A New Feeling: Kawhi's shot
It’s been a few days since Kawhi Leonard took an inbound pass from Marc Gasol and b-lined straight to the opposite corner of the court right in front of the Raptors bench and hit the biggest shot of his career and of this franchise’s history. I still can’t really believe that it happened. There are so many aspects that make it so hard to grasp.
A) The difficulty of the shot was beyond belief. Where he took the shot from, the speed he was moving at, the fading out of bounds, the double team before getting the shot off and the 7 foot 3 center lunging at him trying to block it. Doesn’t sound like a good shot selection and doesn’t sound like anyone should ever be able to make that shot. However, Kawhi knew the spot he needed to get to and got there.
B) The bounces. 4 BOUNCES. That’s what it took for the ball to finally find its way into the bottom of the hoop. Never in my life has two seconds felt longer than it did when the ball was rattling back and forth deciding whether or not it wanted to fall.
C) What it means for the franchise. Kawhi is easily the most talented player the Raptors have ever had and they may only have him for this one season. It felt like the Raptors future was on the line with that shot and the friendly bounces have given the team and its fans at least another four games to try to win over Kawhi.
D) The lead up to it was a fantastically nerve-racking stretch of basketball. If you are a fan of good basketball, especially good defence, watch the last two minutes of game seven over and over. There were three straight possessions the Raptors forced Philly to turn the ball over. Two were shot clock violations and one was a Lowry steal leading to an impressive layup on the other end for Pascal Siakam. A little less enjoyable was the free throw Kawhi Leonard missed which lead to the Jimmy Butler layup to tie the game up at 90 with four seconds to go. That shot doesn’t happen if everything, good and bad, doesn’t line up the way it did.
I was at the game and I’ve watched videos upwards of 100 times and I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that something good, nay GREAT, happened to the Raptors in the playoffs.
I was somewhere between two and three years old when Raptors fans first tasted playoff heartbreak when Vince Carter missed a three that could’ve sent that 2001 team to the ECF. The only real success I’ve known from this franchise has been from a team no one reeaallyy believed in no matter how badly you wanted to. My first real exposure to the Raptors was a version that had an upset Vince Carter and a pre-Miami Chris Bosh. Despite Carter being widely defined as the greatest Raptor ever, I can’t fully embrace that because I really only started watching him at the tail end of his tenure with the team. Bosh was great but didn’t quite find his groove until the Raptors were all his which meant a less than remarkable team. With both guys came hope and high expectations but nothing like what this season has brought.
I was lucky enough to be in the Scotiabank Arena with my mom this Mother’s Day as Kawhi’s spectacular shot fell. High fives and hugs were being spread throughout the section as we took in what just happened. Going through what we Raptors fans have gone through, makes this moment feel that much more surreal. We’ve been through the gutter with heartbreak after heartbreak at the end of every single season. Because of those heartbreak moments, I have learned to control some of my expectations for this team. This season has been the first since that 15-16 run to the ECF where my expectations have been somewhat managed in a way that won’t end with me in a melancholy state for days after their inevitable elimination. Well, they were. My low expectations were completely thrown out the window as a result of the ending to that game seven. In my relatively short time as a die-hard Raptors fan, nothing good has ever really happened to this franchise and that’s not to discredit all that they’ve accomplished. They’ve been one of the best and most consistent franchises this half of the decade winning over 300 regular season games in the past six seasons yet have underachieved tremendously when it matters most. The Playoffs.
In my short 20 years on this planet, I have yet to see a better sports moment for a team I truly cared for and realistically won’t until one of Toronto’s teams wins a championship. For that short moment after Kawhi’s shot rattled home, I was in a state of pure shock and joy and genuinely had thoughts the Raptors could win the championship. Still being in a haze from that day, it still hasn’t sunk in that the Raptors next round starts tonight in Milwaukee. Hopefully, the Raptors can ride the same high that us fans have been riding since Sunday and justify my raised expectations.