He’s injured. He has to be. For two games Kawhi Leonard has dragged around his right leg like there was a nail hammered into it. The Raptors won’t admit there’s a problem. Nick Nurse says he’s fine. Leonard’s face says different. In the third quarter of Toronto’s 120-102 Game 4 win, Leonard elevated for dunk, colliding with Giannis Antetokounmpo in mid-air, that right leg refusing to bend when it hit the floor.
He winced, looking down at the leg. For the stoic Leonard, it was the equivalent of a scream.
“He’s playing through pain,” Danny Green said to a handful of reporters, long after Leonard left the locker room. “He can’t even celebrate baskets because of how painful it is. You dunk on a guy like Giannis and you are worried about your knee, it shows you that he’s fighting. We’re going to need him to fight through the rest of this series. We need two more.”
The Raptors evened the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday and Leonard has fully repaired his reputation. Questions about his toughness dogged Leonard in his final season in San Antonio, questions in part fueled by comments from his own teammates. Green never believed Leonard was anything but legitimately hurt, and back-to-back brilliant performances the last two games, with Leonard spearheading the Raptors offense on one end and taking on the challenge that is Antetokounmpo on the other, Green said, “reinforces how serious the injury was.”
“It was a year later and it was still something that he had to manage throughout [this] year,” Green said. “For good reason. Now he’s playing a ton of minutes and as you see, some of it still lingers, is still coming back. It’s an injury that you have to be very careful with and it just shows you that he would fight through it if he could, and he is doing it now.”
Leonard won’t cop to any injury, of course. In a Leonard-esque, two-minute post game media gaggle, Leonard said he felt good.
“I can keep going, keep fighting,” Leonard said. “We have a chance to make history. There’s no excuses. You’re playing basketball. And we got a win tonight.”