Coming into Their Own

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Steady Presence

Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green Have Helped Stabilize the Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors have used an eight game win streak to separate themselves from the rest of the NBA.

Now, at 20-4, the Raptors are off to their best start in franchise history. While, that may be attributed to a whole number of different reasons, most notably the revelation that has been Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry assuming an even greater leadership role, and rookie head coach Nick Nurse’s cleverly allocating minutes to both Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas to maximize their effectiveness, one reason has simply taken the Raptors to the next level.

The steady play of Danny Green and superstar Kawhi Leonard has been an integral part of the Raptors’ success.

“It’s not just Kawhi that makes them different,” said Cleveland Cavaliers point guard George Hill following an 11-point defeat at the hands of the Raptors. “You get another amazing defender in Danny Green, a laser three-point shooter in him and they got experience now. Losing a guy like DeMar is tough, but at the same time, you replace him with a guy of the same calibre like Kawhi, but also adding a guy like Danny, who is playoff-tested, championship proven, that just makes them an overall better team.”

Playing without Lowry, the Raptors relied heavily on Leonard who did not disappoint, pouring in 34 points and grabbing down 9 rebounds. Green added 15 points of his own on 6-of-9 shooting while providing his usual unheralded defense.

It has been Green who has emerged as the vocal leader to leverage Leonard’s quiet demeanour on the court. That being said, Coach Nurse believes that Leonard leads in different ways.

“He’s very serious about the game, he puts a lot of time into the game,” explained Nurse. “Surprisingly, a good leader. Seen some great leadership traits from him, and he’s really good at both ends. That guy can really play both ends and everyone knew he was a great two-way player, but it’s nice to have him on your side and see it up close.”

With a proven superstar and top-five player in the NBA, the Raptors now have an edge they never previously had and with Green and the offensive system put in place, the Raptors continue to adapt to the present-day NBA. The Raptors are one of the more deep and versatile teams in the League and with the plethora of weapons at Nurse’s disposal, the head coach can seemingly match up his squad to any team.

That became very evident against the defending NBA champions, albeit, an undermanned Golden State Warriors squad.

“It was great, great. It felt like a playoff game, to be honest,” Siakam said. “Those are the type of games we want, just to kind get familiar with it. I think the fans did a great job, just to be engaged in the game and making it fun, too.”

Despite encountering a few sloppy moments, the Raptors ran into an unstoppable Kevin Durant and apart from his scoring output, as a whole, the Raptors have not only shown that they can hang with the Warriors, but the ability to outplay them.

“I was proud of them,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “When a team gets drug into overtime like that on some tough shots, it’s a lot of times that team will feel sorry for themselves and not come out and play. We didn’t. We came out and scored the first four on them and that’s what I told them in the locker-room.

“I was proud of them for that, to kind of take the emotional punch in the gut, take a few deep breaths and then go back out there and play the overtime like they did.”

As the season continues, the Raptors will ultimately be judged by their performance in the playoffs, but it is not outlandish to say that this season feels different.

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