By Frank McLean
It took 18-years for it to happen again, the Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers to hook up one more time in a game seven of an Eastern Conference Semi-Final.
Every Raptors fan remembers the last one, May 20th, 2001 at then named First Union Centre where Vince Carter had the last shot of the game which if he made it would have put the Raptors in their first conference final against the Milwaukee Bucks.
As we all know Carter’s shot hit the rim and rolled out. The Sixers won. They went on to face the Bucks in the eastern final and then lost to the Lakers in the finals, but for Raptors fans they have felt that the bad karma this team has faced in the postseason would have been different if Carter had just made that shot.
Of course that’s just revisionist history but for the diehards of the red and white that’s what Sunday night at the Scotiabank Arena is all about.
Turns out the fans were right. Hollywood could not have written a better script.
Game tied 90-all with four-pint-two seconds left in regulation time Kawhi Leonard with no time left hits a jumper from the top left hand corner inside the three point line. The basket bounced four times on the rim before it went in the hoop and the Scotiabank Arena became bedlam.
Leonard became the basketball version of Joe Carter who broke Philadelphia sports fans hearts with his three run homer in the bottom of the ninth in game six of the 1993-World Series that gave the Blue Jays the World Championship over their beloved Phillies.
And let’s not forget Doug Gilmour who scored a game winning goal in the playoffs in 1993 in the third overtime against the St. Louis Blues.
Leonard’s winner ranks right up there in the sporting lore of the City Of Toronto.
Leonard took the Raptors and carried them on his back for the entire series. The winning shot game him 41-points for the game in which he scored 15-of his points in the fourth quarter. It was his second 40-plus point game in the series (45 in game one) and his average for the series was 34.8-points.
“I knew it was game seven,” Leonard said. “I didn’t want to leave no shots in my mind, I just wanted to go out and leave it on the floor. This could have been my last game of the season and I would have had to wait four or five months to make another shot. I was going to leave it on the floor tonight just trying to will us there to win.”
Leonard had never made a game winning shot at the buzzer before he said after the game, which is something rather hard to believe. “I have never made a game winning shot like that it’s a blessing and something I will look back on.”
After the game a rather horse Raptors coach Nick Nurse thought the Leonard shot was going in.
“It looked like it was going in, it looked like it was going in the whole time for me,” Nurse said. “I thought it was a nice lucky bounce. I thought we were very unlucky for most of that game.”
Nurse was right they were a little lucky. The Raptors gave up leads in the third and fourth quarter and had to fight a scrap all night just to get the game to a 90-all tie.
Speaking of fighting and scraping that was Kyle Lowry’s MO the whole night.
He sat out most of the first quarter after getting two quick fouls to start the game. Then in the second quarter his left thumb popped out after fighting for a rebound with the Sixers James Ennins III.
“It just popped out,” Lowry said after the game. “It was loose making it hard to pass the ball. But we won the game and I can rest it.”
And Lowry’s thumb issue makes the last play of the game for Leonard’s winning shot even more amazing.
Nick Nurse described the play this way.
“We ran Kyle off the first option and then Kawhi looped under there (the basket) and he get’s it (the ball) and the top and it’s his call what to do.”
So now is the bad karma broken? Well time will tell that one.
Just like 2001, if the Raptors had won that game seven, it’s the Milwaukee Bucks and a chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But for one night let’s enjoy what will be one of the three greatest endings of a post season game in Toronto sporting history.
Leonard’s game winning shot, Carter’s World Series winning homer and Gilmore’s winning goal.
I was lucky I was in the press box and got to cover all three of these gems.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96.
photo credit Larry Millson