TORONTO: Kawhi Leonard pours in 31 points to lead Raptors past Celtics

TORONTO — Just two games into his tenure in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard was serenaded with chants of “M-V-P!” by almost 20,000 fans Friday night.

And while the newest Raptor smilingly brushed aside the gesture — “It’s a little too early,” he said — Leonard certainly showed glimpses of his superstar billing in just his second real NBA game in nine months.

Leonard scored 15 of his 31 points in the third quarter, and hauled down a team-high 10 rebounds to lead the Raptors to a 113-101 victory over the Boston Celtics in a marquee Eastern Conference matchup.

“It’s Game 2, but I appreciate the support,” Leonard said of the chants. “I know they’re excited about us winning the game tonight, and I appreciate it.”

Serge Ibaka had 21 points, while Kyle Lowry had 15 points, six assists and five boards as the Raptors (2-0) remained undefeated in early season action. Danny Green chipped in with 14 points, while Fred VanVleet added 11.

Green, part of the blockbuster deal that brought Leonard to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, said his former Spurs teammate is already being more assertive, and showing his ability to take over games.

“You can tell he’s a competitor, he wants to compete, he wants the ball, he wants to be on the floor at all times,” Green said. “And he wants to make the big plays, the winning plays, and offensively he’s doing a good job of getting us there, taking us there, carrying us.”

Leonard, who until Wednesday’s opener hadn’t played an NBA regular-season game since January 13, had predicted it would take time to find his rhythm. And while he shot just 3-for-11 in the first half, he was constantly creating havoc on the defensive end and grabbing rebounds with his enormous hands.

“Lungs feel good out there, what I’m trying to do is just get my legs under me, get used to playing these NBA games, getting hit, running up and down the floor, guarding these great players throughout the minutes that I am out there,” said Leonard, who played just nine games last season due to injury.

“It’s still going to take time.”

The game was an early gauge of how the Raptors stack up against the consensus team to beat in the East, plus a preview of what should be a fierce season-long battle between the two Atlantic Division powerhouses that could extend into the playoffs.

The Raptors were coming off a 116-104 win over Cleveland in Wednesday’s season opener, while the Celtics began their campaign Tuesday with a 105-87 rout of Philadelphia.

Neither team led by more than eight points through the first three quarters Friday, and the Raptors took an 82-79 lead into the fourth in front of a soldout Scotiabank Arena crowd that included swimmer Penny Oleksiak and former Toronto Argonauts quarterback Damon Allen.

The Celtics pulled to within two points on a three-pointer by Al Horford with just under three minutes to play, but Green and Lowry connected on back-to-back three-pointers to put the brakes on any Boston momentum.

The Raptors ended the game with a 12-2 run for an emphatic victory.

Leonard’s ability to create a variety of shots in his big third quarter impressed Raptors coach Nick Nurse.

“He did a little bit of everything, right? He hit a three or two, one or two threes in that quarter, he took a couple in transition to the basket and he had a couple of isolation point up plays,” Nurse said. “That’s kind of his versatility, I think there’s some growth to be done with his screen and roll game, right? I think we can get him up the floor and get him into some more screen and rolls … he hasn’t really busted that out yet but he can do that as well.”

Irving had kind words for Leonard.

“You just throw it to him sometimes and he’ll go get you a bucket,” the Celtics guard said. “He commands double-teams, makes some tough shots, gets it going down the stretch. Honestly, he can put the whole team on his back. He’s shown it before. He’s just a special talent.”

The Raptors improved to 10-1 versus Boston at home. The two teams have accounted for 12 of the last 14 Atlantic Division titles, Toronto winning five and Boston seven.

OG Anunoby began the game wearing protective goggles after suffering a orbital contusion on Wednesday’s opener, but he ditched them after a few minutes on the floor. Delon Wright (groin strain) didn’t play.

The Raptors led by three points late in a tight first quarter, but the Celtics closed the frame on a 14-4 run to take a 25-18 lead into the second.

Toronto took a one-point lead three minutes before halftime, but the Celtics responded with a 9-2 run to go up by eight. Then with time ticking down, VanVleet drilled a three as the buzzer sounded, cutting Boston’s lead to 53-49 heading into the break.

Leonard poured in 15 points in an eight-minute stretch of the third, and his cutting dunk midway through the quarter put the Raptors up by two.

The Raptors and Celtics will meet three more times in the regular season. Next up is Nov. 16 in Boston.

The Raptors are in Washington on Saturday to play the Wizards, their first-round opponent from last season’s playoffs.

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