Kawhi Leonard is enjoying his time in Toronto.
The Raptors star told reporters Saturday about how ‘special’ the team’s run and fanbase have been to him.
“I appreciate them for their support,” Leonard said. “Coming in, I wanted to be able to contribute to the team and be able to get them to this point, and we’re doing it so far. I just feel like I did something special for them, just this group, just being able to be the first team to get to the NBA Finals for Toronto. That’s how fans are. Everyone out here they love, not just me. If you walk through the city or if I’m with one of my teammates, they show them a lot of love as well. It’s a great support group out here with the fans and with everyone in Toronto.”
Leonard requested to be traded by the Spurs last offseason after the two parties had a disagreement over the management of a quad injury he suffered. The 2014 Finals MVP’s relocation was initially seen as a risky one-year rental, as he was rumored to be interested in moving to his home state of California long term.
However, Leonard thinks this season’s journey might be his most exciting one since being drafted in 2011.
“Pretty much other than my first year, I just pretty much started having fun,” Leonard said.
“When you come in as a rookie, you’re trying to stay in the league and you don’t know what the league is about or if you’re going to stick. After that, I pretty much been have been trying to enjoy the game. Obviously, it’s a lot more fun when you’re getting plays called for you and you’re able to live your childhood dream in being able to shoot the ball 20 times a game. The offense is coming toward you rather than just being out there doing one job. Because when you first come in as a rookie, unless you’re like a top-10 player, you’re really not going to touch the floor a whole lot or get the offense run through you.”
Leonard relishes the opportunity to face complex defensive schemes, as he’s blossomed into one of the NBA’s most dangerous offensive threats. He’s averaging 30.7 points this postseason.
“That kind of throws you off, or for me just like puts you in a box somewhat,” Leonard said. “You have to figure out a way to have fun. Like I said, being a child, I didn’t envision myself just being in a box in the NBA. But once that time comes, I feel like you’re just having more fun and you’re able to experience the game and grow as a player, making plays, seeing double teams and finding other guys. It just gets more fun. You’re able to do a lot more.”
The Raptors pulled ahead of the defending champion Warriors with a 118-109 Game 1 win in the NBA Finals. While Leonard didn’t have his most efficient shooting night, he logged a game-high 43 minutes and poured in 23 points.