Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points with a typically dominant performance on Sunday. But it was an out-of-character moment that happened after a whistle that was the talk of the Toronto Raptors’ locker-room afterward.
Leonard led the league-leading Raptors to a 125-115 victory over veteran Dwyane Wade and his Miami Heat, for their fifth consecutive win. But most notable about Leonard’s night? The seven-year wing, whose focus on the floor makes him look almost robotic, received his first regular-season technical foul of his career. And seemingly no one saw it happen.
“I didn’t even notice him over there talking to (the official),” said coach Nick Nurse, adding with sarcasm: “Yeah, I did manage to calm Kawhi down.”
Leonard was angry after Justise Winslow appeared to yank his arm while he was driving to the hoop. He was whistled for the tech after quietly speaking to an official.
He didn’t divulge what he said, but when asked if he deserved the tech, Leonard said: “Definitely.”
“It was just kind of getting out of hand with some of the calls out there. They are doing the best job they can, but some of the calls tonight, I mean I thought I got fouled pretty hard.”
Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Toronto (17-4), while Pascal Siakam added 21 points. Kyle Lowry finished with 12 points and 10 assists, and Fred VanVleet, C.J. Miles and Delon Wright each added 10 points off the bench.
Wade made the Toronto stop on his farewell tour a memorable one, scoring 35 points to top the Heat (7-12), and making things interesting down the stretch.
Wade, who plans to retire at the end of this season (his 16th in the league), arrived in Toronto averaging 13.1 points, but after coming off the bench to a warm ovation, almost single-handedly throttled Toronto’s second unit with a vintage performance.
He and Lowry exchanged jerseys after the win.
“He’s a future hall of famer. It will go up in my house, and I’ll have an opportunity to have a couple of stories I can tell to my kids a long time from now,” Lowry said. “So, it was honour for me to still be able to play against him for one last season for him.”
All three meetings between these two teams last season were decided by three points or less. The Raptors looked headed for a blowout on Sunday, taking a 26-point lead midway through the third quarter on a lovely Valanciunas tip-in off a Lowry lob.
“I think it was awesome and I think it brought a little excitement to the game, the way we got it up the floor tonight,” Nurse said.
But the Heat whittled the difference down to 101-89 to start the fourth quarter, and then back-to-back three-pointers from Wade made it an eight-point game with 9:05 to play.
The Raptors regained control and when Siakam drew a foul on a basket with 5:33 to play, his three-point play put Toronto up 118-106. Lowry drilled a three on Toronto’s next possession, and it was all but game over.
Leonard and Wade wound up on the floor tussling for a loose ball, and the hard-fought possession ended in a Siakam basket with 2:23 to play, putting a punctuation mark on Toronto’s win.
“That’s the hard part about trying to come back on the road; you have to play a perfect game,” Wade said. “We got down early by too many points to try to come back against the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference.”
The Raptors shot a solid 52 per cent on the night, and outscored Miami 20-5 on fast-break points.
The Raptors outran the Heat from the opening whistle, scoring on transition buckets with ease in the first quarter to open up an early double-digit lead. The Raptors shot 75 per cent in the first quarter, and led 36-29 to start the second.
Wayne Ellington’s three-pointer midway through the second pulled the Heat to within two points, but the Raptors replied with a 13-4 run and took a 63-54 advantage into the halftime break.
The Raptors are in Memphis on Tuesday then return home to face the two-time reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday.