TORONTO — Kawhi Leonard looks ready to go back to San Antonio.
Leonard scored a career-high 45 points — including 30 in the second half on 10-for-12 shooting — to lift the Toronto Raptors to a 122-116 victory over the Utah Jazz at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday night. It was Toronto’s final game before Leonard’s return to San Antonio for the first time since the Spurs traded him to the Raptors in the summer.
“Just probably at the end of the game,” Leonard said afterward, when asked when he knew he was going to have a career night. “Not until it was finished.
“I try to stay in the moment, and keep competing every possession and not really worry about myself, but just trying to get a team win.”
Leonard finished the game with 45 points on 16-for-22 shooting from the field and 13-for-17 shooting from the foul line. In the second half, not only did he rarely miss from the field, he also went 10-for-14 from the foul line, both making and taking more free throws than the Jazz did as a team.
“I felt like in that third quarter when he went to the line — however many times he went to the line — he got into a rhythm there, and continued to be more aggressive,” said Jae Crowder, who finished with a career-high 30 points of his own to lead the Jazz. “From there, it was an uphill battle defending him.”
The Raptors (28-11) needed just about every one of the points that Leonard and Pascal Siakam, who had a career-high 28 points of his own to go along with 10 rebounds, produced to hold off a Jazz team that, while trailing virtually the entire second half, never quite let Toronto put away the game.
Every time it looked like Utah was about to get back into it, though, Toronto would get a timely bucket from Leonard, who followed up a 19-point explosion in the third quarter by scoring 11 of Toronto’s final 18 points to make sure the Raptors picked up a second straight win.
“He was phenomenal,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Early in the year, he moves to some spaces fairly easily, and he would go 9-for-22 at the end of the night. I was just thinking, ‘When is he going to go 16-for-22?’ because it looked like they were shots he was going to make.
“I have kind of been waiting for one of these nights where he makes them all … he was great. He is a special, special player, as we all know.”
Leonard particularly had success in isolation sets against the Jazz. According to Second Spectrum, Leonard shot 9-for-11 (82 percent) in those situations Tuesday night, the best percentage by any player with at least 10 attempts in a single game this season. His nine makes in isolations also tied James Harden (twice) and John Wall as the most any player has made in those situations in a single game this season.
“Just reading the defense,” Leonard said of his mindset when he gets in isolations against a defender. “Seeing where my teammates are, where the help defense is at that point and just attacking angles.”
Now the focus shifts to San Antonio, where the Raptors will face the Spurs on Thursday night for the first time since the blockbuster trade that saw Leonard and Danny Green come to Toronto in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 first-round pick.
“Yeah, it’s going to be fun,” Leonard said during his on-court interview Tuesday night. “Everybody’s anticipating the game. Things like that only get me better for the long run, so it’s going to be a good game.”