If you are a Raptors fan, I probably don’t need to remind you that the franchise has not been all that successful. It severely struggled for a very long time and, in its early years, the only highlight was beating Jordan’s 72-win Bulls. Since then, most years have ended in heartbreak and good players leaving for bigger markets, making the Toronto market seem incapable of sustaining an NBA franchise.
The Toronto Raptors started with a great talent in Damon Stoudamire, who won Rookie of the year in 1996 but barely lasted 3 seasons in Toronto before being moved to Portland. A season later the Raptors drafted Tracy McGrady, a future Hall of Famer, but he also only lasted 3 years before going to Orlando. Then, in 1998, something strange happened at the draft when the Raptors drafted Antawn Jamison with the 4th pick and immediately flipped him to the Golden State Warriors for Vince Carter…yeah ask how many band wagon Warrior fans know that little piece of history. Carter won the Rookie of the Year in 1999 and won arguably the greatest Slam Dunk contest ever in 2000. As good as Vince Carter was, they were only able to reach the 2nd round in a crazy playoff series against Allen Iverson in 2001. Vince Carter lasted at 7 seasons before admitting he was starting to quit on the team and was traded to the New Jersey Nets in controversial fashion. Just before Vince Carter was traded the Raptors drafted Chris Bosh and again, he lasted 7 seasons and left Toronto to go to Miami and join Lebron to win a Championship…or seven. Then came Demar Derozan and the Raptors managed to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016 and that was about it. Year after year it seemed as if the same story was being written.
This season they traded Derozan for Kawai Leonard and another uncertain season awaited as most fans anticipated another superstar exiting stage left at the end of the year.
This year, the Raptors and their fans are nervous as they know this season needs to be Championship or bust with the possibility of Leonard leaving for the warm west coast of California – which could lead to a complete rebuild of the team. Going into the playoffs, the Raptors took on the Orlando Magic in the first round, and after a subpar game one, came out and dominated the rest of the way – winning four straight and relatively breezing their way through round one in 5 games. Going into round two, nerves again were high across the city, as the Toronto Raptors got themselves ready to face the Philadelphia 76ers. A bigger task and a must win series for the Raptors would be a huge test for this club and this franchise. Game one the Raptors came out flying and made it seem like the series was not going to last very long but the Raptors let the 76ers back into it and even after the Raptors won by 36 points in game 5 the 76ers were able to come back and push a game 7.
Game 7…something a Toronto fan loves hearing right? Most Toronto sports fans are recovering from the Leafs loss in game 7 barely a month ago. However, here they were with the home crowd behind them trying to make their 2nd Conference finals in franchise history. The game didn’t start off great and the Raptors were not shooting the ball to the best of their abilities, but nor were the 76ers. The game was back and forth until the end, which looked like overtime was imminent. With 4.2 second left Jimmy Butler tied the game at 90 and the Raptors took a time out and got the inbound on the offensive side of the floor with a change to win the game.
Marc Gasol had the ball to inbound and it all came down to one opportunity; one shot. The ball was passed to Leonard, as he was chased into the corner by Simmonds, Embiid also went to contest the shot as they all knew he would be taking it.
Then Leonard elevated, so did Embiid; Kawai got just high enough to take the shot and not have it blocked and released the ball with a high arc with 0.3 second left on the clock. The buzzer went before the ball even reached the hoop and it seemed like it was up in the air for an eternity. Toronto held their breath. The ball bounced off the side of the rim then bounced off the same side a second time, then it bounced on the opposite side of the rim and again a second time on that side…it was amazing to see a ball actually bounce off a rim a total of four times on two sides; but the most amazing thing happened next…That ball dropped through the basket, the Raptors won and the arena exploded.
Kawai Leonard won the game and, for someone that takes a lot of heat for not showing emotion, showed every bit of it after the game was won. Unbelievable. Do you remember where you were? Do you remember your reaction? I remember screaming and then standing in front of my tv with my hands on my head in complete disbelief…we were witnessing greatness. That was one of the most dominant series an NBA player has ever had and the first time in NBA history that a game 7 was won on a buzzer beater shot.
It was one of the greatest moments in Toronto playoff history and yes, it is only the 2nd round but wow what a finish, I will never forget it. I am hoping this isn’t the highest point for the Raptors this season. They need to get past the Bucks first and here is hoping the team helps Kawai in this series.
Will Kawai join the earlier list of superstars that have left town? Or will we have more years to watch Kawai dominate this league in Toronto? Only time will tell. Maybe the shot and the reaction of the fans will confirm his want to stay here and realize how great this city is. For now, I will stop discussing the what ifs and the offseason and enjoy the moment. The Raptors have a legitimate shot to win and if everything works out “The Shot” will be the 2nd biggest thing to celebrate this postseason.