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.”
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.