Toronto (AP) — For Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors, Monday was all about rest and recovery.
Coming off a season in which he sat out 22 regular-season games and never played on back-to-back nights as part of a plan to manage his workload, Leonard played a playoff career-high 52 minutes in Toronto’s double-overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.
The Raptors cut their deficit to 2-1 in the Eastern Conference finals, but it may have come at a cost. Leonard battled through both extra sessions while dealing with soreness in his leg. Pascal Siakam also had a long night, playing 51 minutes for Toronto, which will try to even the series in Tuesday’s Game 4.
Leonard didn’t speak to reporters Monday, but Raptors coach Nick Nurse said the star player isn’t injured, just fatigued.
“The consensus today is he’s tired, and he’s got two days and will be ready to go,” Nurse said. “Those are kind of the words coming out of his mouth: little tired, but he’ll get his rest, got two days, and he’ll be ready.”
Leonard played only nine games in 2017-18 because of a quadriceps injury. He was traded from San Antonio to Toronto after that season, and the Raptors made keeping him fresh a priority.
He acknowledged feeling sore after scoring 36 points in Game 3, including eight in the second overtime, but insisted he’d be ready to go on Tuesday.
The Bucks are still expecting Leonard to be at his best.
“He’s going to shoot with one, two, sometimes even three or four guys on him,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton said. “I keep saying this over and over: He’s a great player. You can’t stop great players. You can only make it tough on them.”
Leonard isn’t just an offensive force. A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, he helped limit Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo to 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting in Game 3.
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry called Leonard “probably the best two-way basketball player in the NBA.”
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was asked Monday whether his team might fare better in Game 4 with Leonard battling fatigue.
“I don’t know that we can go any harder at Kawhi than we are,” Budenholzer said. “We’ve been throwing a lot at Kawhi, and we’ll continue to do that.”