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Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard going one-on-one is NBA entertainment at its best

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These guys can do it all!

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard vs. Kevin Durant is a matchup of two supersized, two-way basketball geniuses who fans deserve to see in a seven-game NBA Finals series. Thursday night’s game between the Raptors and Warriors, which ended in a 131-128 overtime win for Toronto, was proof. The neck-and-neck finish was filled with clutch threes and wall-to-wall athleticism, and hopefully there’s much more to come in June.

The Warriors were down both Steph Curry and Draymond Green, who continue to feel the effects of groin and toe injuries, respectively. Most expected the Leonard-led Raptors to take the home game with ease because of that. Toronto’s on pace to win 68 games after all.

But Durant shouldered the scoring load for Golden State, scoring 51 points on 18-of-31 shooting, including back-to-back clutch threes to bring the game into overtime. He went head-to-head with Leonard all game, who finished with 37 points on 14-of-24 shooting. Only a pair of Andre Iguodala turnovers in crunch time could stop the fun that left us wanting more.

The 2019 Finals could actually be a memorable one. Here’s why.

Durant is so freaking good. We sometimes forget what he was like pre-Warriors.

In his last three games, Durant has scored 144 points. His lines have looked like this:

  • vs. Sacramento: 44 points, 13-26 FG, 13 rebounds, seven assists
  • vs. Orlando: 49 points, 16-33 FG, six rebounds, nine assists
  • vs. Toronto: 51 points, 18-31 FG, 11 rebounds, six assists

Durant has taken total control with Curry out, and though it hasn’t resulted in a ton of wins, his individual performances have been spectacular. And his latest 51-point masterpiece came with Leonard, arguably the best wing defender in the league, draped on him.

This matchup was ELECTRIC, sending your mind through a maze as one caught the ball in front of the other. Would Durant pull-up in Leonard’s face? Would he cross him up? Post him up? Would Leonard lock him down entirely? All night, one tested the other.

The most exciting moment of the night came when Durant went unconscious in the final stretch, determined to shoot the ball no matter what — even if he didn’t have full grip on the ball.

With 8.6 seconds left and Leonard’s outstretched arm right there, it didn’t matter:

The Raptors are already Kawhi Leonard’s team. Damn is that fun.

In all of 23 games it already looks as if Leonard’s spent his career in Toronto. And he looks fully healthy for the first time in two years.

Leonard worked the mid-range, shots from distance, used spin moves in the paint, and had an excellent feel for when to kick the ball out to shooters. He was in full control, even with Durant’s long arms covering the distance surrounding him. He’s back.

On the season, he’s averaging 24 points per game, the second most of his career, to go along with a career-high nine rebounds. Toronto’s offense is giving him the most shot attempts of his career at 18, and he’s boosting his name back into the MVP conversation.

Leonard could be the Warriors most difficult stop not named LeBron James.

Watching two players of Durant and Leonard’s talent go against each other was special — and rare. The best players on any team aren’t always assigned to each other on defense. But because of both of their complete games and similar sizes, fans were gifted to see two of the world’s best show out on one another.

But of course, one big question looms.

Sure, Golden State and Toronto are the two favorites in their respective conferences to make the Finals. But is this series close if Curry and Green play?

That’s a tough question to answer. If Golden State’s starters are all healthy, Durant doesn’t go for 51. Does Curry play as brilliantly with the shot attempts that would’ve been KD’s? Does Draymond defend Kawhi as well as KD did?

It’s easy to decide one team would’ve blown out another had another star played, but we won’t know what these matchups look like until we see them.

What we do know is that Toronto looks ready for real this time. And, of course, Golden State has the starpower to compete whenever.

After two straight disappointing Finals, it’s time to up the drama with a Kawhi-KD showdown.