Kawhi: 'I wouldn't be here right now' without load-management program

Sam Forencich / National Basketball Association / Getty

Kawhi Leonard's planned days off during the regular season were crucial in getting him and the Toronto Raptors to the NBA Finals, the three-time All-Star told ESPN's Rachel Nichols on Friday.

After acquiring the veteran in a trade last summer, the Raptors meticulously prepared a load-management program to ease Leonard back from the debilitating quad injury that limited him to nine games last season, ultimately leading to his departure from the San Antonio Spurs.

As a result, Leonard played in just 60 regular-season games for the Raptors during the 2018-19 campaign, and he didn't appear in more than nine consecutive contests.

Without the unorthodox schedule, Leonard says he wouldn't have made it this far into the postseason.

"It was big. When it got bad, we ended up, you know, taking four or five games off. And, you know, If we didn't do that I wouldn't be here right now, for sure," he said. "I'm already favoring it.

"The way we laid out the schedule was good and I'm happy. ... I don't think I would be playing right now if I would have tried to go through the season."

Leonard still set career-high averages in points and rebounds this season, even while sitting 22 games. His 26.6 points per game led all Raptors, and his 7.3 rebounds ranked second only to Serge Ibaka.

The 27-year-old hasn't missed any of the Raptors' 22 contests during the franchise's first-ever run to The Finals. However, he requires a bit more care to get ready before a game.

"Takes a lot of pregame effort now; seeing medical, warming it up, going from there," he said. "That's the big thing about when you do get injured. You can't just run on the floor after you're in shootaround, pregame shots. Gotta go back and do something with somebody until game time."

Kawhi: 'I wouldn't be here right now' without load-management program
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