TORONTO — Kawhi Leonard was subbed out of Saturday’s 108-95 Game 1 win over the Philadelphia 76ers with just more than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Up to that point, he’d made 16 of the 23 shots he’d attempted and 10 of 11 free throws to bring his scoring total to 45 points.
It was a career playoff high for the Toronto Raptors superstar and tied for the most he’d ever scored in any game in his NBA career.
Leonard said he wished he was pulled from the game sooner.
“I was trying to get out of the game before it got to that point,” Leonard said after his team took a 1-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinals series. “We were up 20 points with probably like five minutes left, and I was already looking at the bench trying to get them to come and take me out of the game.”
Another minute or two, and Leonard could have steered some more of the best-player-in-the-game conversation away from Kevin Durant, who pumped in 50 points Friday for the Golden State Warriors. A couple of more made shots, and he could have joined Vince Carter as the only Raptors in team history to score 50 in a postseason game; instead, he settled for being one of two Raptors to score 40-plus in the playoffs.
The win, he claimed, was good enough.
“This individual stuff, it’s not big for me,” Leonard said. “To reach these goals, it’s great when you do it and you could win. But our focus is every game trying to win the ballgame. That’s why we’re playing this game. We’re not playing so I could score 50 or get 40 points, we’re all on this team trying to say, ‘Raptors win’ at the end of the day.”
Leonard’s offensive onslaught started early as he scored 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the first quarter and Toronto led by as many as 14 in the opening frame. His outburst – the 17 points tied his personal best for most points in a playoff quarter – helped exorcise the Raptors’ Game 1 playoff demons as the franchise was 2-14 all-time in series openers coming into the night.
Pascal Siakam, who finished with 29 points on 12-for-15 shooting, was right there with Leonard, equaling his first-quarter total of 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. It was the first time two teammates each scored 15 points or more in the first quarter of a playoff game over the last 15 postseasons, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Info.
“Obviously, if Kawhi is going off, too, you know he’s going to get some attention and kind of open up the floor for me, too,” Siakam said.
At one point, the Raptors hit 13 straight field goal attempts in the first quarter as a team, making it the longest streak in franchise postseason history. Leonard and Siakam combined for 11 of those makes.
“He’s a spectacular player, and he had a spectacular night and he hit some spectacular shots,” JJ Redick said when asked about Leonard. “He’s a superstar. He’s as good as there is in the NBA at generating his own shot and making tough shots. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to ’em. I’m not going go into what our gameplan was, but I think we can execute our gameplan a little better. Clearly, we need to figure out what we’re doing with him and Siakam.”
“Personally, I think I did a pretty good job overall, but he’s a tough player, he’s Kawhi,” Simmons said. “He’s a physical guy, a lot of length, can shoot the ball. So he’s a tough guy to match up with.”
As a team though?
“I don’t think we showed enough help,” Simmons said of the Sixers’ defense on Leonard.
Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said Simmons could play more on Leonard in Game 2, but he still wants to use some combination of Simmons, Butler and Tobias Harris on the Leonard-Siakam combination.
“Could we see [Simmons] more on Kawhi? Maybe,” Brown said. “Maybe some of the others we need to better and give him help with crowds. … Our intention was multiple defensive players on Kawhi out of that group that I just said.”
“It’s extremely important because he can go do a lot of things and he can take over a game. He can go wild on you. It was great,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of containing Embiid. “He 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 … 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.”
And Leonard gave the home team the comfort of a 1-0 lead.
“I guess not maybe surprising but pretty dang good tonight,” Nurse said. “That was again a big-time performance at both ends. I just like the force he’s playing with at both ends but especially when he’s getting the ball. He’s pushing it up the floor, he’s punching the gaps with force, he’s determined to get to spaces.
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but that was pretty cool to watch tonight.”