Kawhi Leonard leads Raptors past Sixers in series opener
Toronto forward sets new playoff career-best with 45 points
Only Vince Carter scored more playoff points for Toronto than Kawhi Leonard did on Saturday night. And that was 18 years ago.
The Raptors star scored 45 points — matching his regular-season career high and topping his previous playoff high — and Toronto opened the Eastern Conference semifinal with a 108-95 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
But Leonard could care less about personal accolades.
"I'm more of a guy that's looking for team success, reaching that ultimate goal for my team," said Leonard, who also hauled down a team-high 11 rebounds. "I was trying to get out of the game before it got to that point. We were up 20 points with probably like five minutes left and I was already looking at the bench, trying to get them to take me out of the game."
WATCH | Leonard's playoff career-high lifts Raptors over 76ers in Game 1:
Pascal Siakam was the only other Raptor in double figures with 29 points.
Carter had 50 points against Philadelphia in the second round in 2001.
A year after missing the playoffs and all but nine games of the regular-season with San Antonio due to a quadriceps injury, Leonard made it tough to believe Saturday night that he'd ever been hurt.
"These guys did a good job of putting a plan together and making sure I'd be healthy at this point. I have no complaints right now," Leonard said.
The 27-year-old drew chants of "M-V-P!" both after a beautiful spin move around Jimmy Butler early in the night and when he surpassed his previous best playoff points — set in 2017 versus Memphis — with a pair of free throws down the stretch.
"He's a spectacular player and he had a spectacular night and he hit some spectacular shots," said Sixers guard JJ Redick. "He's a superstar. He's as good as there is in the NBA at generating his own shot and making tough shots."
WATCH | Kawhi Leonard block leads to Pascal Siakam slam:
The basketball fan in Raptors coach Nick Nurse marvelled at Leonard's night.
Does Leonard ever surprise him?
"I guess not maybe surprising but pretty dang good tonight," Nurse said. "I just like the force he's playing with at both ends but especially when he's getting the ball. He's pushing it up the floor, he's punching the gaps with force, he's determined to get to spaces.
"I guess I shouldn't be surprised but that was pretty cool to watch tonight."
Redick had 17 points to lead the Sixers, who had six players in double figures.
The Raptors led for most of the night, assembling a 19-point cushion by late in the third quarter, and taking a 92-81 advantage into the fourth.
An alley-oop dunk from Fred VanVleet to Serge Ibaka had the Raptors up by 15 points. The Sixers clawed their way to within 11, but Leonard answered with five straight points to put Toronto firmly back in control with an 18-point lead. And when Ibaka blocked a Tobias Harris jumper with 6:18 to play, the Raptors centre waved a hand in the air gesturing for the Scotiabank Arena crowd to cheer.
They obliged. And when Nurse subbed Leonard and Siakam out of the game with 3:14 to play the crowd serenaded them with a standing ovation. Leonard, who was the MVP of the 2014 NBA Finals, has never lost to Philadelphia, a winning streak that stretches back 14 games.
The Raptors shot 51.9 per cent on the night, and held Philadelphia to 39 per cent.
"We were engaged defensively," Gasol said. "They're a very talented team. We have to be ... there's no other way for us to win."