Leonard outshines Love

Kawhi Leonard on his way to a lay-up as Rodney Hood (No. 1) and George Hill of the Cleveland Cavaliers fail to stop the Toronto Raptors star at the Scotiabank Arena.
Kawhi Leonard on his way to a lay-up as Rodney Hood (No. 1) and George Hill of the Cleveland Cavaliers fail to stop the Toronto Raptors star at the Scotiabank Arena.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Kawhi shows he can be Raptors' 'best player' but Cavs' Kevin struggles to replace LeBron

TORONTO • The big question on Wednesday was how the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers would fare going into the new campaign, with both teams having lost their marquee players in DeMar DeRozan and LeBron James in the summer.

But, unlike the Raptors, who landed Kawhi Leonard in the swop deal with the San Antonio Spurs, the Cavaliers did not replace "the best player in the world", instead opting to promote Kevin Love as their new face and focal point.

While the Cavaliers looked like a team in search of a new identity with James gone, Leonard showed that he can take over DeRozan's mantle and was over the thigh injury that had limited him to just nine National Basketball Association (NBA) regular-season games last term.

The two-time All-Star scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds on his Raptors debut at the Scotiabank Arena, helping the home team defeat the visiting Cavaliers 116-104 in the season opener for both teams.

After the match, Leonard declared himself pleased with his first taste of on-court action since Jan 13, but felt he still had some way to go to get up to speed and become Toronto's "best player".

"I felt good. I'm happy we came out and got a win," the forward told reporters.

"I came out of the game healthy. So it's a win-win for me.

 
 
 

"It's one game. It's about right now and what I need to do to be the best player for the Raptors. That's what my focus is."

Kyle Lowry had 27 points for the Raptors, whose bench also put up strong numbers with Fred VanVleet adding 14 points, while Pascal Siakam and Danny Green contributed 13 and 11 points respectively.

Although Love was the Cavaliers' top scorer with 21 points, he shot just five-of-18 from the field and one-of-four from three-point range.

The forward admitted he had to "wash all the ugliness away" after an uncharacteristically poor display, with last season's NBA finalists expecting him to step up and help them remain competitive in the Eastern Conference.

"That rhythm wasn't there tonight," he said. "You could tell that game action wasn't there for me tonight. On the defensive end, just our switches and closing out, my attention to detail wasn't there.

"We have to find how we are going to play. We don't have that luxury of having a LeBron so we have to have guys that can play half-court, full-court and be physical."

Elsewhere, DeRozan also gave a strong indication he could fill the shoes of Leonard with a game-high 28 points on his Spurs debut as the hosts held off the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-108.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2018, with the headline 'Leonard outshines Love'. Print Edition | Subscribe