NBA

Kawhi Leonard 'like Maximus coming back as the gladiator' on triumphant Raptors return

By Sports Desk December 12, 2019

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard was described as "Maximus coming back as the gladiator" by Doc Rivers as he made a triumphant return to the Toronto Raptors.

Leonard received his championship ring on his first match back in Toronto since opting to join the Clippers in free agency after he had inspired the Canadian franchise to their first NBA title.

The Raptors welcomed him back with a tribute video and he was greeted by former team-mates and coaches in the centre of the court, receiving a positive reception from the home crowd.

Leonard went on to score 23 points, adding six assists and five rebounds as the Clippers won 112-92 on Wednesday to move to 19-7, while the defending champion Raptors dropped to 16-8.

Clippers coach Rivers praised the Raptors for how they received Leonard and was certain the often-reserved NBA Finals MVP had been touched by the occasion.

"It's like Maximus coming back as the gladiator," Rivers said just before tip-off.

"He was the champion and just did everything honourably and the right way. I was joking earlier that would be a great intro."

After the victory, Rivers added: "Some players just don't let you in. But I can tell you that ovation, to him, was very heartfelt. There's no doubt about that. It meant a lot to him.

"I thought what the Raptors did overall - the video, the players coming out, all of them who played with him - that's the best that I've seen since I've been in the league.

"That's a really classy move by the organisation and then by the fans as well."

Kyle Lowry presented Leonard's ring and the two players shared a moment admiring the memento that contains over 640 diamonds.

"I was joking with him and just showing him that the ring was nice and like it was shining too bright – we were laughing," Leonard said, according to ESPN.

"Memories probably just ran through our heads. As far as winning a championship, it pretty much has come full circle now, being able to get the ring and see where the hard work came from.

"But it's more than that. It's just a journey. For me, as far as playing for the city, the chapter coming closed once I came over with the Clippers, but I still love the city.

"Those guys on the team, the players, the coaching staff, I still have love for them and wish them the best."

Asked about the video tribute and fans' reaction when he received his ring, Leonard said: "It was great, it was a great moment.

"They did a great job putting it together, having all the players out there that won with me, standing there and presenting the ring.

"It just kind of puts you back in those spots when you were on the floor, or the locker room talk going into the game, and after the game watching those highlights.

"It was a special season for us, for me and for the whole city and country. I'm just glad we were able to win. It was a blessing."

The Clippers lost Patrick Beverley to a concussion, while Pascal Siakam had a game-high 24 points for the Raptors, who have now lost four of their last five games.

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    Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone and center Nikola Jokic took heart from Sunday's 105-103 buzzer-beating defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers, with the duo praising the team's spirit.

    The Nuggets were heading into the final seconds of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals with a slender lead, but Anthony Davis showed his class with the decisive action.

    The Lakers forward sunk a three-pointer on the buzzer to seal the win and open up a 2-0 series lead in Florida, Los Angeles having won handsomely 126-114 in Game 1.

    Davis was able to make his game-winning shot due to a defensive mix-up in the Nuggets ranks that saw both Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant guarding LeBron James when the former was initially on the game-winner.

    Jokic put it down to poor communication, though there was a hint of rueful helplessness to his post-game comments as he suggested if Davis had not been decisive, James could have.

    "[It was] either going to be him or LeBron [James to have the last shot], so we kind of knew it," Jokic said.

    "It just happened, a little bit of miscommunication. I think I had a really good contest, to be honest. I think I was right there.

    "As soon as he shot the ball, he shot it really well. Like, I kind of felt it going in. Great players make great shots."

    But given his side were 70-54 down in the third quarter, Jokic – who had 30 points and nine assists – felt the Nuggets showed good spirit to get back into the contest.

    "I mean, we are here [as] underdogs," he continued. "I mean, we need to fight. That's our only chance. They were up 15 or 16. I don't know how much they were up.

    "We could just call it a game and quit. I think we just want to give the fight. Maybe it's going to be 30 points, but fight needs to be there, and effort."

    Malone was similarly frustrated but seemed encouraged by the fact the top-seeded Lakers required a last-gasp attempt to take the win.

    "Losing sucks, that's the bottom line, losing sucks," he admitted. 

    "Some guys like to win, some guys hate to lose. I think we're a group of guys that hate to lose, whether it be by 20-something points in Game 1 or at the buzzer tonight, it counts as the same.

    "The only thing you can talk about tonight is we were in the game. They had to rely on a great shot by a great player to beat us at the buzzer.

    "But as long as we're putting ourselves in position to win games, that's all you can ask for. One thing I know about our group, even though we are disappointed, frustrated, angry, we'll use that motivation to come out and try to take Game 3."

  • LeBron praises Davis' belief after Lakers star delivers game-winner LeBron praises Davis' belief after Lakers star delivers game-winner

    LeBron James hailed Anthony Davis' belief and was glad his Los Angeles Lakers team-mate got his moment against the Denver Nuggets.

    Davis hit an incredible buzzer-beating three as the top-seeded Lakers edged the Nuggets 105-103 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

    The forward missed a similar shot in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets in March, but he delivered in a big way against the Nuggets.

    James said Davis' belief was key as the 27-year-old hit the biggest shot of his career in the NBA playoffs.

    "It's not about making a shot. It's about having a belief of just taking it, for one, and living with the result," he told reporters.

    "I think right back to our game right before COVID hit. We played Brooklyn at home and he had a similar shot right on that left wing in front of their bench to win the game and he missed it. He was down on himself, but at the end of the day, I told him, if you're open, and I was able to drive that particular game and find him wide open and he just missed it.

    "But it's just the confidence to take the shot. You're not going to make them all, but the belief to just take it and live with the results is what it's all about.

    "Tonight was his moment. Tonight was his moment to find a space, hunt the ball down and one of our top-10 assists leaders, [Rajon] Rondo, found him and he knocked it down. A big-time play."

    Davis finished with 31 points and nine rebounds, while James posted a double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds.

    After arriving from the New Orleans Pelicans last year, Davis has embraced the pressure for the Lakers and James said he would be the first to remind the seven-time All-Star of just how good he was.

    "It's about the work that you put in and the belief in yourself. It's not about the doubters or the naysayers or the people who are going to try to talk to you and slander you and bring you down every single day. It's not about them because they have never been in the arena. They don't understand," James said.

    "AD, he knows how special he is and when he doesn't, I'll be the first one to tell him how special he is. He wanted to be here. I'm happy he wanted to be here, because if he didn't, we wouldn't have a moment like tonight. That's what it's all about.

    "You put that pressure on yourself when you don't really care what other people think, because what other people think doesn't really matter because they don't understand. Anybody can talk from outside, but if they got into the ring or they got into the arena, probably 10 times out of 10, they s*** their pants."

  • It's a Mamba shot – Lakers coach Vogel hails Davis' game-winner It's a Mamba shot – Lakers coach Vogel hails Davis' game-winner

    Anthony Davis' game-winner for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Denver Nuggets was a "Mamba shot", head coach Frank Vogel said.

    Davis delivered an incredible buzzer-beating three to lift the Lakers to a 105-103 victory over the Nuggets on Sunday as they moved into a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

    Vogel said the Lakers wanted to honour the late Kobe Bryant, the NBA great who died in a helicopter crash in January.

    And the Lakers coach believes Davis' game-winner was the type of shot five-time NBA champion and former MVP Bryant would have produced.

    "Well, we want to embody what Kobe Bryant stood for and honour his memory," he told reporters.

    "Obviously, there are certain games where we are going to feel it a little bit more than others. When we have that uniform on, I think we feel it more than others.

    "That's a shot Kobe Bryant would hit. To me, AD coming off just flying to the wing like that, catch-and-shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, it's a Mamba shot."

    While the Nuggets rallied in Game 2, Davis (31 points and nine rebounds) and LeBron James (26 points and 11 rebounds) led the Lakers to victory.

    Vogel was full of praise for Davis and James as the Lakers close in on a first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.

    "I keep saying, he [Davis] is a big-time player. He really carried us through a stretch where we were struggling to score late in the third," Vogel said.

    "The combo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is just – if one of them is not going, the other one is. There was a little bit of that tonight.

    "When they're both going at the same time, we're near impossible to stop. Those guys both carried each other throughout the game and obviously a big part of the win."

    Game 3 between the Lakers and Nuggets is on Tuesday.

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