The second of the two Game 7s on Sunday in the NBA was, like the first, a game that featured a rather ugly start but a tense, tight fourth quarter with both teams trading the lead down the stretch, with an unbelievable finish as Toronto advanced to face the Bucks on a Kawhi Leonard game-winner at the buzzer.
It was far from an offensive exhibition between the Sixers and Raptors, but the two teams found themselves deadlocked down the stretch in Toronto. For the Raptors, they rode Kawhi Leonard, who had a career-high 30 field goal attempts entering the fourth quarter, while the Sixers followed Joel Embiid’s lead as he played all but three minutes of the game.
Toronto took an early lead as Philly had just 13 first quarter points, but wasn’t able to capitalize on the Sixers’ bad shooting to pull away significantly as they also struggled from the field. Both teams finished the first half shooting 34% from the floor, with the Raptors holding a four point edge at the break. There wasn’t much to write home about in the first three quarters, but the tension rose in the fourth and the best players rose to the occasion.
Leonard, while the workhorse in the first three quarters wasn’t his usual efficient self, going 10-of-30 through the third, but found his range in the fourth, hitting 6-of-9 in the final period to help pull the Raptors ahead entering the closing minutes before, eventually, sending the Raptors to the conference finals with this bucket at the buzzer.
Embiid had his moments in the second half, trying to keep the Sixers within reach, before finally getting the help of Jimmy Butler who was quiet until hitting some big buckets in the final period.
For Toronto, Serge Ibaka had a huge night on both ends, with a game high +22 in his time on the court, while getting the little contributions from Lowry despite a sprained left thumb. Ibaka had 17 points off the bench, including hitting 3-of-5 from three-point range to give them a much needed boost from the perimeter.
Lowry only had 10 points, but dished out six assists and pulled in six rebounds, along with providing his usual effort and sacrifice in taking charges on the other end.
After Leonard delivered an and-1 to give Toronto a five-point advantage with just under five to play, the Raptors offense went cold, going scoreless for over three minutes.
The Sixers took advantage of that scoreless spell, pulling even at 85-85 thanks to a J.J. Redick three-point play. Leonard finally broke the poor shooting spell for the Raptors with just under two minutes to play, drilling a long two over a late contest from Embiid to give them an 87-85 lead.
On the ensuing possession, the Raptors never let the Sixers get into their set, ultimately leading to a Lowry steal as the shot clock was expiring, who found Pascal Siakam on the break for a tough layup to go up four. Butler split two free throws on the next possession to cut the lead to three and forced a Leonard miss, but once again Ibaka came up huge with Toronto’s 16th offensive rebound of the game, 11 more than the Sixers, to extend the possession. Leonard missed another jumper, on a contested fadeaway three, and the Sixers had a chance to tie with 24.1 seconds to play.
Embiid got to the line with 12 seconds to play and hit both, while Leonard split his free throws on the other end, with Harris feeding it to Butler on the break who finished against Ibaka at the rim to tie the game with 4.2 seconds to play.
The Raptors inbounded the ball to Leonard who faded over Embiid and got the friendliest of bounces, rattling home the game-winner as time expired in an unreal moment to win 92-90.
Leonard finished with 41 points on 16-of-39 shooting, and said after the game that he was upset about missing the free throw that let the Sixers tie the game and “really wanted” to make up for it with the game-winner. He certainly did that, and delivered arguably the greatest moment in Toronto postseason history with the shot from the corner that seemed to bounce around the rim for an eternity before falling through.
The celebration in Toronto is on and deservedly so given their history of postseason misery, but the focus will soon have to shift to a well-rested Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, who are waiting for their arrival in Milwaukee.