While he might have made the trip back home to Los Angeles after just one season, the Kawhi Leonard shot that won a playoff series remains one of the defining moments in Toronto Raptors history. Leonard was brought in to take the Raptors over the hump, and his game-winner in Game 7 of their second-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers did just that.
The Raptors needed to make a big swing to overcome their derisive “LeBronto” moniker and assert themselves as true contenders in the Eastern Conference, and Masai Ujiri decided to create a franchise-altering trade that put the Raptors on a path to championship glory.
DeMar DeRozan and former Top 10 pick Jakob Poeltl were sent to the San Antonio Spurs in order to pick up Leonard, who was a free agent after the season. A calculated risk, sure, but it ended with one of the most jaw-dropping shots in league history.
In the do-or-die Game 7, which took place two years ago on this day. Leonard took the Marc Gasol inbound, raced right down to the right baseline, shot a fadeaway over Joel Embiid, watched his shot bounce around the rim several times as both America and Canada held their breath, and broke into a rare fit of jubilation after it found the bottom of the net.
Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard made one of the best shots in NBA history.
After dispatching the Orlando Magic in the first round, Leonard lifted the Raptors to a victory over a stacked lineup that included Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris. They dispatched Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the next round to make their first NBA Finals.
Yes, Toronto took down a Golden State Warriors team that saw Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson go down with injuries, but it was Leonard, who averaged 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in the postseason, that led the Raptors to their first-ever title while ending the fabled Warriors dynasty. Not a bad few days at the office for Leonard.
The Raptors’ franchise has some ugly playoff defeats in their history, including that infamous missed buzzer-beater against the 76ers by Vince Carter and LeBron James repeatedly pulverizing them in the postseason. For a moment, all of those defeats were washed away, as Leonard’s ice-cold confidence guided the Raptors to a miraculous win.
Kawhi was one step below an NBA mercenary. He came, saw, and conquered during his one-year stint in Toronto. Sure, he deserted the Raptors after bringing them a title. but it was No. 2 who brought Canada their first NBA title ever, and he will remain royalty in Toronto forever thanks to his clutch performances.