Some Toronto Raptors fans are seeing some divine justice in the fact that Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers were demolished 104-89 by the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday night.
In the aftermath of that destruction, fans are renewing the debate and reviewing the history of Kawhi’s decision to leave Toronto a year ago.
After all, Toronto got as far without Kawhi as the Clippers did with him. Both teams lost in Game 7 of round two of the NBA playoffs.
Obviously, some sour feelings remain after Leonard jilted the Raptors as a free agent. Many reasoned that this city — and country — felt the pain of his leaving more than he felt the pain of leaving. And in the aftermath of that Clippers loss, the argument will seemingly continue that the Raptors and Kawhi were meant for each other, and that a repeat NBA Championship was in the cards if Kawhi had only chosen to stay.
Now, both the Clippers and the Raptors are on the sidelines wondering what went wrong. Some even put too fine a point on it, suggesting that the Raptors fared better than the Kawhi-led Clippers because Toronto lost by only five points to the Boston Celtics, (92-87) while the Clippers were trounced by 15.
A loss is a loss, but you wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Raptors went down in more respectable fashion than the Clippers did. And it’s hindsight now, but there’s an argument to be made that the Raptors and Kawhi would be in the conference finals right now had they stayed together.
Of course, no one was begrudging Kawhi Leonard the chance to play closer to home when he chose not to re-sign with Toronto. That was a personal choice and he never talked in a disrespectful way about his time in Toronto. And most people in the city and across the country respected his decision.
But to leave a championship team and lose in the same round as the Raptors has a degree of karma to it for some Toronto fans. There’s another line of thinking that maybe the Clippers loss, along with the success Toronto had without him, is further proof that the Raptors were much more than Kawhi Leonard.
Said reporter Adam Radwanski on Twitter: “If there was anyone who still thought Kawhi just dragged a bunch of other guys on the Raptors to the championship, I hope that’s been settled.”
Adding fuel to the debate was a tweet by Josh Lewenberg of TSN, who said that, according to a source, Kawhi told the Raptors when he met them last summer that he didn’t think they were good enough to repeat.
The prevailing wisdom behind the Raptors’ success last year was that it was mostly Kawhi carrying the rest of the team on his back. Those who think that point to Kawhi’s Game 7 buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers that will go down in Toronto history. Who knows whether Toronto would have won if the game had gone to overtime?
Perhaps as we look in the rearview mirror, it was just a case of both Kawhi and the Raptors needing each other and bringing out the best in each other last year.
As reporter Kamil Karamali tweeted out: “The Raptors won the championship because of Kawhi. But Kawhi couldn’t win the championship without the Raptors.”
Maybe it’s fair to want Kawhi Leonard to be missing Toronto just a bit now and wondering if he made the right decision.
Canadian fans who felt spurned by Kawhi might take some glee in the fact that Kawhi and the Clippers were brought down by Jamal Murray, a Canadian. Murray, who is from Kitchener, Ontario, scored 40 points for the Nuggets as they stunned the Clippers in Game 7.
And if the Nuggets go on to win the NBA Championship, Canadians will no doubt take some pride in Murray’s Canadian roots. Only then, perhaps, will the debate over Kawhi Leonard and what could have been in Toronto fade into the background.