NBA DAILY DRIBBLE: Kawhi is a killer

NBA results: March 2, 2019

Chicago Bulls (168) – Atlanta Hawks (161)

Charlotte Hornets (123) – Brooklyn Nets (112)

Portland Trail Blazers (117) – Toronto Raptors (119)

Washington Wizards (96) – Boston Celtics (107)

New Orleans Pelicans (130) – Phoenix Suns (116)

LA Clippers (116) – Sacramento Kings (109)

Milwaukee Bucks (131) – LA Lakers (120)

Three things that happened in the NBA today:

1. Kawhi Leonard is a killer

It’s so hard to look at the Eastern Conference and not miss LeBron James playing there. He’s such a larger-than-life individual that it’s literally impossible not to miss him. But, throughout this season, several players have stepped up to fill James’ shoes in the East.

Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo are putting up King-like numbers with the matching highlights. Kyrie Irving is now soaking up the spotlight with his “interesting” quotes and inter-team drama with the Celtics. The one thing missing is the clutch baskets that LeBron used to drop. Especially during the key run to the Playoffs.

Trying to fill in that role in Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has hit a ton of game-winners for the Raptors this season. He added another one to his growing list of clutch shots this season.

The Raptors were facing the pesky Trail Blazers, trying to extend their six-game winning streak. Behind CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, the Blazers turned the game into a dog fight in the fourth quarter.

The game was tied with 13 seconds left in the fourth period. The Raptors inbounded to Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto superstar never let the ball go. He brought the ball down and faced off against Moe Harkless in an isolation situation. Kyle Lowry came in to set a pick and force a switch. That left Leonard one-on-one against the smaller Damian Lillard.

Leonard drove baseline, hopped into his shot and launched his trademark fadeaway jumper with four seconds left. The ball hit back iron, bounced around the rim and fell in, giving the Raptors the win.

That basket capped a 38-point masterpiece.

With Embiid and Antetokounmpo bringing the numbers, Irving bringing the drama and Leonard bringing the clutch shots, the East isn’t missing James anymore.

2. Bulls and Hawks battle in a 4OT classic

In the grand scheme of things, the Bulls and Hawks 4OT battle doesn’t mean much. Both the Bulls and Hawks aren’t fighting for a Playoff spot anymore, they’re fighting for ping-pong balls.

But in a vacuum, this game was a classic battle for pride. The Bulls have revamped their team midseason, changing their coach and adding a key player to their roster. The Hawks came into this season with a clear rebuild in mind. All the key figures of both teams came up big in this game.

Trae Young was ridiculous in the end of regulation. He was throwing up unbelievable shots that were dropping in. In the first two OT periods, it was Zach LaVine’s turn to carry the Bulls. He was knocking down clutch baskets to keep them alive. Young continued to make plays to keep the Hawks in the game. Unfortunately, the Bulls just had too much fire power. Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez came up big in the final two extra periods to help the Bulls pull away.

When it was all said and done, players from both teams put up remarkable numbers. Young continued his hot streak this month. He led the Hawks with 49 points and 16 assists. Those are numbers that even Luka Doncic hasn’t achieved yet. LaVine put up a 47-9-9 statline to keep up with Young. Porter and Markkanen added 31-point double-doubles as well.

This game may not mean much in the long run, but it was the most entertaining game of the year.

3. Celtics finally get their first post All-Star Weekend win

Things were starting to unravel in Boston. The Celtics opened the stretch run with four straight losses, including some really ugly ones. They lost a close one against the Bucks, got beat down by the Raptors and even lost an uninspired game against the Bulls. The sniping and statements started to flow after their loss against the Blazers.

They desperately needed a good win. They got just that against the Wizards. It was a team win by all accounts. Boston flexed their offensive and defensive muscles. Seven players scored in double figures. Kyrie Irving had 12 assists and only one TO. Al Horford had 18 points to lead the team in scoring. Marcus Smart had 16 points and four treys. They limited the Wizards to just 15 points, as they pulled away in the final period.

It’s hard to say if this is a new leaf for Boston given how inconsistent they’ve been. But one thing’s for sure, this was exactly the win that the Celtics needed.

Photo from AP