The Canadian Press
TORONTO–Timberwolves’ centre Gorgui Dieng was thinking assist in the first half last night when he sent a bounce pass to Jimmy Butler slashing to the basket.
But the Minnesota big man hadn’t factored in Kawhi Leonard.
The Raptors’ newcomer, who was guarding Butler, had his back to Dieng as he made the pass. But like basketball’s equivalent of Marvel’s Darevdevil, he lunged as Butler made his move to the paint and got his big mitts on the ball to snuff out the play.
“I just dove for the ball; had an awareness that he was going to bounce-pass it to him and I was able to get the steal,” Leonard said matter-of-factly after the Raptors improved to 5-0 with a 112-105 win, matching the franchise’s best-ever start to a season.
Had he done that before?
“I have a few,” he replied. “Can’t really recall. It’s not my first time.”
Could you see the ball?
“No. I couldn’t see it all,” he answered.
Welcome to the world of Kawhi Leonard–a man of few words but many basketball skills.
Leonard scored a season-high 35 points to power the Raptors past a T-Wolves’ team missing injured Canadian Andrew Wiggins.
“He does so many things well,” Butler said of Leonard. “They feature him in a lot of things and he plays both sides of the ball.”
The 27-year-old Leonard now has scored 24, 31, 22, and 35 points in his four appearances to date for the Raptors.
“I feel good. We’re on the right track,” said Leonard, who talks as if he only brings a certain number of words with him when he leaves the house.
“We’ve won every game so far and we’ve just got to keep going,”
Reporters were just happy to see him appear in the dressing room after the game. He went for a workout after Monday’s win over Charlotte.
Toronto also won five-straight to open the 2015-16 campaign. The Raptors can tie the franchise record for consecutive home victories to start a season (five, set in 2014-15 and 2003-04) on Friday when they host Dallas.
It’s the first time in franchise history that Toronto has won five in a row while allowing at least 100 points in every game.
It helps that the Raptors have averaged 117.0 points through the first five contests.
Last night also was Toronto’s 15th-straight home victory over Minnesota–a franchise-record for consecutive games against a single opponent at home.
Toronto has not lost at home to the Timberwolves since Jan. 21, 2004.
The Raptors now are 30-15 (.667) all-time against Minnesota, their highest winning percentage against any opponent.
Toronto’s Kyle Lowry had his third-straight double-double with 13 points and 10 assists.
Raptors’ big men Serge Ibaka (15) and Jonas Valanciunas (16) combined for 31 points.
Valanciunas, a seven-footer, hit two three-pointers on the night to the delight of the sell-out crowd of 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena.
Butler had 23 points to lead the Timberwolves (2-3), who trailed most of the night.
Toronto led 83-74 after three quarters, pulling ahead with an 11-4 run to open the fourth quarter.
Minnesota, thanks to a 7-0 run, narrowed the margin to 106-101 with 1:16 to go. But a Leonard bucket and pair of free throws–to chants of “MVP, MVP”–helped soothe the hometown nerves.
Wiggins, from nearby Vaughan, Ont., missed the game with a right thigh contusion that forced him out of the Timberwolves’ 101-91 home win Monday over Indiana in the first quarter.
“Obviously being from here, he tried to do all that he could. It just didn’t work out,” coach Tom Thibodeau said prior to the game.
It marked only the second time in 332 career regular-season NBA games that Wiggins has sat out.
He also missed one game in the 2015 season.