By Gino Rouse
The NBA Playoffs this year gives fans the opportunity to crown the new King of the East. However, it has not been an obvious coronation. Since the San Antonio and Toronto trade that swapped Kawhi Leonard and Demar DeRozan, we have all been reminded that Kawhi is a top 3 player in the league due to his defensive ability and insane clutchness. But in the Midwest, a star has arisen in ‘The Greek Freak’, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Since the beginning of the season, something has clicked for ‘The Freak’. He has been dominant all year long, showing that even a lack of a perimeter shot won’t stop him. Adding fifty some pounds of pure muscle to his frame didn’t hurt his game. You also have other Eastern Conference stars in Kyrie Irving and Victor Oladipo. Oladipo carried the Indiana Pacers to the fifth seed in the East, and so, he must be in the conversation. Unfortunately, his season fell off at the end because of injury. However, this impressive talent has been overshadowed by battle between Giannis and Kawhi.
So, who is the East’s new King?
Both the Bucks and the Raptors have been built around their star small forwards. Weather it be, like in Toronto, from a blockbuster trade, or from the draft and minor trades, like Milwaukee, these teams have surrounded each star with pieces that help them shine even brighter. With his unparalleled athleticism and killer mindset, Giannis has shown that he can stay consistent throughout the season leading the Bucks to the best record in the entire league. This mindset was there from his earliest days in the league. The dedication that he has shown to the game of basketball is almost religious. Giannis and the Bucks successfully swept the Pistons in the first round this season, which everyone was expecting, and then beat down the stacked Boston Celtics, This showed that his dominance didn’t stop when the playoffs began. At only 24 years old, Giannis has shown this season that he wants this title more than anyone else. But now he is faced with the challenging task of taking down the Raptors and Kawhi Leonard.
Many people had forgotten about Kawhi Leonard. Since his controversial injury caused by Zaza Pachulia in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against Golden State on May 14, 2017, Kawhi’s career had been marked by rumors. Fans had been asking why he sat out the full 2018 season with the Spurs, even though he was cleared by one of the NBA’s best franchise team doctors. Some questioned if he was more focused on his own personal brand than on the game. With all this talk, people had forgotten about the young Kawhi Leonard who locked down Lebron James and ended up winning finals MVP in 2014. This was the same year that he won Defensive Player of the year. That made him the first player since Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon to win both in the same year! That alone puts Kawhi into the conversation of an all time great defender. Since joining Toronto, Kawhi has been showcasing all his skills, averaging career highs in points and rebounds as well as averaging just under 2 steals a game. In the playoffs this year he is still averaging career highs in points and 3 pointers made, showing that his game is still evolving and that his shot is getting more and more deadly. Those numbers and his ability to make big shots against a young, athletic, and hungry 76ers team shows how great this guy really is.
These two studs facing each other in such pivotal moments in both of their careers will mark this series in the history books. Kawhi is known for his lockdown defensive capabilities along with now confirming his ability to deliver in clutch moments; Giannis has the ability to get to the basket against any defender because of his height, athleticism, and ball handling skills. It will be difficult to predict who will come out on top of this matchup. The new king of the East will only be determined after the end of this series. Until then, we all get to talk about how incredible it is to watch these once in a lifetime talents battle each other.