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Leonard rings victory bell in emotional return to Toronto

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Kawhi Leonard. facebook/@LAClippers

AFP – Kawhi Leonard finished with a team-high 23 points in an emotional return to Toronto as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the reigning NBA champion Raptors 112-92 on Wednesday.

Leonard was welcomed back with cheers despite a sudden exit from Toronto after leading the Raptors to their first NBA title in just one season playing in Canada.

All smiles, Leonard received his diamond championship ring following a video tribute of his season during the pregame ceremony. Former teammate Kyle Lowry handed him the ring with more than 600 diamonds.

“He told me before the game he was going to present me with the ring,” Leonard said.

The Scotiabank Arena crowd greeted Leonard with a prolonged ovation, but they watched their Raptors fall behind 64-46 at the half.

Lou Williams finished with 18 points and had eight assists off the bench for the Clippers, who have won five of their past six games.

“It was great,” Leonard said of the reception. “We had an unbelievable season last year. It was a historic run in the playoffs and a great feeling.”

After winning the NBA title, Leonard took his show to California signing a three-year, $103 million deal with the Clippers. Leonard played high school basketball in the town of Riverside east of Los Angeles.

Both teams were coming off road victories on Monday with the Clippers defeating the Indiana Pacers 110-99 and the Raptors squeezing past the Chicago Bulls 93-92.

The Raptors on Wednesday were missing Fred VanVleet who was out with an injury.

Maurice Harkless added 14 points, Paul George had 13, Patrick Beverley and Patrick Patterson each scored 11, and Montrezl Harrell contributed 10.

Pascal Siakam scored 24 points for the Raptors, who have lost four of their past five games.

This marks the last time the Raptors and Clippers battle in the regular season, but it isn’t farfetched to say they could meet again in June, with a title on the line.

Elsewhere, James Harden scored 20 of his 55 points in the fourth quarter as the visiting Houston Rockets defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 116-110.

Russell Westbrook added 23 points as the Rockets withstood an unexpected scare from struggling Cleveland, who have lost eight straight and 14 of 15.

Harden finished 20 of 34 from the floor and drilled 10 of 18 three-pointers to help Houston overcome a 24-0 Cleveland run that bridged the third and fourth quarters.

“He’s incredible,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If it was the first time he’s done this, I’d be like, ‘Wow. Look at that,’ but he’s done it at this level for years.”

Rookie Kevin Porter scored a career-high 24 points to pace the Cavaliers, while Collin Sexton chipped in 18.

In Florida, LeBron James recorded his sixth triple double of the season to lead the Los Angeles Lakers past Orlando 96-87, a game in which former Magic player Dwight Howard was greeted with boos.

James delivered 25 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Anthony Davis added 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who have won 15 of 16 overall and 12 in a row on the road.

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