By the time tonight’s game got to the fourth quarter, you knew you were watching something special. It just needed a punctuation mark. Then, with 3:30 left, Kawhi Leonard — with gargantuan Rudy Gobert switched on to him on the perimeter — muscled through the contact of a much larger human being, drove, contorted his body to the reverse side, and spun the ball against the grain to kiss it off the glass.
The degree of difficulty was off the charts, and it gave Kawhi Leonard his 40th point on the evening. He’d end up with a career-high 45, the timing of which couldn’t be better as he prepares to play his old team in San Antonio on Thursday. Kawhi’s performance led all scorers, as the Raptors beat the Jazz 122-116 at Scotiabank Arena.
In solid support of Leonard was Pascal Siakam, who had a career night of his own. Scoring 28 points on 9-for-15 shooting, Siakam was his usual energetic self with some new wrinkles thrown in for 2019 (new year, new me!). He made 3-of-4 from distance and 7-of-7 from the line, propping up his averages for a sensational night.
For the Jazz, a concerted effort to play slow and physical against an injury-affected Raptors frontcourt kept them in the game for long stretches. They also got a breakout game from Jae Crowder, who dropped five triples on his way to 30 points off the bench. Derrick Favors was also excellent when matched up against the Raptors bench, scoring 21 and grabbing nine rebounds.
Early on in the game, though, it was the referees who became the story. After a few deserving fouls against the Raptors on Utah shooters, a free throw discrepancy developed and frustration started to accumulate. An early 13-5 Raptors lead disintegrated due to this disparity, as ten Jazz free throws in the first quarter out-marked Toronto’s two, and the Raptors led 26-24 heading to the second.
The frustration was most notable in the second quarter, as Nick Nurse and Leonard took turns expressing themselves to the Tony Brothers-led crew after plenty of contact. Meanwhile, the Raptors’ slashing guards were relentless, as Norman Powell came off the bench for nine first half points thanks to some nice drives to the bucket. He would finish with 14 in another excellent comeback game for the UCLA product.
Finally, after scoring 15 points in the first half, Kawhi started to let his game do the talking in the third. Facing single coverage primarily from Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell, Leonard simply isolated his way to success. With the mid-range jumper going down, Kawhi was masterful at getting a defender on his hip, getting to a spot, and making a play.
Toronto’s starting lineup opened the quarter with a 13-2 run thanks to this, jumping their lead into double digits. Kawhi would score 19 in the third alone, as the Raptors went into the fourth quarter up 95-85.
In the fourth, the Raptors bench held the lead admirably. Delon Wright made a couple circus layups, as he’d finish with eight points (4-for-8). Greg Monroe went through his difficulties guarding Favors in the pick and roll, but earned some of it back on the offensive end, muscling in seven points and snagging two offensive rebounds to gain possession. Not usually noted for getting off the ground, he also had two blocks, including one on Gobert. Not bad for a moose.
At the 6:30 mark, Kawhi came back in and helped finished the deal. Back-to-back Crowder threes around the five-minute mark put a late scare into Scotiabank Arena as the lead was cut to four, but eight straight points from Leonard and Siakam pushed the Raptors lead back to six, eventually providing the game its final margin.
With the win, the Raptors improve to 28-11, while the Jazz fall to 18-20. Next up, the Raptors see an old friend in San Antonio, in what their star player simply describes as “fun”.
kawhi just said "oh yeah it's gonna be fun" to thursday's game in san antonio he's gonna score 80— alex (@steven_lebron) January 2, 2019