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Game 4 Turning Point: Kawhi’s two-way mastery drives Raptors’ breakout

After dealing with the flu, Kawhi Leonard came into Game 4 as a question mark. He erased all doubt midway through the second quarter after making a handful of big plays to bury the Magic.

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Sullied by a case of the spring flu, Kawhi Leonard struggled offensively in Game 3, notching just 16 points in the Raptors’ five point victory. Upon hearing that he was still under the weather entering Sunday’s game, fans might’ve taken pause. It was an important game to be sure, and the Raptors only escaped Game 3 thanks to the heroic play of Pascal Siakam and his playoff career-high 30 points. If Kawhi wasn’t 100 percent, they’d need a similar performance from Siakam, or anybody else, to carry the offense en route to a potential victory.

That, however, wouldn’t be necessary. Instead, Leonard came out of the gates on a mission, playing aggressively on offense (he attempted four free throws in the opening frame alone) and his usual brand of disruptive defense. But Orlando too came to play, and for a quarter and a half, managed some of the best shot-making they’ve displayed all series.

This led to a tight game for most of the first half, and Raptors fans were no doubt worried they were witnessing another Game 1-like slug fest that would come down to the final possession of the game. Fortunately, Kawhi Leonard seems to have settled into a post-season rhythm that few people in the world are equipped to disrupt. Not even the flu could slow him down this time.

Re-entering the game at the eight minute mark of the second with a four point Toronto lead in tow, Kawhi Leonard would spearhead an extended 25-11 charge to close the first half and finally wrest control of the critical Game 4 from Orlando. Scoring nine points in the stretch, Leonard seemed to be holding the Magic back single handedly at times by doing things like charging up the floor after blocks to kill Orlando offensively in the paint.

But alone he was not. With support from Pascal Siakam (who played amazing defense in the stretch), Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka — the latter whom was on a hot streak from his first minute on the floor — Leonard captained a five-man group that blew the game wide open in the crucial first half stretch. From there, it was all about maintaining the lead — something which past iterations of the Raptors struggled mightily with year in and year out.

But be sure, this isn’t the same old Raptors team. That shadow has now been dispelled by this season’s dominant roster. What we’ve seen instead in two high-stakes road victories is all the evidence we need. This Toronto team isn’t joking anymore.