SportsPulse: Much will be made about the demise of the Warriors dynasty and the absence of Kevin Durant, but it is time to give props to the Toronto Raptors. They look and are playing like champions.
TORONTO — A coveted trophy and the massive hands that once cradled it are on the verge of a reunion.
The Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award is waiting to be claimed. And the trophy looks destined for hands that measure 11.25 inches from pinky to thumb — about 50 percent bigger than the hands of an average man — and belong to a man nicknamed “The Klaw.’’
It’s safe to say the Toronto Raptors are in massively good hands with star forward Kawhi Leonard (a.k.a. The Klaw), who won the Finals MVP award in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs. It’s almost within his grip again with the Raptors leading the Golden State Warriors 3-1 heading into Game 5 Monday (9 p.m. ET, ABC). Leonard is averaging 30.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
A Raptors victory would give TV viewers another chance to see the MVP trophy engulfed by Leonard’s hands, which measure 9.75 inches long. They are a shade smaller than Michael Jordan’s.
“It makes him a special player,’’ Raptors guard Danny Green said of Leonard. “Obviously, that’s what he came into this league as — a long, active defender. But he’s emerged offensively a great deal. He’s been that for us.’’
Added Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, “Obviously, he’s a specimen. We all know that. To be able to use his length and athleticism is incredible the way he does it, and obviously (with) his hands. It’s something I’m eager to watch even on the floor how he can do certain things.”
What Leonard is doing now is Klaw-tastic. He has scored 30 or more points in each of the last three games and in Game 3 on Friday he torched the Warriors for 36 points and was 5-for-9 from 3-point range.
Although there is scant confirmed history about Leonard’s nickname, Klaw lore dates at least to high school, when he also played football and the coaches had to special order wide receiver gloves.
The XL’s were too small, of course.
Yet sometimes, it turns out, the hands have felt too big. Leonard discussed that earlier this year with Raptors teammate Serge Ibaka during an appearance on Ibaka’s YouTube show “How Hungry Are You?’’
“Your hands are so big, bro,’’ Ibaka said. “Like sometimes I’m on the bench watching you play, like how you grab the ball, it’s like wow.’’
Leonard, acquired by the Raptors in an offseason trade with the Spurs, smiled sheepishly. He reminded Ibaka that he’d used his hands to posterize Ibaka on a nasty dunk when they were opponents.
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But while the big hands also help with steals and rebounding, according to Leonard, he also said they made shooting difficult — and something he overcame with only hard work.
“You know, like sometimes you shoot like a girls basketball and the ball is smaller,’’ he said. “It’s harder to shoot it, harder to roll off you hands, so some games or some shots that I do it’ll be too far in my hands. I just really have to focus on that. You know, I’m happy still.’’
He looked plenty happy on the set of TNT when Shaquille O’Neal asked Leonard to hold his hands up. Shaq held up his, too, palm to palm.
The Klaw’s hands were a little smaller than Shaq’s, but Shaq also is six inches taller than Leonard.
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On Monday, Leonard denied reports he had purchased property in Toronto, potentially a clue about whether he intends to stay with the Raptors next season or to test free agency.
Might be worth checking if anybody has special-ordered winter gloves, under the name Klaw.
Contributing: Dan Wolken, Jeff Zillgitt
Follow Josh Peter on Twitter @joshlpeter11