Toronto • As Kawhi Leonard stood at the free-throw line during the third quarter Tuesday, fans at Scotiabank Arena started serenading him with M-V-P chants.
Until he missed the first of two free throws, anyway. Hey, nobody's perfect. Although he wasn't far off.
It didn’t matter which Jazz player guarded Leonard: Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, Royce O’Neale, Donovan Mitchell — he blistered them all, going 16 of 22 from the field and 13 of 17 at the line, scoring a career-high 45 points to lead Toronto to a 122-116 victory that dropped the Jazz to 18-20 on the season.
Leonard’s night wasted a 30-point effort off Utah’s bench from Crowder, who at times seemed to single-handedly be keeping the Jazz in the game in the second half.
“He’s a heck of a player, obviously,” Crowder said of Leonard. “And when he went to the line in the third quarter, he got a rhythm right there, and it made him be aggressive, his team aggressive. And then it was an uphill battle defending him.”
Indeed, the third quarter proved pivotal, in many ways.
The Jazz had a 53-51 lead at halftime, despite shooting nearly 14 percent worse from the field than the Raptors, despite making only three shots from deep, and despite allowing 15 first-half points to Leonard. It helped that 11 fouls called on the Raptors to five on the Jazz yielded a 19-5 advantage in free throws attempted.
It all seemed too good to last. And that proved all too true.
After hitting all of two 3-pointers the entire first half, Toronto made three of them in the first 2:05 of the third quarter, as Fred VanVleet got open for one, and Pascal Siakam got loose for two. The 9-0 run to start the period gave the Raptors a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“The start of the third quarter was really significant — they came out with force, and we didn’t match it,” said Donovan Mitchell, whose 19 points came on 7-for-23 shooting. “We had to get hit first before we punched back.”
Leonard shook off every body blow, though.
A dizzying array of spin moves to get to the rim … stop-on-a-dime pull-up ability to create space on jumpers … he unleashed every move in his arsenal, and ended the period with 19 points in the frame, and 34 total going into the fourth, as Toronto took a 10-point lead.
“He scored in the post, he scored in isolation, he scored going to the rum over Rudy [Gobert],” said coach Quin Snyder. “Eventually, we started hitting him when he walked across half court.”
He had some help, of course. The foul and free-throw disparities eventually went in Toronto’s favor — the Jazz were whistled for 21 second-half fouls to the Raptors' 10. Toronto attempted 30 free throws after the break to Utah’s 10.
“We did a good job not fouling in the first half,” said Snyder. “I guess they were more physical than we were attacking the rim [late].”
Meanwhile, Siakam proved a rim-running menace in his supporting role, totaling a career-high 28 points on 9-for-15 shooting.
In spite of it all, the Jazz had late chances.
Crowder in particular seemed to be willing the Jazz to remain in the game. In 26 minutes, 49 seconds off the bench, he shot the ball with extreme confidence, and wound up with efficiency to match.
He hit 9 of 15 from the field — including 5 of 7 from deep — and also made all seven of his free throws, totaling 30 points and six boards.
“Jae had a spectacular game,” Mitchell said. “He came ready, knocked down shots — that’s what he does.”
The Jazz got to within 118-113 with just over a minute to go, and Ricky Rubio was headed to the line. But the career 83.7-percent free-throw shooter crucially missed the first attempt. After he made the second, Utah doubled Leonard, forcing Serge Ibaka into a 3-pointer which he missed.
But Danny Green grabbed the rebound.
Leonard then took a highly-contested, double-covered trey, which also missed.
But Siakim grabbed the rebound, was fouled, went to the line, and hit the freebies to make it a six-point game.
“Offensively, we played good enough to win the game. But on the road, you gotta get stops, you gotta find a way to get stops,” Crowder said. “And in the times that we needed to, we didn’t find a way.”