowry, Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, and, of course, Leonard himself.
Leonard was the go-to star the Raptors had desperately needed for so long. The Raptors had all the pieces in place and the addition of Leonard proved to be the perfect mix for the Raptors to have such a deep and balanced group of players for the 2019 championship.
All eyes will be on Leonard for game seven against the Mavericks tonight. No one will be surprised if Leonard drops 40+ points once again and wills his team to the next round. But it may not matter how well he plays if he doesn’t get the help he needs from his supporting cast. He may be able to push them through to the second round but how far is this group capable of making it from then on?