TORONTO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard expects to hear a mix of cheers and boos when he faces the Toronto Raptors for the first time since helping them win the NBA Finals.
Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers make their lone trip north of the border Wednesday to play Toronto. The three-time All-Star and two-time Finals MVP will receive his championship ring in a special pregame ceremony.
“There’ll be some cheers but definitely, I think, more boos because they want to win the game,” Leonard said. “They don’t want to be cheering for a player that’s on the opposing team.”
Back in Toronto for the first time since his free agency meeting with the Raptors in July, Leonard said he experienced “flashbacks” of that championship run as the Clippers drove to the arena for morning shootaround.
“The ride was fun,” Leonard said of his season in Toronto. “I had a great time last year with the coaching staff, the front office, and the players. It was a great experience.
“Obviously it was different playing here for a whole country, they’re all going for this one team.”
Leonard averaged 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in 24 playoff games with Toronto. He hit a series-winning 3-pointer in Game 7 against Philadelphia in the second round, a shot that bounced off the rim four times before dropping.
Rather than re-sign with the Raptors after their six-game Finals triumph over Golden State, Leonard chose to team up with friend Paul George and head home to Los Angeles, signing a three-year deal with the Clippers.
“I’m happy to be there, having a great time,” Leonard said. “These guys are a great team right here. We’re striving for a goal and I’m having a great time.”
Toronto acquired Leonard and guard Danny Green from San Antonio in July 2018, sending franchise icon DeMar DeRozan as part of the package to the Spurs. Leonard said the decision to leave the Raptors wasn’t easy.
“I took my time, I didn’t hurry up and make a quick decision,” he said. “I talked to the front office in deep detail. It was a hard choice to make.”
Leonard is averaging a team-leading 25.1 points in 18 games for the Clippers. He’s missed seven games, including Monday’s win at Indiana, the second game of a back-to-back, sitting out because of a sore left knee.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers confirmed Leonard will play against the Raptors, but said he hasn’t spoken to his star forward about the reception he’s likely to get.
“I don’t talk to players about stuff like that,” Rivers said. “It’s so personal. You never know how they handle it, but it’s got to touch you in some way.”
The Clippers saw George get booed in his return to Indiana on Monday, but Rivers doesn’t expect Raptors fans to give Leonard the same kind of treatment.
“He fulfilled his promise,” Rivers said. “I don’t know if he promised a championship, but he fulfilled it anyway. I think it will be an amazing reception.”
Leonard said he has only seen pictures of Toronto’s championship rings, which are the biggest in league history. Each one contains more than 650 diamonds.
“I think it looks nice,” Leonard said. “I want to see it in person so it can come full circle.”
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports