It was a shot you will see repeated on highlight shows and YouTube for years to come. A shot to win a game and a series. A shot that shouldn’t have gone in, but somehow did.
On Sunday night, Kawhi Leonard beat the buzzer with a high-arcing, deep-in-the-corner jump shot that sent the Toronto Raptors past the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal, 92-90. It took a few beats longer than your standard buzzer-beater, but for fans of anyone but Philadelphia, the wait was worth it.
It had been a hard-fought series. The Sixers had seized home-court advantage with a win in Game 2. The Raptors got it back by winning Game 4. The series ultimately headed, seemingly inevitably, to Game 7 in Toronto.
Toronto led for much of the game, but never by a large margin. With 1 minute 14 seconds left, the Raptors seemed to take a grip on the series at last, grabbing a 4-point lead.
But the Sixers made some free throws, and Leonard missed a 10-footer and then a 3-pointer. Jimmy Butler tied the score for Philadelphia. There were 4 seconds left.
Few in the arena doubted that Leonard would get the last shot. He was the Raptors’ star and already had a game-high 39 points. It was just a question of where he would wind up when he took it, and if it would go in.
Leonard used a screen to get free and received the ball near the edge of the center circle. He then dribbled, circling the key and curling deep into right corner. First Ben Simmons followed him, and then the seven-footer Joel Embiid came over to help out, to try to at least alter the shot that was coming.
Leonard headed toward the baseline. Two seconds, one. With less than a second on the clock, he uncorked an off-balance jumper, his feet leaving the floor from just inside the 3-point line. Embiid jumped and put an arm up. Sensing this, Leonard sent it higher than usual on his release, 18