The world is still buzzing after Kawhi Leonard’s series clinching buzzer beater. The shot, heard around the world. Vindication for 18 years of what-ifs after Vince Carter missed an eerily similar shot versus the 76ers in the conference semis. 4 bounces. Then there were 4. 4 teams to battle it out for the right to play for NBA supremacy.
Ironically the Milwaukee Bucks were waiting for the Raptors back in 2001, and now the present day Raptors have a chance to meet them in the conference finals. Now a chance to venture to where they’ve never gone before: the NBA Finals.
Fans may not realize it in the moment, but what we’re watching from Leonard is truly historic. He finished with the third highest point total in a series in playoff history. The two guys who scored more points in a series than Kawhi you may have heard of. Just a couple of blokes by the name of Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and Michael Jordan.
This is why they play, why we watch
It’s hard to believe considering the history of this Raptors team, hell even Toronto sports history as a whole. But we’re seeing one of the all-time great postseason performances thus far from a professional athlete. And that guy is playing for Toronto.
It’s been a long time since Toronto’s been treated with this type of excellence, maybe dating back as far as the World-Series winning days of the Blue Jays or the Stanley Cup runs of the Maple Leafs in the 60s.
And that’s why we watch sports. Anyone can write a movie with drama, but nothing creates drama and tension quite like sports. The anxiety leading up to the shot. Palms are sweaty. Knees weak. Arms are heavy. Chest pounding. Feet colder than ice. But when the shot falls, the emotions all release. And with that, a moment in time you’ll never forget.
Whatever it takes, and it took a lot
The Raptors needed every single point out of Leonard to squeak out the victory. With Avengers dominating the movie world, you can’t help but compare Kawhi’s shot to Iron Man carrying the missile into space in Avengers 1.
The hopes and dreams of the Raptors faithful, hanging in the air, teasing them with four bounces before falling through. That’s what it took to get the win on that night.
The Raptors supporting cast struggled for the majority of the series, and Kawhi put his team on his back on multiple outings to carry them to the conference finals.
Even with the struggles from the field, Kyle Lowry’s impact was felt all over the floor. Every hustle play, the steals, the charges, the offensive rebounds, Lowry’s play was all heart, all hustle. Whatever it takes. Kyle Lowry did it.
Serge Ibaka surprised everyone, including the likes of Raptors Play-By-Play Broadcaster Matt Devlin, who was continuously shocked at the clutch three’s Ibaka had drained.
Ibaka single-handedly outscored the Sixers bench, which was a complete 180 from game 1 in this series where the bench was nowhere to be seen for the Raptors.
Toronto also made a concerted effort to crash the offensive glass in game 7. The Sixers dominated the glass for a majority of the series, and everyone wearing white relentlessly pursued the rebounds.
The Raptors finished with 49 rebounds to Philadelphia’s 41, and 16 offensive rebounds to the Sixers 5.
14,000,605 Possibilities, 1 Goal, 4 teams
Looking forward, the possibilities seem endless for the remaining 4 teams in the conference finals. Out West, the defending champs are looking to add another finals berth to their legacy, after facing serious adversity in rounds 1 and 2. The Portland Trail Blazers look to challenge the champs at their own game of long-threes and backcourt excellence.
In the East, the Raptors and Bucks face-off in a much anticipated series. The Bucks have cruised to the East-Finals with relative ease, albeit a couple speed bumps along the road. Meanwhile the Raptors took the long road, but are once again at the crossroads they found themselves 3 years ago. 4 wins to earn the right to play for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
While basketball is a game of heart, skill, and hustle, it’s very much a numbers game as well. Now the teams are looking at their opponents in front of them. 4 bounces, and then there were 4. 4 wins, then there’s 4 more wins left to go.
There could very well be 14 million possibilities for these teams, but like Dr. Strange they have only one outcome they care about. At the end of the day, only one outcome matters. Win. Win at all costs. Whatever it takes.
— Leah Kessel (@leahflame) May 13, 2019