TORONTO — Chants of “M-V-P” showered Scotiabank Arena on New Year’s Day as Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard stepped to the free-throw line with 7.8 seconds remaining.
Leonard split the pair and as the final buzzer sounded he ended with a career-best 45 points and six rebounds on 16-for-22 shooting in Toronto’s 122-116 victory against the Utah Jazz.
“It’s great, because it means they see your hard work, your hard work is paying off and they appreciate what you’re doing,” Leonard said of hearing the chants.
Both teams were looking to start 2019 off right, but during the third quarter is where the Raptors took control with Leonard posting 19 of his 45 points.
“Made some shots, got to the free-throw line,” Leonard explained. “We made stops on the defensive end, which let us get out in transition and get to our fast-paced offense, and that’s pretty much it.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder admitted to throwing the kitchen sink at Leonard defensively, but even with that being said, the Jazz got close and ultimately couldn’t overcome the 22-8 run they endured at the start of the third quarter.
Toronto set a franchise-record for points in the third with 44.
“We trapped him in pick and roll. He scored in the post, he scored in isolations, he scored going to the rim over Rudy (Gobert),” Snyder said. “Eventually we started hitting him when he walked across half court, but the biggest thing we put him on the line and I think, what did he have (17) free throws? That’s a lot of free throws.
“So, again, you can always do a better job,” he continued. “Maybe we could’ve blitzed him sooner. We did a pretty good job on him in the first half in some similar situations, but he obviously did get it going.”
Jae Crowder also posted a career-best 30 points while going 5-for-7 from three but didn’t get a shot attempt after making back-to-back triples at 4:06 in the fourth.
“It’s the flow of the game, I guess,” Crowder said of not getting another shot attempt late in the fourth. “I’ve got to rewatch it, but the flow of the game obviously went away from it, but I don’t know if I’ve got to be more assertive in that time of the game, but I’ve just got to wait for tomorrow to rewatch it and see.”
Snyder felt like they missed an opportunity there when Crowder had it going. Crowder also posted 12 points in the third after returning from missing the last game with a left thumb contusion.
“They started really locking in on him in transition and we had other guys that were getting to the rim, so we were running things for him after timeout,” Snyder said of Crowder. “Again, Jae was hot and got it going, but sometimes there was something happening for him, and they take away and somebody else has an opportunity and it’s in a lot of ways how he gets his looks.
“It’s unfortunate that we didn’t capitalize on the night that he had.”
Utah would get within 118-114 in the final minute after Ricky Rubio split a pair of free throws, but also allowed some offensive rebounds on the other end, before losing its first of a four-game road trip, despite committing a season-low four turnovers.
Utah has dropped five of its last six games away from home.
“Sometimes we didn’t get stops,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said. “Even at the end, we didn’t rebound two times in a row. Little things like that really make and break the game.”
Derrick Favors was Utah’s second-leading scorer with 21 points and nine boards while Mitchell went 7-for-23 with 19 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Rubio added 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting with eight assists and Rudy Gobert finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and two steals as the Jazz shot 43 percent as a team and 28.1 percent from beyond the arc.5 comments on this story
Without Kyle Lowry (lower back pain) and Jonas Valanciunas (left thumb dislocation), Pascal Siakam stepped up to contribute 28 points and 10 rebounds. But ultimately it was Leonard’s perfect 7-for-7 third quarter that propelled the Raptors to shoot 54.9 percent in the period to take control.
The M-V-P chants for Leonard were the icing on the cake.
“I’ve been missing the last few games my shots and I felt like that’s why I took the challenge tonight and I just know I can make those shots and stay in my groove,” Leonard said. “Just trying to win, that’s all I’m trying to do is just win the game.”
Utah (18-20) will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday at 5:30 p.m. MST as they look to get back on track.