(Reuters) – Kawhi Leonard knows the Golden State Warriors will throw another massive share of double teams at him in Game Two of the NBA Finals on Sunday, but the Toronto forward is happy for the attention if it helps the team.
“I come into the game just trying to win,” the three-time NBA All-Star told reporters on Saturday.
“If I have my mindset on just trying to score the ball, yeah, it could be difficult. But I’m trying to make the right play out there, and obviously if there are two people on me, somebody is open.”
That somebody in Game One on Thursday was Cameroonian Pascal Siakam, who burned Golden State for a playoff career high 32 points.
The result? Toronto, a big underdog, claimed a 118-109 win over Golden State in the first NBA Finals game played outside of the United States.
Ice hockey-loving Canada suddenly had a new sport to cheer for, and Leonard, a newcomer with the Raptors after six seasons in San Antonio, could not have been prouder.
“Coming in, I wanted to be able to contribute to the team and be able to get them to this point, and we’re doing it so far,” the Raptors’ leading scorer said.
“I just feel like I did something special for them, just this group, just being able to be the first team to get to the NBA Finals for Toronto.”
And the fans have responded.
“Everyone out here they love, not just me,” he said. “If you walk through the city or if I’m with one of my team mates, they show them a lot of love as well.”
His playoff average, now 30.7 points, may have taken a hit after the Warriors held him to 23 points on Thursday but there has been no dip in his popularity.
The Raptors will need that support when they face high scoring Golden State point guard Stephen Curry one more time in Toronto before the series shifts to California.
“I call him a transformational player,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said of Curry.
“He’s got kids all over the world shooting from 40 feet away. I think even as you’ve seen the three-point shot become so rapidly used in the last three or four years, a lot of that is because of Golden State and Steph and Klay (Thompson) and some of the other guys.”
Curry had 34 points in Game One.
“He’s got an incredible shooting stroke from anywhere,” said Nurse. “He’s got an incredible handle so when people are chasing him, he just dribbles and dribbles and gets around them and uses all that skill that he has.”
By Leonard’s reckoning, there is only one way to guard the Warriors standout, who has led them to three NBA titles.
“Chase him as hard as you can,” said the two time NBA defensive player of the year.
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina)