The Toronto Raptors need Kawhi Leonard to return to form after a few sluggish performances in the postseason. Leonard is averaging a career high 31.8 points and 8.5 rebounds in the playoffs. He’s also shooting 52.5 percent from the field in the postseason. However, the shooting has waned in recent games.
Undoubtedly, Leonard will be remembered for hitting the game-winning, series clinching Game 7 shot against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday. Thanks to his prior playoff masterpieces, many overlooked his 16 of 39 performance in the final win over the 76ers. Moreover, Leonard made 6 of 9 shots in the fourth quarter of the series clincher to stake claim as the greatest player in the NBA. Even a late missed free throw that led to a tie score couldn’t deter Leonard from being the hero the Raptors needed.
However, there should be cause for concern in the Eastern Conference Finals. Leonard responded to his 41 shooting percentage in Game 7 to shoot 10 of 26 in Game 1. In other words, he only connected on 38.5 percent of his field goal attempts on Wednesday. That was the second worst shooting performance of the playoffs. More importantly, Leonard torched the first two opponents in Game 1.
He connected on 55.6 percent of his shot attempts in a three-point loss to the Orlando Magic. Leonard was 10 of 18 from the field and 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Leonard missed a potential game-tying shot, but he set the stage for the playoffs. In Game 1 against the 76ers, Leonard shot 16 of 23 from the field and 3 of 7 from 3-point range. That equates to 69.6 percent. He also made 10 of 11 foul shots in the Game 1 victory.
Clearly, opponents struggled to figure out Leonard’s game to start the playoffs. Well, that was until two days ago. Leonard was a perfect 10 for 10 from the foul line. Therefore, we know his shot was good. Fatigue may have been a factor, but it usually causes shooting woes from the free throw line. The length of the Milwaukee Bucks may have been the biggest factor in the game. However, we must wait until Game 2 to see if any adjustments are made.
Leonard is 26 of 65 in the last two games from the field. Therefore, he is averaging 13 of 32.5 shooting over the last two contests. Leonard has also played 42.8 minutes per game in that time frame. For reference, Leonard is averaging 37.7 minutes per game in the postseason. As a result, the Raptors may need to limit his minutes in Game 2. Remember, he didn’t hit a shot in the fourth quarter on Wednesday.
By all accounts, we should see the same type of game from Leonard on Friday night. Leonard has taken roughly 27 percent of his shots between 0-3 feet in the postseason. He has also taken 27 percent of his field goal attempts from 3-point range. Leonard has attempted about 35 percent of his field goal attempts between 3 and 16 feet. Yet, we must see improvement in the 10-16 foot range for Leonard in Game 2.
So far, Leonard is making 43 percent of his 10-16 footers. If the Bucks run him off the line, he may find trouble getting all the way to the rim. Therefore, look for a better shooting night in the mid-range. Keep in mind, Leonard is shooting 63 percent from 16 feet to the 3-point line. Think of all the one dribble or two dribble pull ups. That’s when Leonard is at his best. As a result, the Bucks would love to see him take three or more dribbles on each shot attempt. It didn’t work for the 76ers in Game 7, but it may become the deciding factor in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If the Raptors held onto the lead in the fourth quarter, there wouldn’t be much discussion about Leonard’s shortcomings in Game 1. He knows what has to be done to steal Game 2 and head back to the “North” for games 3 and 4. Now, it’s a matter of execution.