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Raptors’ Nick Nurse admits he thought Kawhi Leonard was ‘cruising’ last season before turning it on

Kawhi Leonard, Nick Nurse

The Los Angeles Clippers have made it clear that they will prioritize Kawhi Leonard’s long-term health in recent days, even at the risk of being fined.

After all, the Toronto Raptors employed the “load management” strategy with Leonard throughout the 2018-19 season, and it culminated in a historic run to first NBA title in franchise history.

In fact, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse thinks that Leonard was saving up something extra in the gas tank for a deep playoff run. Nurse told Eric Koreen of The Athletic that even while Leonard was producing at a high level, he always felt that the superstar forward had more in reserve:

Nurse: I’m not sure I ever said this publicly last year, but about February of last year, I was like: “He’s not playing to his full capabilities. He’s cruising to his 30 points a night.” I figured it could go one of two ways. He was gonna cruise on out of here or he was going to flip a switch and try to win the whole damn thing. Obviously, we saw what happened.

Indeed, Leonard put together one of the most memorable postseason performances in NBA history.

“The Claw” played in all 24 games, logging close to 40 minutes per game while posting averages of 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals. Leonard also ramped up his defensive activity, as his switch onto Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo may have been the turning point in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Needless to say, the Clippers are hoping that their deep roster can take some of the pressure off of Leonard and allow him to “cruise” into April at full strength.