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The Raptors are elite – and they are not even at their best



The formative Kawhi Leonard highlight on a night of Kawhi Leonard highlights came when he (of course) used only one Klaw. Leonard had snatched a defensive rebound on Ben Simmons four minutes before the end of the fourth quarter of the 113-102 victory on Wednesday night over the Philadelphia 76ers and sprinted for his own basket. Joel Embiid tried to keep up, but the Toronto star dropped him off the Raptors free-throw line. When Leonard flew, he passed Jimmy Butler. He went to each of Philly's Big Three for a single-handed dunk that sealed the game. At that moment, it felt like the Raptors had left the Sixers behind in the race for Eastern Conference dominance.

Toronto reached the best record in the East on Wednesday (and the best record in the NBA overall). But the Sixers were on the rise and led Butler in the lineup with 8: 2 lead. Although Philly did not have the same fast start as Milwaukee or Toronto, but with Butler they were suddenly a star in the rape (Leonard and Kyle Lowry) and two at the Bucks (Giannis Antetokounmpo).

Counting the top players is useless if one of them is Leonard who, when he is healthy, has been nothing short of a top 5 player in recent years. The former spur was great this season ̵

1; averaging 25.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and three assists during the night. But it still seemed like he was not in full swing. He has missed six games this season and still has to play at both ends in a row, while the canola with his labored thighs sure go.

But Leonard has shown more signs that he was the top five player of recent times. on Wednesday he came to life. Kawhi undoubtedly played his best game since moving to Toronto. In 36 minutes he scored 36 points, nine boards, five steals, one block and an assist in 36 minutes.

The Raptors as a whole fought against the offense; They shot worse off the field and worse off 3 than Philly. Serge Ibaka scored 18 points, but no other starter outscored seven, including Lowry, who was 1: 7 out of 3 at night. The biggest advantage of the Raptors, however, is that they have a list deep enough to fit in with everyone. They needed a large corpse to drop Embiid, and Jonas Valanciunas, the starter, sometimes had 26 points off the season. They also needed someone to carry the load on offense, and Leonard came through with superstar-level performance.

This type of high score game is approaching the standard of Leonard in Toronto. Last week he lost 37 points to the Steph Curry-poor warriors, although he had 44 minutes and overtime. And on Saturday he had 34 points in 37 minutes. Both were part of an eight-stage winning streak that ended on Monday night with a close loss to Denver.

The raptors remained at the top of the East regardless of Wednesday's results. They were so good this season, even if you are the best player in and out of the lineup. However, with the win, the oilseed drove only their case, that even they could beat the biggest challengers of the conference – and that they still have not reached their limit. Toronto was a machine this season, and part of it could be due to the fact that most of this team won 59 games just last season. However, it has still played only 26 games in the regular season, with Leonard as the first option and Nick Nurse, assistant under Dwane Casey last season, were present as head coach. As much consequence as the Raptors came into the season, plugging in another superstar is not always a clean affair, especially given how long DeMar DeRozan has occupied Leonard's place on the grid Ujiri, the president of the Raptors for basketball operations, said before the game on ESPN's The Jump "is always something." He repeated the sentence in a side conversation between the quarters during the game. In recent years, Toronto has started the same core in one season, hoping for something new. But Ujiri's brave offseason trading has created another team and another existential one: how far can Leonard carry these raptors?


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