Over six months, Kawhi Leonard endured “82 practices,” then another 11 in the postseason. But there’s no preparation for the individual burden he placed on his broad shoulders Sunday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Leonard launched more field goals through three quarters than either Kobe Bryant or LeBron James have ever attempted in an entire seventh game. He scored 13 of the Toronto Raptors’ final 15 points in the closing minutes. And in the final 4.2 seconds of a game tied at 90-90, being chased in close pursuit by Ben Simmons then Joel Embiid, he drained the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history.cheap nfl nike jerseys china
“That’s something I never experienced before — Game 7, winning shot,” Leonard said. “It’s a blessing to get to that point and make that shot and feel that moment, and it’s something I can look back on in my career.”
The sequence of images will be iconic in NBA history: the leaning, fading motion that elevated Leonard above Embiid’s outstretched arm, his staggering out of bounds as the shot reached its apex, his squatting in wait as the ball bounced four times around the iron, his letting out a primal scream as it finally fell through, teammates mobbing him as the rim rendered its verdict, Embiid’s incredulous response with his hands atop his head in tragic disbelief.
“It was one of those moments where it’s just like a real-life game winner, Game 7, like count-it-down when you’re back home, and everyone was celebrating like that,” Kyle Lowry said. “It was a pretty awesome moment.”
Real life transcended fantasy on Sunday for a franchise that has been victimized in the postseason by shotmakers of Leonard’s caliber. The Raptors had never before employed one of those talents of their own. Now they do, and they rode him to the Eastern Conference finals, which begins Wednesday night in Milwaukee.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale
The matchup between the Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks will feature a fascinating chess match between two teams with exceptionally high basketball intelligence. But it will also be a collision of an unstoppable force and an immovable object. Decide for yourself which is Kawhi Leonard and which is Giannis Antetokounmpo. They rank No. 1 and No. 2 in postseason player efficiency rating, and have undoubtedly been the most consistent, dominant performers in this year’s playoffs.
Leonard’s heroics lifted the Raptors against Orlando and Philadelphia, but the Bucks aren’t a team easily beaten with a constant isolation attack by a single player — even Leonard. He is very likely to encounter a much more aggressive and unpredictable scheme against Milwaukee, which posted the NBA’s top-ranked defense, both in the regular season and playoffs. The Bucks’ peripatetic defense scrambles like crazy, and has no misgivings about pressuring a threat like Leonard with multiple bodies coming from anywhere and everyone on the floor. If that means putting the defense into rotation, so be it, because the Bucks are quick to react and long enough to recover lost ground in an instant.