For Leonard, it wasn’t just his first appearance in a Raptors uniform, but his first competitive game since January as a mysterious quad injury kept him shelved for all but nine contests last season.
Leonard’s fit with the Raptors will be important, but first and foremost, Toronto need him back at full strength and looking like himself, which is an MVP calibre player.
One preseason game isn’t going to answer that question, but in the 122-104 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday, Leonard mostly looked like his usual self.
He didn’t shoot well, going 3-of-8 from the field, 0-of-4 from long range and 6-of-11 at the free throw line, but in the 19 minutes he played in the first half, Leonard appeared to move well and showed few signs of any lingering injury.
He was aggressive in attacking the basket and showed off his footwork on a few step-back jumpers. He also had a steal in which he anticipated a pass and went coast-to-coast before being fouled.
“Yeah, you know it’s going to take time to get my rhythm, but I felt great being out there and just being able to compete,” Leonard said. “It was important just for me getting acclimated to the team. Like I was saying, in game play calls, seeing what everyone does on the floor, so it was important.”
Toronto could once again be in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating this season, but with Leonard now in the fold, their defence may arguably end up being their biggest strength.
The Raptors have a number of long players that can switch and play multiple positions, which should allow them to compete with the best teams in the league.
It may take some time for their defensive chemistry to peak, but the pieces are there for them to thrive on that end.
Boston will have a healthy Irving and Gordon Hayward to begin the year after the team fell one win shy of reaching the NBA Finals last season without their two stars.
With their mix of veteran All-Stars and young phenoms, Irving is confident the Celtics can at least make the two-time defending champions sweat.
“Until we get to the start of the season, I think we have the talent to compete with them,” Irving said. “Obviously the quote of me saying ‘I feel like we could beat them in a seven-game series’ because I really do feel like that.”
See Irving’s full comments in the video below.
The reigning MVP spoke highly of Anthony, a 10-time All-Star who joined Houston’s core of Harden and Chris Paul this summer.
“He brings that vet leadership, added to the guys we already have, and his ability to score,” Harden said.
See Harden’s full comments in the video below.