For the first time since leaving the Raptors for the LA Clippers in the offseason, Kawhi Leonard returns to Toronto on Thursday.
Leonard spent only one season with the Raptors, but it will never be forgotten. Not only did he have the best regular season of his career with averages of 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, Leonard led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title.
In the process, Leonard put together one of the most impressive postseasons we've ever seen. In addition to hitting an iconic shot in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, only two players have ever scored more total points in a single playoff run: LeBron James and Michael Jordan.
Even though Leonard's return to Toronto is expected to be an emotional night, the two-time Finals MVP said he's focused on one thing - winning the game.
"I'll be thinking about just playing against the team and wanting to win the game, for the most part," Leonard said, per Jovan Buha of The Athletic . "Just really getting my ring that night. ... We're there for one reason: to play the Raptors and try to win the game."
Of course, a return isn't a return without a proper tribute video, and the Raptors released one for the "Fun Guy" 24 hours ahead of tip off…
Fun Guy in town. pic.twitter.com/RdAwMTuZES- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 11, 2019
The Raptors have also put up some billboards around Toronto, one at the Scotiabank Arena, another at the BMO Field...
A couple more Kawhi billboards, these ones from the Raptors, at Scotiabank Arena and BMO Field. pic.twitter.com/CpCQyr0bq2- Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 11, 2019
Leonard, meanwhile, took out a billboard to thank Raptors fans for their support during the team's championship run.
"(The fans) were amazing last year," Leonard said, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN . "They rolled with us through the ups and downs. We were down every series pretty much and they stuck through it with us. They brought great energy to every game and it helped us. So that's my thank you to them."
How cool is this? New Balance just released a new Kawhi billboard at Yonge and Dundas.- Alykhan Khamisa Ravjiani (@AlykhanKR) December 11, 2019
Thank You Toronto. pic.twitter.com/GuUEMoI0YE
On the morning of the game, Leonard took questions from quite the media crowd.
📍Toronto, ON pic.twitter.com/0MZsnq6Cml- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) December 11, 2019
Among the thinks Leonard talked about, he said that he gave re-signing with the Raptors a " big consideration " and that it was a hard choice to leave them for the Clippers.
Before tip-off, the Raptors' PA announcer introduced four of LA's starters and their head coach Doc Rivers, leaving the man of the night as the only player remaining. With everyone directing their attention to the video board, an extended version of the tribute video above was shown to honour Kawhi.
As part of the extended tribute video, an incredible display on the court reenacted the footsteps taken by Leonard on his historic Game 7 game-winning shot over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Raptors recreated Kawhi's game-winning shot against Philly on the floor. 👀 pic.twitter.com/xelM2hPsPo- TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 12, 2019
The Scotiabank Arena crowd echoed with chants of "MVP".
A massive standing ovation and "MVP" chants for Kawhi Leonard as he finally receives his championship ring. 👏 pic.twitter.com/Hm9AOcLeDL- TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 12, 2019
And finally, the former Raptor shook hands with his ex-teammates before Kyle Lowry awarded the Finals MVP with his championship ring.
Board Man got his ring pic.twitter.com/NzUZgLM886- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 12, 2019
In very Kawhi Leonard fashion, he cracked a subtle joke in pretended to cry as Lowry handed him the ring.
Kawhi pretending to cry as he receives his ring 😂 fun guy confirmed pic.twitter.com/gSXRhE5aXv- TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 12, 2019
And that wrapped up the ring ceremony portion of Kawhi's first trip back to Toronto.
As for the actual game, after the first quarter it was all Clippers with the centre of attention leading the way.
Kawhi Leonard posts 23 PTS, 5 REB, 6 AST as the @LAClippers win in his return to Toronto! #ClipperNation pic.twitter.com/ObnTk90um2- NBA (@NBA) December 12, 2019
Leonard finished with 23 points shooting 8-for-14 from the field and 2-for-4 from 3-point range to go with six assists and five rebounds as LA cruised to a 20-point victory.
After the game he shared his final moments of the marquee evening with his former teammates, with hugs and smiles all around.
Kawhi Leonard shows love to some familiar faces postgame in Toronto! #PhantomCam pic.twitter.com/T9HoCbDKKs- NBA (@NBA) December 12, 2019
It was a game and night that Leonard, the Raptors franchise and fans will remember for a long, long time.