Back in the 2017 playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs faced off with the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs were coming off of series victories over the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets en route to a showdown with the powerful Warriors. In Game 1 of the series Kawhi Leonard (at that time a member of the Spurs) was having an outstanding showing against the league giants: 26 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in just 24 minutes on the court. Kawhi’s performance propelled the Spurs to an incredible 23 point lead! Things were going better than expected for Kawhi and the Spurs, that was until Warriors big man Zaza Pachulia injured Kawhi in the 2nd half of the game, making him unable to finish the remainder of Game 1. The Warriors immediately went on an 18-0 run over San Antonio, stealing all momentum and eventually taking Game 1 in crushing fashion over the now deflated Spurs. Kawhi would not only miss the remainder of Game 1, but the remainder of the series against Golden State. Without Kawhi on the court, San Antonio stood no match for the Warriors and they were promptly defeated in four games. This series of events essentially marked the beginning of the end for Kawhi’s tenure in San Antonio.
Kawhi played just 9 games the following season for the Spurs due to injury. In the summer of 2018, the Toronto Raptors acquired him and Danny Green in a blockbuster trade sending arguably the best player in Raptors history, DeMar DeRozan, and Jakob Poeltl to San Antonio. Many thought Kawhi would not be the MVP caliber player that he was with San Antonio. He has since proved all of his doubters wrong, as he has dominated in the regular season and playoffs, leading the Raptors to their first ever NBA Finals appearance and playing more minutes than ever before. In six playoff trips with the Spurs, Kawhi averaged 33.4 minutes per game with 16.5 points. This current playoff run with Toronto, he is averaging over 38 minutes per game with slightly over 30 points per game.
Kawhi now faces the Warriors in the playoffs for the first time since that 2017 series with the Spurs, and he now has a shot at redemption.
If Kawhi can win Toronto their first ever NBA Championship, it would be the greatest individual comeback after missing a large amount of time since Michael Jordan, who in his first full season (1995-1996) after returning to the NBA from playing baseball, led the Chicago Bulls to 72 wins and an NBA title.
If the Raptors were to eliminate the powerhouse that is the Golden State Warriors, it would be the ultimate redemption for Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors organization, their fans, and the nation of Canada would as well be ecstatic to be a part of this redemption story, being able to finally fulfill their long sought after goal of bringing a Larry O’Brien trophy home to Toronto.