‘Cannot believe what I just saw’
Philadelphia has been eliminated from the NBA Playoffs after they had their hearts broken by the biggest shot in the history of the Toronto Raptors.
Raptors freak Kawhi Leonard dropped a spellbinding dagger on the final buzzer to give his team an epic 92-90 victory.
Leonard was given the ball with less than four seconds on the clock and the game tied at 90-90 — and he had nothing to work with as Joel Embiid forced him to dribble towards the corner.
Instead, he dropped one of the toughest shots in NBA playoffs memory, fading away into the front row of seats, as the ball clanked around the backboard and rim before sitting on the edge of the hoop.
The ball then dropped — as did the hearts of the Sixers.
Just like that it was all over.
The Sixers gone and the Raptors through to the eastern confernce finals against Milwaukee.
Embiid weeping on the court, letting the tears pour down his face as he was comforted by Marc Gasol. Leonard mobbed by teammates, screaming and yahooing.
It was pure playoffs drama.
A Serge Ibaka offensive rebound was another telling dagger for the Sixers as it left them down 89-86 without the ball and just 33.6 seconds left when the clock was stopped.
Offensive rebounds killed the 76ers as the Raptors clawed their way in front on the back of 16-5 offensive boards.
The Sixers came into Game 7 with a 63-42 advantage on the offensive glass in this series, but that completely flipped in the series finale.
The Sixers got the ball back with 24.1 seconds left after Toronto missed a three-point attempt that would have sealed the win.
Instead it was all set up for Philly to send the game into overtime. Embiid was fouled in the paint with 12 seconds to play after a chaotic offensive possession which sent him to the line.
His slotted free-throws left it 88-89 before the Sixers deliberately fouled Leonard with 10.8 seconds left, sending him to the charity stripe.
Jimmy Butler then appeared to step-up as a potential match-winner with a diving fast-break bucket which tied the game at 90-90 with four seconds left, after he was able to break in transition and get in behind the Raptors’ defence.
But that’s when Kawhi wrote himself into NBA history.
Aussie Simmons admitted it was a “great shot”.
“He took a tough shot. He’s an incredible player and he made it,” he said after the loss.
“Jo was obviously able to get out there and put a hand up, but he’s a great player. He made a great shot. I got a lot of respect for the Raptors. The way they played, they kept grinding it out. They were tough on us.
“I’m also proud of my guys. We stayed there and it was a fight.”
GAME. SERIES. KAWHI!— NBA UK (@NBAUK)
The dagger left NBA commentators lost for words.
It bounced to the top of the backboard, hit the near side of the rim again, then the other side twice before dropping in, setting off a wild celebration as the Raptors advanced to the conference finals for the second time in four seasons.
??‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️?— LeBron James (@KingJames)
— Jon Alba (@JonAlba)
— Brett Geeves (@brettygeevz)
I cannot believe what I just saw. https://t.co/hf1Y0UwPzL— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch)
— Trent Copeland (@copes9)
Cometh the hour, cometh the claw! Kawhi Leonard just made the biggest shot in Toronto Raptors franchise history. Unbelievable. Take a bow, son. Take a bow. #WeTheNorth— Chamatkar Sandhu (@SandhuMMA)
The Toronto crowd was losing its mind as the lead changed four times in the fourth quarter.
They went completely berserk when Leonard’s bucket at the death dropped in.
He finished with 41 points to lead all scorers, while Embiid, who had a sluggish night at the office, still put up 21 points for the Sixers.
Ibaka added 17 points, and Pascal Siakam had 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Raptors.
JJ Redick had 17 points, Butler added 16, and Tobias Harris had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the losers.
A Simmons baby hook over the top of Serge Ibaka initially put the Sixers back in front 78-77 with almost seven minutes to play.
Butler, who had been the Sixers’ best scorer in the last quarter, turned his ankle with four minutes to play.
TNT showed Butler in distress minutes later on the bench as he covered his head in a towel – but he still came back onto the court after the time-out with the game on the line.
Simmons had earlier been in the zone in a frenetic first half which saw Toronto snatch a four-point lead.
The margin was just three points at three-quarter time after Toronto cleaned up a series of telling offensive rebounds to take back the lead in the third quarter.
With the Sixers tossing up brick after brick early, Simmons showed his class and clean ball-handing to lead the Sixers early with eight points in 15 minutes on the floor.
He finished the half with a perfect two from two from the field and a perfect four from four at the foul line.
He was unable to stay hot in the second half, checking out of the game with 13 points on the back of just five shots atempted for the whole game.
Simmons’ intensity early was highlighted by TNT courtside analyst Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who said she had never seen Simmons so dialled in.
“That was the most engaged Ben Simmons I have ever seen,” she said after a Sixers time out late in the first quarter.
“He was inside of the coaches’ huddle talking with Brett Brown, he came back to teammates telling them they had to stay with it. Joel Embiid looked a little frustrated, Ben Simmons went to him and tried to encourage him. I saw that Joel Embiid’s body language picked up, so Ben Simmons leading his team right now.”
If you had Ben Simmons & James Ennis as the two best players in first half, collect your money.— Jon Johnson (@jonjohnsonwip)
Sixers playing their asses off right now, grinding to stay right there. Simmons has been very good on both ends with aggression. Both teams committing some silly TOs.
Just about the type of low-scoring Game 7 you expect.— Marlowe Alter ? (@MarloweAlter)
76ers down 44-40 at the break.
• Swings back and forth in final minutes. 76ers 14-2 run answered by Toronto’s 11-3 run.
• 76ers did a better job on glass, getting to line in 2nd Q.
• Simmons with a great half on both ends. pic.twitter.com/1WssrGLosB— brianseltzer (@brianseltzer)
Simmons brought it in that first half. Seeing him mature before our eyes. He’s 22. Positive signs from Harris. Like his purpose when he drives. Embiid shooting numbers poor, but made some nice passes. Given a 1-10 start, no points until 7:23, down four is a positive— Chase Senior (@Chase_Senior)
The game was assessed by Sixers commentators as a defining test of Simmons’ young career.
The 22-year-old Australian has alternated between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personalities in the first six games of their NBA second-round playoff series. Simmons was an unstoppable force in leading the 76ers to Thursday’s game six 11-point demolition of the Raptors, but was a villain in the Raptors’ 36-point thrashing of the 76ers in game five.
The game seven result has monumental ramifications for both teams and the careers of 76ers coach Brett Brown, his star players Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick and the Raptors’ leader Leonard.
The New York Times reported before the game former Australian Boomers coach Brown “has little chance” of keeping his job if the 76ers had lost game seven.
Butler, Harris and Redick become free agents at the end of the season and will be more likely to flee if the team implodes.
The Raptors, meanwhile, have given Leonard a no reason to want to move on from the franchise when he enters into freee agency this off-season.
With Simmons able to begin negotiating his next contract this off-season, his series against Toronto will have divided the NBA as to whether he is deserving of a five-year, $220 million max contract extension.