Kawhi Leonard’s game winner bounces in for Toronto, sends Philadelphia home (VIDEO)

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Is he really going to leave Toronto after the greatest moment in Raptors’ history?

July will be July, but in May Kawhi Leonard is the king of Toronto.

This is why Raptors GM Masai Ujiri bet big on getting Leonard last summer, to make at least one run at a Finals for Toronto with a guy who had done it before on the biggest stages. Toronto had a good team the past few years, but one that kept falling on its face in those big games. Sunday night, in Toronto’s biggest moment this season — tie game, 4.2 seconds left — Leonard did this.

It’s the only walk-off Game 7 winning shot in NBA history.

“I was telling them I work on it every day, driving baseline,” Leonard said on the court of his shot that bounced on the rim four times. “I said I missed the last one short so I just wanted to put it up in the air and got the shooter’s bounce.”

The Raptors advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bucks starting Wednesday night in Milwaukee.

Game 7 was not pretty — the defense was intense and players on both teams were tight. Toronto won shooting 38.2 percent for the game. Pascal Siakam, who had been brilliant all series, seemed afraid to shoot. Kyle Lowry was 4-of-13. So Toronto turned Leonard loose and got 41 points on 39 shots — the most shots ever taken in regulation in Game 7 (Elgin Baylor took 40 in 1961 in a 1961 Game 7, but that game went to overtime). Leonard had 15 points in the fourth quarter, including those final two.

Toronto also got 17 points off the bench from Serge Ibaka on 6-of-10 shooting, plus he had 8 rebounds.

Joel Embiid had 21 points to lead Philly, but he was gassed at the end having played 45 minutes. Still, Embiid was +10 in his 45:11, the Sixers were -12 in the 2:49 he rested. He meant that much to the 76ers. Embiid was in tears heading back to the locker room, having given all he could.

“It’s going to be a life memory that, as painful as it feels now, it will help shape his career and give him greater clarity of what this time of the year represents,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Embiid. “It’s hard to be the last man standing.”

Philadelphia GM Elton Brand traded away a lot of depth to get Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, going all-in to win now, and that lack of depth became an issue in this series.

Butler was everything Brand and Sixers fans could have wanted from the trade in this series and in Game 7. He had 16 points for the game and took over down the stretch, including hitting a transition layup with 4.2 seconds left to tie the game.

It was just one shot short.

The loss sends Philadelphia into a summer where Butler, Harris, and J.J. Redick are all unrestricted free agents. How this playoff run shapes their decisions remains to be seen — it is far too early to tell — but Philly has to look at why they fell short on this run and make changes.

Brown may also be in trouble as the coach, reports have surfaced that he needed to reach the Finals to save his job. Even though Brown was the better coach in this series.

Toronto moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals and a showdown of Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, not to mention two of the top five defenses in the NBA this season. It’s going to be another tight, grinding series.

Toronto has shown it can win those, even when they don’t play their best, thanks to Leonard.

 

Watch Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic dunk all over Bol Bol

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Bol Bol had some impressive blocked shots during exhibition games at the NBA’s restart, but he hadn’t gotten one in his 16 limited minutes since the seeding games started. He wanted one.

So Bol tried to get in front of Jusuf Nurkic of Denver on Thursday and… that did not go well.

Bol did later get a blocked shot on Hassan Whiteside.

Nurkic, however, ended the night with 22 points, seven rebounds, and the Trail Blazers got a 125-115 win that has Portland comfortably as the ninth seed, just half-a-game back of eight-seed Memphis. Portland is setting itself up with a better-than-average chance make the playoffs

Kawhi Leonard’s 29 leads Clippers past Mavericks in potential first-round preview

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points to help the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks 126-111 on Thursday night in a possible playoff preview.

Paul George scored 24 points and Ivica Zubac added 21 points on 10-for-10 shooting and 15 rebounds for the Clippers, who strengthened their hold on the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference standings.

The Clippers entered the night a just half game ahead of Denver, but they shot 54% against the Mavericks to improve to 2-2 in the restart.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 30 points and Luka Doncic added 29 for Dallas, which fell to 1-3 in the restart.

Dallas likely will finish as the No. 7 seed, making a first-round matchup with the Clippers a strong possibility.

“That’s obviously going to be a tough matchup,” Porzingis said. “They’re one of the favorites to win it all. They have multiple guys that have been there already. But we’re looking forward to the challenge and getting experience in that.”

Doncic was coming off a monster game — 34 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. He made 10 of 21 shots against the Clippers, including 6 of 13 3-pointers.

“Luka’s just a handful,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “It takes a whole team to guard him. I thought our guys did a pretty good job overall. We lost him a couple times, which you can never do. So there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

The Clippers led Dallas by 12 in the third quarter before the Mavericks rallied and tied the game at 101 midway through the fourth. Los Angeles responded with a 9-0 run to regain control. The Clippers shot 62% in the fourth quarter to pull away.

“I just liked how we played overall,” Rivers said. “We played like a team tonight, on both ends.”

Though the Mavericks fell to 1-3 in the restart, Doncic remained confident.

“We’re a great team,” he said. “We’ve always got chances, no matter what. I think some people count us out, but we’re not out. We’ll give our max.”

Devin Booker says after latest Suns’ win ‘Kobe’s with me every day’

Devin Booker Kobe
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Devin Booker grew up a huge Kobe Bryant fan. When Booker made the league in 2016 he got to play against his idol and threw up 28 points on the night. Kobe was impressed. The two talked after the game and Kobe gave him an autographed pair of shoes with an inspirational message:

“Be Legendary.”

Booker took that to heart. He got the phrase as a tattoo. He’s been writing “Be Legendary” on his Nike’s before every game in the bubble. And after he scored 20 against the Pacers Thursday, helping the Suns remain undefeated for the restart, he said Kobe is still inspiring him every day.

“Kobe’s with me every day. You guys see what I put on my shoes with the ‘Be Legendary.’ It’s a reminder.”

Whatever he’s doing, it is working. Booker hit a Kobe-like turnaround game-winner to beat the Clippers. He’s averaging 28 points and 6.5 assists a game for the restart, and shooting 40% from three. Defenses are keying on him, but with a healthy Deandre Ayton and other players stepping up — Cameron Johnson has been a surprise standout in Orlando — the Suns look sharp and keep on winning.

Kobe would be proud.

Giannis Antetokounmpo drops 33 on Heat, Bucks secure No. 1 seed

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton scored 33 points each, and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a huge early deficit to get a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat led by as many as 23 points in a first half where the team piled up 73 points despite playing without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. Miami cooled off after the break and the Bucks took the lead in the third quarter but were down by 6 to start the fourth.

Antetokounmpo, the favorite to win his second MVP award, sat out about five minutes of the fourth quarter after collecting his fifth foul with 11 minutes to go. Milwaukee trailed by 1 with about five minutes remaining before using a 20-0 run, with three dunks from Antetokounmpo, to make it 130-111 with less than a minute to go and cruise to the victory.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton played 30 and 34 minutes respectively after the stars both sat out the entire second half of their last game on Tuesday.

Duncan Robinson had 21 points for the Heat, who lost to Milwaukee for the first time this season after winning the first two meetings.

The Heat led by 6 with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Antetokounmpo picked up his fifth foul on a charge and headed to the bench. Andre Iguodala made a 3 for Miami before the Bucks scored the next 13 points, capped by a 3 from Bledsoe, to take a 107-103 lead with about seven minutes remaining.

Robinson made a 3-pointer to end a scoring drought of almost four minutes for Miami with about 6 ½ minutes to go and Antetokounmpo re-entered the game soon after that.

The Heat led by 12 with about 10 minutes left in third quarter before Milwaukee used a 16-3 run to take an 82-81 lead with five minutes left in the quarter. Antetokounmpo and Wesley Matthews each had five points each in that span to help close the gap.

The Bucks cut the lead to 3 with a dunk by Antetokounmpo late in the third. But the Heat wrapped up the quarter with a 5-2 spurt to take a 98-92 lead into the fourth.