Kawhi Leonard, of the Toronto Rapters took four dribbles from near half court to the right corner and corkscrewed his body, squaring up as he fell out of bounds. Joel Embiid, and his entire 7-foot-2 frame, contested it well. Leonard had to put considerably more arc under his shot than normal.
Leonard, who rarely shows emotion, let out a scream as the ball went through the bottom of the net.
Toronto rode the back of Leonard, who hit one of the most remarkable game-winners in N.B.A. history over the outstretched arms of Sixers center Joel Embiid, who was so distraught by the shot that he wept as he walked off the floor amid Toronto’s celebrations.
“It was great,” Leonard said. “That’s something I never experienced before, Game 7, a game-winning shot. It was a blessing to be able to get to that point and make that shot and feel that moment.”
“Game 7. Losing a game that way. Last shot after a hard-fought game,” Embiid said, struggling to find words on the podium. “I feel that we had a chance. A lot of things go through your mind. It sucks. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”
Even with the ball bouncing on the rim for what seemed like an eternity, Raptors Coach Nick Nurse said afterward that he thought the shot was going in immediately.
“It was going in the whole time to me,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a nice lucky bounce. I thought we were very unlucky for a lot of that game.”
Embiid, who struggled all series fighting various injuries, played all but three minutes of the game, scoring 21 points while putting up 18 shots, and grabbing 11 rebounds. Only one of his six 3-point attempts went in.
In a shining example of basketball being a game of inches, Leonard was this close to being a scapegoat. With 10 seconds left, he went to the free-throw line with Toronto ahead, 89-88. He hit the first one, but the second clanged off the rim, and Philadelphia raced downcourt. Jimmy Butler, who scored 16 points, tied the score on a layup, setting up Leonard’s heroics.
“I was very mad,” Leonard said. “I tried to race down and get a rebound. Probably should’ve sprinted back to give some help on that layup Jimmy made.”
Philadelphia now goes back to the drawing board after another crushing loss in the second round of the playoffs. Elton Brand, the general manager, must consider whether the Sixers have peaked. The Sixers cashed in their chips to acquire Butler and Tobias Harris, both of whom are free agents this summer. And speculation about Coach Brett Brown’s job security has swirled recently. But Embiid, who frequently has used Trust The Process as his catchphrase, was in no mood to discuss the franchise’s future.
“I don’t give a damn about The Process,” Embiid said.
MORE ON KAWHI LEONARD
Kawhi Anthony Leonard (/kəˈwaɪ/, born June 29, 1991) is an American professional basketball player for the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Leonard played two seasons of college basketball for the San Diego State Aztecs, and was a consensus second-team All-American as a sophomore. He was selected by the Indiana Pacers with the 15th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, but was traded to the San Antonio Spurs the same day. After seven seasons with the Spurs, Leonard was traded to the Raptors in 2018.
Leonard was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2012, and won an NBA championship with the Spurs in 2014, when he was named the Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP). He is a three-time All-Star, has two All-NBA first team selections, and three All-Defensive first team selections. He won consecutive NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2015 and 2016.
Awards and honors
- NBA champion (2014)
- NBA Finals MVP (2014)
- 3× NBA All-Star (2016, 2017, 2019)
- 2× All-NBA First Team (2016, 2017)
- 2× NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2015, 2016)
- 3× NBA All-Defensive First Team (2015–2017)
- NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2014)
- NBA All-Rookie First Team (2012)
- NBA steals leader (2015)
- Consensus second team All-American (2011)
- NABC All-American Third Team (2011)
- 2× First-team All-Mountain West (2010–2011)
- 2× All-Mountain West All-Tournament Team (2010–2011)
- All-Mountain West Defensive Team (2011)
- Mountain West Tournament MVP (2010)
- Mountain West Freshman of the Year (2010)
- High school
- California Mr. Basketball (2009)
Behind CJ McCollum’s ‘incredible’ performance, Portland Trail Blazers beat Denver Nuggets, advance to Western Conference finals
TRAIL BLAZERS 100, NUGGETS 96 C. J. McCollum scored 37 points and Portland overcame a 17-point first-half deficit to win at Denver and advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2000.
Evan Turner, who scored just 4 points in the first six games of the series, added 14, including 10 in the fourth quarter. The Trail Blazers will again be on the road, facing the two-time-defending N.B.A. champion Golden State Warriors beginning Tuesday night.
McCollum’s big game helped make up for a lackluster one by Damian Lillard, who made just 3 of 17 shots and scored 13 points. He did make two crucial 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. The first one gave Portland an 81-76 lead. The second, off Lillard’s steal of Jokic’s outlet pass, made it 92-85.
Nikola Jokic’s desperation 3-point attempt hit the rim, and Turner corralled the rebound and dribbled out the clock, sending the stunned crowd streaming to the exits at Pepsi Center, where the Nuggets had the best record in the league during the regular season but where they lost twice to Portland in the series.
The Nuggets raced to a 39-22 lead, and Game 7 was beginning to look a lot like Game 5, when Denver blew out Portland by 26 points in Denver. But Trail Blazers Coach Terry Stotts called a timeout with 7 minutes 26 seconds left in the second quarter, and his team began chipping away.
“There wasn’t going to be any quit,” Stotts said, adding, “It was just about regrouping.”
The Blazers were behind, 48-39, at halftime and trailed by just a point head into the fourth quarter.
That is when the Nuggets’ hopes of reaching their first Western Conference finals in a decade died with a 7-of-24 shooting performance, including 3 of 10 from Jokic, who tearfully blamed himself in the locker room for the loss despite leading Denver with 29 points and 13 rebounds.
Nonsense, said Nuggets Coach Michael Malone, who suggested Jokic established himself during these playoffs as the best big man in basketball and he petered out at the end only because the Nuggets had to rely so heavily on the 7-foot All-Star.
“I hope after 14 playoff games, America, everyone around the world, came to appreciate his game,” Malone said. “For him to be as emotional and upset as he was speaks to his caring.”(AP)