TORONTO — If catharsis could be accurately described by a noise made by 20,917 people, it’d sound exactly like this.
For the first time in NBA history, a Game 7 was decided by someone hitting a buzzer-beater. It was accomplished by a player who suits up for the Toronto Raptors, an organization that had been defined by its inability to make the shot or get the stop when the moment mattered most. And of course, the shot was hit by the guy whose singular goal was to come to Toronto and bring the Raptors to heights they had never reached in the 24 years that the franchise has been a thing.
Kawhi Leonard was asked to shoulder the hopes and dreams of an entire city, one that has had its heart ripped out over and over again whenever a modicum of success is within reach. The difference, though, is that Toronto has ever had a player quite like Kawhi.
“It was cool, all the fans, the team, everybody around, it was crazy,” said Kyle Lowry, who is no stranger to being on the other side of these sorts of things. “It was a good emotional moment for everybody to be there, and just kind of sigh of relief and enjoyment, like a phew. It was great. It was one of the moments where it was a real-life game-winner, Game 7, counting down, you’re back home and everybody was celebrating like that, It was a pretty awesome moment.”
It’s the exact sort of moment that the Raptors could have only dreamed of when they moved to acquire Leonard this past summer. It was, objectively, a gigantic risk, but the NBA is a results-oriented business, and it’s awfully hard to believe the risk hasn’t paid off after Leonard spent the first two rounds of the 2019 playoffs burning the cities of Orlando and Philadelphia to the ground. (You can insert a hamfisted Daenerys Targaryen joke here, but the game took place on Sunday night, which prevented the author of this post from making that reference. We sincerely apologize for this.)
Leonard has done one heck of an impression of some of the greatest wings that we’ve seen over the last few decades. His smothering defense, relentless offense, and ability to take over games en route to wins looks an awful lot like Kobe Bryant or, if you’re really awestruck out of what we’ve seen out of him this postseason, Michael Jordan. Calling Leonard the best basketball player in the world is a stretch — saying that no other human on the planet is playing basketball at the level we’ve seen out of Leonard over the last month or so is not.