After coasting through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Bucks were looking poised for an NBA Finals run. They swept the Detroit Pistons and gentleman swept the Boston Celtics. Giannis was looking good. Middleton was looking good. The Bucks were looking good. Then…Kawhi Leonard happened. Milwaukee matched up with the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals and won the first two games of the series. However, the Raptors schemed up a way to stop Giannis and the Bucks and won four straight to take the series. Sure, we can talk about how Mike Budenholzer got out-coached by Nick Nurse or how Eric Bledsoe failed to show up in yet another playoff series but I want to talk about Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has been having one of the best playoff runs in NBA history and Bucks fans need to accept greatness to get over this series loss.
Leading up to the Milwaukee series, Kawhi played in a total of 12 games and averaged 31.8 points per game, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. He did all of this while shooting 54% from the field and 41% from three. He was playing 37 minutes per game and dominating all 37 of them. He even ended the Philadelphia series with one of the best game winners in playoff history. In his first 12 games of the 2019 playoffs, Leonard was responsible for more points than Michael Jordan was in his first 12 of the 1996 playoffs. Against the Bucks, Leonard was perhaps more dominant. In 6 games he averaged about 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. He shot 44% from the field and added about 9 made free throws a game. He even contributed 2.2 steals and 1 block per game. His best game came in the closeout matchup where he scored 27 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, and dished out 7 assists. In a closeout game, a team’s superstar is supposed to step up and that’s what Kawhi did. Milwaukee had zero adjustments for Leonard and it showed. He was able to do whatever he wanted on offense and defense. He has played astronomically better during this year’s playoff run than he did during his 2014 Finals MVP year.
Moving into the finals, Kawhi has played in a league high 18 playoff games this year. Throughout all 18 he has averaged 31.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG, and 3.8 APG. He has a player efficiency rating of 28.5 while having a high usage rate of 33.1. Leonard’s 28.5 PER is actually higher than all-time great, Shaquille O’Neal’s, was in his 2002 championship year.
Yes, Milwaukee blew a 2-0 series lead. Yes, Milwaukee blew a 15 point lead in Game 6. Yes, Milwaukee could have done things differently. However, Kawhi Leonard has been playing at a Hall of Fame level throughout these playoffs and maybe, just maybe, he was the main reason the Bucks could not get past the Raptors. In fact, he was only the third player since 2000, along with Jason Kidd and LeBron James, to lead their team in scoring and lead them to a finals appearance. So don’t give all the credit to Milwaukee’s poor play, give the credit to Kawhi Leonard and his ability to be one of the greatest players in the league today.
*All stats according to basketball-reference.com*
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