Warriors' Last Playoff Battle With Kawhi Leonard Set Stage for 2019 NBA Finals

"I am inevitable."

These are the words the supervillain Thanos imparts on Tony Stark in Marvel's latest blockbuster "Avengers: Endgame."

But they very well could have been Kawhi Leonard's parting phrase to the Warriors the last time the dynastic force saw the two-way star in the playoffs.

It was Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference finals.

The Warriors' first playoff run with Kevin Durant in the fold had been flawless through the first two rounds, as Golden State swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round and handed the Utah Jazz the same fate in Round 2. 

Waiting for the Dubs in the conference finals was Leonard and the 61-win San Antonio Spurs, a team that believed they were better than the superteam Warriors and was thirsting to prove it.

Through the first two-and-a-half quarters of Game 1, the Warriors were in a world of trouble.

Leonard attacked Durant, Andre Iguodala, Matt Barnes and anyone the Warriors put on him, as the Spurs roared out to a 25-point lead behind Leonard's 26 points. 

But midway through the third quarter, Leonard drilled a corner 3-pointer and stepped on teammate David Lee's foot along the sideline, rolling his already sprained left ankle. Shortly thereafter, Leonard took another jumper and landed on the foot of Warriors center Zaza Pachulia. He went down clutching his ankle and had to be removed from the game. The Warriors mounted the largest comeback in the conference finals in 15 years to steal Game 1 from the Spurs.

Leonard never returned to the series and the Spurs were easily brushed aside.

In some ways, Leonard's Spurs tenure ended that day at Oracle Arena.

The 2014 NBA Finals MVP would play just nine more games for the Spurs, choosing to sit out most of the 2017-18 NBA season due to a disagreement with the team's medical staff on how to treat a quad issue that also had bothered him the previous season.

Leonard demanded a trade out of San Antonio and the Toronto Raptors were the beneficiary of the Spurs' misfortune, landing the All-Star forward and Danny Green for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poetl and a 2019 first-round draft pick last July.

Almost eleven months after the Raptors traded for Leonard, they find themselves in their first NBA Finals in franchise history, with the Warriors waiting.

The last time Leonard was in the NBA Finals, he was palming a wrecking ball and throwing it through LeBron James and the Miami Heat's dynasty, earning Finals MVP honors during a five-game bludgeoning of the Heat that jettisoned James back to Cleveland. 

When he took the floor at Oracle Arena in 2017, he was prepared to try and do the same thing to the Warriors.

Leonard is calm under pressure, unfazed by big moments and was seemingly built in a lab to combat NBA superteams. 

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Now, two years after suffering a season-ending ankle injury that partially set in motion the chain of events that landed him in the North, Leonard will get his chance at ending another dynasty the same way he broke up The Heatles.

Durant, like James in 2014, has the option to become a free agent this summer and most expect him to opt out of his contract and leave the Bay just as James left South Beach. The two-time NBA Finals MVP also is nursing a strained calf and will not play in Game 1, and it's unclear when he'll see the floor in The Finals.

Leonard vs. the Warriors was inevitable, just as Thanos claimed to be while wreaking havoc on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He already ended this decade's first dynasty and now he'll look to obliterate possibly the greatest collection of talent in NBA history.

The greatness of the Milwaukee Bucks and the peskiness of the Houston Rockets aside, this is where we were always heading.

A superteam perhaps on its final run (with this iteration, at least), facing a dominant two-way player who can add another dynasty pelt to his collection.

In a decade defined by the superteams and the great players attempting to restore balance to the NBA, Leonard gets his first real crack at these Warriors starting Thursday at Scotiabank Arena.

There was no other way for this NBA decade to end.

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