Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors may have already secured the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference, but they still showed no mercy when they faced the Miami Heat on Monday night at Scotiabank Arena. In the Raptors’ 117-109 overtime victory against the Heat, Leonard posted 22 points, four rebounds, four assists, and one steal on 36.8 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc. After the game, Leonard exchanged jerseys with Heat superstar Dwyane Wade, who is expected to retire after the 2018-19 NBA season.
In a post-game interview, Kawhi Leonard talked about Dwyane Wade and revealed how he, LeBron James, and the Heat impacted his NBA career.
“Just going through those championship series (when Leonard was with San Antonio) and facing him, and that Miami Heat team is the greatest team I have ever played,” Leonard said, as quoted by Lowi Ewing of The Canadian Press. “Being that young and having to guard Wade and LeBron it got me to where I am today. Losing and then coming back and winning just helped me out, man. It’s like I told him before, me going through that and them being as great as they are just made me a better player.”
Kawhi Leonard was talking about his second season in the NBA where he and the San Antonio Spurs faced the Heat’s “Big Three” of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh in the NBA Finals 2013. The Spurs managed to win three of the first five games, but the Heat bounced back and won their second NBA championship title in the “Big Three” era. However, the following season, Leonard and the Spurs succeeded to take their revenge.
Kawhi says facing LeBron and D-Wade "just made me a better player.” https://t.co/9Dx8rtvvl9— SLAM (@SLAMonline) April 9, 2019
Aside from beating the Heat in just five games in the NBA Finals 2014, Kawhi Leonard was also named as the Finals MVP. Facing a team like the Heat and players like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James at such a young age undeniably made Leonard a better player. Since going up against the Heat’s “Big Three,” Leonard became a known “LeBron-stopper” and one of the best two-way players in the league.
As of now, Kawhi Leonard is focused on helping the Raptors fully dominate the Eastern Conference and win an NBA championship title in the 2018-19 NBA season. When the season is over, Leonard is set to make one of the biggest decisions in his NBA career. Leonard is expected to exercise the player option on his contract that will enable him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. In the past months, several NBA teams have already been linked to the All-Star small forward, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn Nets, and the New York Knicks.