Eighteen years ago, under near-identical circumstances, then Raptor Vince Carter’s fadeaway jumper at the buzzer clanked off the rim, and Toronto fell short to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals, a miss that has haunted Toronto for almost two decades.
That changed on Sunday night, when Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard capped off a dominant second round with a miraculous 15-foot fadeaway over an outstretched Joel Embiid in the corner as time expired, the first ever game seven buzzer-beater in NBA history.
On the inbound, Leonard stopped at the free throw line, allowed Ben Simmons to run into him, and used an unorthodox yet innovative stop-and-go to create space for himself to receive a pass from Marc Gasol at the top of the key.
As soon as he received the pass, Leonard instantly spun around, creating himself an opportunity to drive with his dominant right hand to the corner while avoiding pressure from Philadelphia forwards Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.
With 2.5 seconds remaining, Leonard drove to the corner of the court with Joel Embiid and Simmons smothering him.
After Embiid’s feet left the floor with over a second remaining, Leonard had just enough room to attempt a near-impossible fadeaway jumper over the Sixers center and proceeded to watch his shot bounce four times over the rim before falling through after time had expired, all while sitting in front of the Raptors bench.
The shot did more than just culminate an unprecedented playoff series from Leonard that elevated the Raptors to its second ever trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, it allowed for a country and organization to finally overcome a 19-year period full of heartbreak. The deafening reverberation from Carter’s missed shot and annual tormenting from LeBron James was finally erased on Sunday night thanks to a shot that has reinvigorated Toronto as a franchise, and the trajectory of what lies ahead.
The buzzer beater hung in the air for what seemed an eternity. The crowd grew silent as the shot seemed to move in slow motion. When it went in, Scotiabank Arena erupted and in an instant, the critics were silenced as the perception of Toronto as a basketball city changed for the foreseeable future.