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Kawhi Leonard is still the key to the Raptors’ playoff redemption

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For a fleeting few moments Saturday, Kawhi Leonard looked like the exorcist the Toronto Raptors brought in to help them cast off years of postseason torment.

But a frenzied fourth quarter that featured some vintage Leonard, timely shot-making from a feisty, young Orlando Magic squad and a couple of late miscues, produced a 104-101 Orlando upset of Toronto in Game 1. Despite executing a bold trade for one of the game’s most accomplished stars, the Raptors find themselves trailing another first-round series.

From the opening tip, Leonard stood as Toronto’s bellwether. As he dazzled with an efficient, 11-point first quarter in which he was perfect from the field and flawless defensively, Toronto appeared to be en route to a workmanlike victory befitting of a well-seasoned 2-seed against a young underdog just thrilled to be playing playoff basketball. When Leonard went scoreless in the second — 0-for-5, his worst shooting quarter as a Raptor — his team coughed up a 30-9 run and at one point trailed by 16. With Leonard as their fulcrum, cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale the Raptors assembled their best defensive stretch of the game in the third quarter.

Toronto acquired Leonard, an NBA Finals MVP, to alter that course. He is a player steeped in the glory of the postseason, imported from an organization in San Antonio that minimized the regular season before it was fashionable. In early March, during a stretch when Leonard was resting about every third game, Leonard referred to the regular season as, effectively, 82 practices. “Playoffs is when it’s time to lace them up,” he said. The quote was further evidence that the most guarded and taciturn voices are often the most revealing.3

The comment also represented Leonard’s most profound appeal to Toronto. Mastery of the regular season doesn’t mean what it used to for the Raptors. Postseason glory stands as a stubborn obstacle for an organization that has endured playoff disappointment for five years running, but you’d never know it by listening to Leonard.

When asked Friday if his experience in San Antonio would help the Raptors get over the hump, Leonard replied, “What hump?” The collective memory, the aspirations built on years of heartbreak, the fatal collisions with LeBron James — none of it rates for Leonard. And that could be very useful for the Toronto Raptors.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

For much of the fourth quarter, when he checked back in with 6:43 left and the Raptors leading by four points, Leonard fulfilled that hope. When Magic forward Aaron Gordon hit from distance, Leonard responded with a drive and a fadeaway on Gordon. And when the game crossed the two-minute mark in regulation, Leonard looked as if he had seized control with the kind of sequence that only a handful of NBA players can orchestrate at will.

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