2019 NBA Playoffs: Kawhi Leonard finally gives the Raptors a Playoff Moment

NBA Playoff results: May 13, 2019

3. Portland Trail Blazers (100) – 2. Denver Nuggets (96)

3. Philadelphia 76ers (90) – 2. Toronto Raptors (92)

What happened in the Playoffs today:

1. Kawhi for the… wait for it… win!

Back in 2001, the Raptors and the Sixers battled it out in a series that went the full seven games. The Raptors had a chance to win Game 7 and advance to the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Down by one point with two seconds left, the Raptors went to their franchise player Vince Carter to deliver the win.

Carter started out on the right side of the free throw line and ran towards the inbound pass in on the left side of the court. Carter got the ball, faked out his defender and fired up a jumper. The ball hit back iron and bounced away harmlessly.

If that shot dropped in, that would have been a signature Raptor Playoff moment. Instead, the Raptors have been on the receiving end of signature Playoff moments from other teams.

Kawhi Leonard corrected that mistake today.

Facing the same team that beat them back in 2001, Leonard made sure that the Raptors would be the ones to advance to the Conference Finals, this time around.

In a game with no real offensive flow, Leonard carried the Raptors offense with an amazing scoring display. He continued to play like the best player in the Playoffs, constantly attacking the Sixers’ defense with drives and pull up jumpers. He was relentless all throughout the game. Even if he missed most of his shots, Leonard stayed aggressive. he finished with a game-high 41 points on 41% shooting.

Not only did he carry the Raptors offense, he also delivered the win. The ball took its time but it ended being an iconic shot everyone in Toronto will remember for years to come.

Leonard was almost the goat of the game. Up by two with 10 seconds left on the clock, he babied a free throw that bounced off the front iron. The Sixers got the rebound and Jimmy Butler swooped in on the other end to tie the game at 90.

Unfortunately for Philly, they still left 4.2 seconds on the clock, enough time for Leonard to manufacture a game-winner.

Leonard popped out near the top of the key to get the inbound pass. He dribbled past Ben Simmons towards the right corner as Joel Embiid switched onto him near the right wing. Leonard stopped right in front of his bench, and pulled up for a jumper with 0.3 seconds left as Embiid flew by him.

The ball soared up high as the buzzer sounded and then softly hit the front iron. At that moment, it looked like Carter’s miss back in 2001 would play out once again. But instead of bouncing away from the hoop it bounced onto the front iron again before trickling into the hoop.

Finally, the Raptors have a dramatic Playoff moment roll their way. That shot gave the Raptors arguably their biggest Playoff win in franchise history.

Back in 2001, the Sixers beat the Raptors in a Game 7 to move into the East Finals to face the Bucks. In 2019, it’s the Raptors who beat the Sixers in a Game 7 to move into the Conference Finals to face the Bucks.

2. CJ McCollum not only tried, he delivered

If the First Round belonged to Damian Lillard, then the Second Round was owned by his back court partner, CJ McCollum.

Bothered by the physical defense of the Denver guards, Lillard was slowed down and prevented from taking over games like he did against OKC. In Game 7, Lillard was limited to just 13 points and 17.6% shooting, both Playoff lows this year.

With their leader misfiring, McCollum stepped up to carry the Blazers, just like he’s done several times in the second round. He dropped 37 points on 58.6% shooting, including the dagger jumper that put the game away in the final moments of the game.

Lillard’s back court partner has been excellent all series long. McCollum averaged 26.4 points on 44.6% shooting, slightly higher than Lillard’s 25.1 points against the Nuggets.

But those numbers are deceiving. Taking away McCollum’s stats in the three losses will better illustrate his value to the team. In their four wins, McCollum averaged 32 points on 47.4% shooting. In two of those wins, Lillard was limited to 13 and 14 points, his Playoff lows this season. That means McCollum carried the slack for the team when Lillard was shut down. Without McCollum, this series might not have even gotten to seven games.

Portland continues their uphill climb in the Playoffs. They’re going up a favored Warriors team in the West Finals. If Lillard and McCollum hit their groove at the same time in the next round, their duel with the Splash Brothers will be must-see Playoff TV.

Photo from Getty Images