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NBA Finals

NBA Finals 2019: Kawhi Leonard and Nick Nurse praise Marc Gasol for his impact on the Toronto Raptors

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Marc Gasol (NBA Getty Images)

With the Toronto Raptors making the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, the impact of team president Masai Ujiri couldn't be more clear.

The trade for Kawhi Leonard in the offseason obviously set this journey in motion, but Ujiri has made a number of moves since that have helped the Raptors get where they are today, few bigger than the acquisition of Marc Gasol at the trade deadline.

Gasol was one of the main reasons the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 as he scored 20 points, marking a new high for him in a Raptors uniform. The Spaniard also made an impact defensively, coming up with two steals and one block in the win.

At his media availability on Saturday, Leonard had nothing but praise for the impact Gasol has made in these playoffs, despite him struggling at times.

"He's been great," Leonard said. "He's a good rim protector. He's been guarding everybody in the post for us. In our first series, he guarded [Nikola] Vucevic. Then guarding [Joel] Embiid in the second series, he did a great job defensively.

"Just another smart player on the floor that's been through the ups and downs of the NBA. Veteran guy who is just ready for the moment. Him being able to orchestrate the offense at the top of the key, able to shoot the three, it helps everybody. He's just playing well on both ends of the floor."

MORE: Game 2 preview | Odds and predictions

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse also spoke highly of what Gasol has brought to the team ahead of Game 2.

"Yeah, I think we have some veteran guys that have seen a lot and played in a lot of games. I always talk about him: He's not only played in a lot of big NBA games, but he's played on the international stage at the highest level. I think he has a couple silver medals under his belt or something like that.

"I think he got into maybe one of the lowest points of his career in these playoffs. He had a 1-for-9 game. People were basically writing him off. We had to get him out of the lineup and not start him - all those kind of things. I did talk to him about it and he just didn't waver at all. It was like, 'Tomorrow, it's going to be great,' was his answer.

"Again I told him, I said, 'Listen, you're a great player.' I tell him that. I told him that several times. 'You're a great player because you've lifted the level of who our team thinks they can be and you lift the level of other players' play.'

"That's, to me, what great players do."

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