Clang. Clang. Clang. Clang. Swish! All About Kawhi Leonard’s Buzzer-Beater
Toronto’s star made one of the most remarkable shots in N.B.A. history to finish off the 76ers. Here’s how it went down.
Victor Mather | THE NEW YORK TIMES
It was a shot you will see repeated on highlight shows and YouTube for years to come. A shot to win a game and a series. A shot that shouldn’t have gone in, but somehow did.
On Sunday night, Kawhi Leonard beat the buzzer with a high-arcing, deep-in-the-corner jump shot that sent the Toronto Raptors past the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal, 92-90. It took a few beats longer than your standard buzzer-beater, but for fans of anyone but Philadelphia, the wait was worth it.
It had been a hard-fought series. The Sixers had seized home-court advantage with a win in Game 2. The Raptors got it back by winning Game 4. The series ultimately headed, seemingly inevitably, to Game 7 in Toronto.
Toronto led for much of the game, but never by a large margin. With 1 minute 14 seconds left, the Raptors seemed to take a grip on the series at last, grabbing a 4-point lead.
But the Sixers made some free throws, and Leonard missed a 10-footer and then a 3-pointer. Jimmy Butler tied the score for Philadelphia. There were 4 seconds left.
Few in the arena doubted that Leonard would get the last shot. He was the Raptors’ star and already had a game-high 39 points. It was just a question of where he would wind up when he took it, and if it would go in.
Leonard used a screen to get free and received the ball near the edge of the center circle. He then dribbled, circling the key and curling deep into right corner. First Ben Simmons followed him, and then the seven-footer Joel Embiid came over to help out, to try to at least alter the shot that was coming.
Leonard headed toward the baseline. Two seconds, one. With less than a second on the clock, he uncorked an off-balance jumper, his feet leaving the floor from just inside the 3-point line. Embiid jumped and put an arm up. Sensing this, Leonard sent it higher than usual on his release, 18 feet high according to estimates. On paper, it was not the most felicitous shot.
The ball sailed high, came down and hit the near edge of the rim. Generally, that’s not a good sign. But it bounced high, then dropped and hit the rim again. This time it looped over to the far rim, and hit that, bouncing a lot lower, a lot softer. Then a fourth bounce on the far rim. The clock had expired by then.
And then the ball dropped in.
Longtime N.B.A. followers had trouble remembering a shot that took so long between launch and resolution. Certainly not one to decide a playoff Game 7.
Leonard tends not to be too excitable, but after hitting the shot he screamed with joy. In the news conference afterward, he reverted to character.
“Embiid was guarding me,” he said. “He’s taller, longer than me, so I end up finding a spot that I like, that I work on. I just knew I had to shoot it high.”
“It ended up getting a soft touch and going in.”
Social media was a little more excited. LeBron James could only speak in punctuation: “!! !! !! !! !! !! !!”
Leonard wound up with 41 points and a staggering 243 in the series. In the fourth quarter on Sunday, he was six for nine for 15 points.
But regardless of how the Raptors fare in the Eastern Conference finals against Milwaukee, his time in Toronto may be short. He is a free agent this summer and has been the subject of frequent news media reports linking him to several teams.
After the loss, the Sixers may find themselves tearing down their team. Predictably some were already calling for the head of Coach Brett Brown. As Marc Stein reported in The Times: “Brown, I’m told, has little chance of surviving a second-round exit.”
The future in Philly of Butler, Tobias Harris, J.J. Reddick, even the polarizing Simmons — basically everyone but Embiid — also is uncertain.
How different things might have been in Philadelphia had Leonard’s shot gone an inch or two the other way. Or simply bounced off the rim instead of dropping through it.
As for the Raptors, they advanced to the conference finals for the second time in their history. In 2016, they lost to James and the Cavaliers. Now Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks await.
Leonard’s shot was the first buzzer-beater in a Game 7 in N.B.A. history, the league said.
Before Sunday, the most memorable buzzer-beater of these playoffs came in Game 5 of the Blazers-Thunder series, when Damian Lillard hit a 37-foot bomb to eliminate Oklahoma City. It’s hard to believe a crazier shot would come along a couple weeks later.
But the shot that came to mind for most Raptors fans came in 2001. Once again it was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Once again the 76ers were the opponents. There were 2 seconds left and the Raptors trailed by 1.
Vince Carter took the shot. He was off balance and right about on the 3-point line. Sound familiar? That shot hit the rim. And it went out.
This one went in.