Just the single biggest moment in Toronto Raptors franchise history, and a fitting capper to one of the most dominant individual performances in NBA lore. No big deal.
The sports world is abuzz following Kawhi Leonard‘s Game 7-winning buzzer-beater — the only shot of that kind in the history of the League — and, as we do following each Raptors playoff game, let’s take a look at the many things the out-of-market media are saying about Kawhi and the Raps following a monumental moment:
Is there any player you’d rather have left in the playoffs than Kawhi Leonard? Perhaps an injured 7-footer in Oakland has a case, though the Raptors’ megastar (potential) rental is currently on a tear unmatched throughout the league. He poured in 15 fourth-quarter points in a 41-point effort on Sunday, draining a game-winning three at the buzzer to defeat Joel Embiid and the Sixers 92-90. Leonard’s buzzer-beater dagger bounced off rim four times before going down as if kissed by the basketball gods, and Toronto’s gamble in July 2018 may go down as the best deal in franchise history. The Raptors will now square off against Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference finals, and the Larry O’Brien Trophy is just eight wins away. Toronto will go as far as Leonard takes them.
…Eighteen years ago, Vince Carter attempted a similar shot roughly 60 feet along the same side of the court, under similar circumstances, against the same franchise. Eighteen years ago, the ball clanked off the right side of the rim and the reverberations from that miss have haunted the team until … now. Nearly two decades of the city’s anxious self-fulfilling prophecies—spanning the void that Carter left upon his forced exit, then the existentialism brought upon by LeBron James—brought Toronto right back to a past they’d long hoped to overcome, mirrored on the other side of the floor. Vince had two seconds; Kawhi had four—as if time had to account for folding on top of itself. But with this second chance, they’ve broken through. This shot. It’s the greatest moment in Toronto Raptors history.
Kawhi Leonard isn’t emotionless. You just don’t see it from him often.
“I’m a guy that acts like I’ve been there before,” Leonard said after making one of the biggest shots of his career and one of the biggest in Toronto Raptors franchise history.
…It was Leonard’s 39th shot of the game, the most he has ever attempted in his NBA career.
Leonard isn’t a gunner or chucker. High-volume shooting is not part of his offensive repertoire. In his eight-year career, he has never taken more than 20 shots per game during the regular season and never more than 20 a game during the playoffs prior to this postseason.
Efficiency is his game — high shooting percentage from the field and the foul line.
But Game 7 called for something different. It called for Leonard to take as many shots as necessary to get the Raptors past Philadelphia.
— ESPN (@espn) May 13, 2019
…Any leftover grumbles over Toronto parting ways with its former star, DeMar DeRozan, have to be put to rest now that Leonard not only knocked down one of the biggest shots in franchise history, but carried his team along the way. He scored 41 points on 16-of-39 shooting with eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. He was the clear source of offense all game, up and through the final seconds. The rest of Toronto’s roster deferred to him in the clutch.
This is why Kawhi Leonard is one of the best players on the planet, and why choosing talent over culture is wise, although it’s painful. This memorable moment was not just a win in the short-term, it’s one in the long-term, too.
Kawhi put himself in some elite company pic.twitter.com/VdTIAnq92w
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 13, 2019
When the ball left Kawhi Leonard’s hands on a fadeaway from the right baseline, with the final buzzer blaring as it arced toward the basket, it looked just a bit off.
But then it bounced on the rim once. It bounced twice. Miraculously, it bounced a third and a fourth time. And as if the ghosts of Toronto Raptors past, the Damon Stoudamires and Morris Petersons of the world (and Jose Calderon sitting courtside), secretly gave a helpful nudge, the ball went through the net, in a split second drastically altering the fortunes of two teams, perhaps commencing the dismantling of one.
…In a shining example of basketball being a game of inches, Leonard was this close to being a scapegoat. With 10 seconds left, he went to the free-throw line with Toronto ahead, 89-88. He hit the first one, but the second clanged off the rim, and Philadelphia raced downcourt. Jimmy Butler, who scored 16 points, tied the score on a layup, setting up Leonard’s heroics.
“I was very mad,” Leonard said. “I tried to race down and get a rebound. Probably should’ve sprinted back to give some help on that layup Jimmy made.”
On his podcast, Bill Simmons calls Kawhi’s shot the greatest buzzer-beater he’s ever seen:
In Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, then-San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard missed a free throw with 19 seconds left that set the stage for the biggest shot in Miami Heat history: Ray Allen’s iconic corner three-pointer. That shot forced overtime, led to a Game 7, and ultimately swung the series in Miami’s favor.
Six years later, Leonard, now the face of the Toronto Raptors, again missed a clutch free throw that led to the biggest shot in the franchise’s history. This time, though, it was Leonard who got to enjoy the storybook ending.
…Leonard has been Toronto’s primary source of offense throughout the playoffs, and he took things to a whole new level on Sunday. He finished 16-39 from the field, 2-9 from deep and 7-8 from the free throw line to get his 41 points, adding eight rebounds and three assists in 43 minutes. His 39 shots marked his personal postseason career-high and a Raptors postseason franchise-record.
[Editor’s note: LOL]
…The final horn sounded as the ball reached its apex before caroming off the rim several times. As it did, Leonard squatted in the right corner, tongue between pursed lips, awaiting the shot’s fate. After the ball bounced through the iron, Leonard rose with his arms in the air and let out a scream before being rushed by teammates.
“It was crazy,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “It was one of those moments where it’s just like a real-life game winner, Game 7, like, count it down when you’re back home, and everyone was celebrating like that. It was a pretty awesome moment.”
The decisive shot was the final basket of a historic night for Leonard, who scored a game-high 41 points, and only the second buzzer-beater in a winner-take-all game in the postseason, after Michael Jordan’s iconic shot to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the 1989 Eastern Conference playoffs. Leonard’s 39 shot attempts on Sunday are second to only Elgin Baylor’s 40 in 1962 as the most in an NBA Game 7.