In part one of New 4 Sports’ sitdown with TSN NBA Analyst Jack Armstrong, they chat about Toronto’s historic run to the NBA Finals, how important it was to trade not only for Kawhi Leonard but Danny Green, and the greatness of Leonard.
Nick Filipowski: How surreal has this run been for the Raptors?
Jack Armstrong: “It’s been remarkable. 24 years as a franchise, I’ve been with them for 21 years. Just to see how the city of Toronto, the Province of Ontario the country of Canada has gotten behind it, it’s remarkable. The road they’ve had to get there, down 0-1 to Orlando, down 1-2 to Philly, down 0-2 to Milwaukee and each time battling back. Kawhi Leonard making the dramatic Game 7 shot (against the 76ers) at the end of the game. Just remarkable performances. Right now, everyone is in a state euphoria and excitement. I think they needed a few days to just catch their breath and regroup. To me, it’s just been fabulous.”
When the franchise traded for Kawhi, did anyone in the organization, yourself included, imagine ‘we’d be playing in the NBA Finals?’
JA: “I think when they traded not only for Kawhi Leonard, but Danny Green, you’re bringing in two guys that have championship rings on their fingers that know what it takes in the big moments. We’ve seen that clearly from Kawhi Leonard. We saw that a lot from Danny Green during the regular season. He’s struggled a bit in the postseason. Kawhi Leonard has been incredible. He’s so calm, so poised, he’s mature. He’s a game, he’s a baller.
In an era where there is a lot of sizzle and style, he’s a meat and potatoes, no-nonsense, let his game do the talking type of guy. You never hear from him. He’s stoic, quiet and composed. I look at Game 5 against Milwaukee where the Raptors trailed going into the 4th quarter. He had 15 points in the 4th quarter and finished with nine assists in the game. On the road, that’s hard to do. And, you need a guy that has a special makeup to do it. And, the great ones have stage presence, that “it” factor, and he definitely has that it factor.
And then, the Raptors add Mark Gasol at the deadline, an accomplished world class player that has been defensive player of the year, an all-star, a legendary figure on the international stage as well. You add veteran guys like that in the room, guys that have been there, done that and that changes how you approach games. This time of year it comes down to veterans that stay calm.”
You say Kawhi is a ‘meat and potatoes’ guy, has there been a moment where he’s peeled back the curtain a little bit and into the person he is that we don’t get to see on a game-to-game basis?”
JA: “I’ve had opportunities to chat with him and he’s just a real calm, pleasant guy. At the same time, his love affair is basketball. He does it every day. I reflect back on training camp in Vancouver, this past fall, and sitting watching practice and ‘man this guy is the real deal.’ I look at it from a coach. I look at this guy is coachable. He’s paying attention to what the coach says, he’s dialed in to what his teammates are doing. He’s working hard on every drill. He’s putting the time in. There’s a certain reason why great players are great players. And, a lot of it is habits and his habits are off the charts. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. He is a master of detail and he puts the time in at it and he’s not concerned about ‘I, me, that.’ He’s concerned about contributing to the team. Here’s the thing that makes him great. He plays every play. When you look at the best two-way players in the world today, he’s that guy. There are a lot of great offensive players, that take plays off on the defensive end. He doesn’t do that. He gives it to you on every single possession.”
You mentioned that you noticed something in training camp that he was the real deal. When you think of all the big moments in playoffs – the shot that bounces off the rim four times before going in, in Game 7 against the 76ers, his emphatic dunk over Giannis. Are you ever in awe of what Kawhi is able to do.
JA: “I’m not only impressed, I am in awe of it. I’ve had the opportunity to be in the NBA for 21 years and that guy has always been on the other team. Obviously, as we all know, the Raptors have been eliminated by the Cavs a number of times and that guy has always been LeBron James. I’ve had a great seat to witness his greatness – a first ballot hall of famer – one of the all-time greats in our game. But, it’s always been for the other team. So, to now have a guy on the team that you work for, and to see what he’s able to do. And, the moment that jumps out to me, again, is Game 5 in Milwaukee. 2-2, tipping point game. Who gets it – the momentum really swings. And this guys takes over in Jordan-esque fashion. And, you’re like wow, this is what it’s like. The thing that makes him great is his poise, his composure. He’s an incredibly bright guy. He reads and reactions and recognizes things. His leadership by example, in a very calm way, gives confidence to his teammates. So, when he gets you the ball, he’s like I believe in you, I trust in you. Fred Vanvleet has been the recipient the last few games. No different than John Paxton or Steve Kerr getting the ball from Michael Jordan. Like ‘Hey man, I’m giving you this ball right now because I believe you’re going to get this shot.’ Or LeBron James throwing it to a Kyle Korver or JR Smith, that same belief. I think it really matters to have a guy, that has that ability, that stage presence, that confidence — it permeates throughout your roster.”