NBA

Kawhi Leonard 'like Maximus coming back as the gladiator' on triumphant Raptors return

By Sports Desk December 12, 2019

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard was described as "Maximus coming back as the gladiator" by Doc Rivers as he made a triumphant return to the Toronto Raptors.

Leonard received his championship ring on his first match back in Toronto since opting to join the Clippers in free agency after he had inspired the Canadian franchise to their first NBA title.

The Raptors welcomed him back with a tribute video and he was greeted by former team-mates and coaches in the centre of the court, receiving a positive reception from the home crowd.

Leonard went on to score 23 points, adding six assists and five rebounds as the Clippers won 112-92 on Wednesday to move to 19-7, while the defending champion Raptors dropped to 16-8.

Clippers coach Rivers praised the Raptors for how they received Leonard and was certain the often-reserved NBA Finals MVP had been touched by the occasion.

"It's like Maximus coming back as the gladiator," Rivers said just before tip-off.

"He was the champion and just did everything honourably and the right way. I was joking earlier that would be a great intro."

After the victory, Rivers added: "Some players just don't let you in. But I can tell you that ovation, to him, was very heartfelt. There's no doubt about that. It meant a lot to him.

"I thought what the Raptors did overall - the video, the players coming out, all of them who played with him - that's the best that I've seen since I've been in the league.

"That's a really classy move by the organisation and then by the fans as well."

Kyle Lowry presented Leonard's ring and the two players shared a moment admiring the memento that contains over 640 diamonds.

"I was joking with him and just showing him that the ring was nice and like it was shining too bright – we were laughing," Leonard said, according to ESPN.

"Memories probably just ran through our heads. As far as winning a championship, it pretty much has come full circle now, being able to get the ring and see where the hard work came from.

"But it's more than that. It's just a journey. For me, as far as playing for the city, the chapter coming closed once I came over with the Clippers, but I still love the city.

"Those guys on the team, the players, the coaching staff, I still have love for them and wish them the best."

Asked about the video tribute and fans' reaction when he received his ring, Leonard said: "It was great, it was a great moment.

"They did a great job putting it together, having all the players out there that won with me, standing there and presenting the ring.

"It just kind of puts you back in those spots when you were on the floor, or the locker room talk going into the game, and after the game watching those highlights.

"It was a special season for us, for me and for the whole city and country. I'm just glad we were able to win. It was a blessing."

The Clippers lost Patrick Beverley to a concussion, while Pascal Siakam had a game-high 24 points for the Raptors, who have now lost four of their last five games.

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