Breakfast Special: Kawhi Leonard’s Driveway Heroics

Every kid who has ever picked up a basketball has, in the driveway, counted down “3! 2! 1!” then launched a shot that beats the buzzer, leading the kid to yell “And the Celtics win the championship!” or whatever other team the kid’s growing up rooting for.

But until Sunday, there had never been an actual Game 7 walk-off buzzer-beater to close out a series in NBA history. The only time it ever happened in a winner-take-all game—Michael Jordan‘s “The Shot” over Craig Ehlo in the first round in 1989—that was Game 5 of a best-of-five series.

Every other example you can think of either left time on the clock or wasn’t in a winner-take-all game.

Even better, it was a playoff series between the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, who in 2001 went seven games and had one shot to decide victory or defeat, but back then, Vince Carter‘s potential game-winner bounced off the rim…and fell out, exactly the kind of basketball heartbreak that slow-motion replay was practically invented to milk for all of history.

And just a thought, but if you’d told me in 2001 that Carter would still be in the league in 2019, I’d have told you “go home, you’re drunk.”

Anyway, it fell to Kawhi to put right what once went wrong, and this was one small shot for a man, one giant hoop for mankind:

Take that for data. A contested long hero-ball two straight out of 2001 just fired Brett Brown.

The Raptors won 92-90, Leonard ended up with 41 points on 16-of-39 shooting, and the game had 182 total points.

My gods…it was 2001 all over again. And that’s OK.

Toronto shot 38.2 percent from the field in this game. The pace was 87.6. Philadelphia took only 65 shots the entire game (hitting 28 of them while going 25-of-30 from the line.)

The Raptors won the turnover battle 15-10. They had 16 offensive rebounds to Philly’s five. And somehow they outscored Philly by nine points when Greg Monroe was on the floor…for two minutes.

This was a Dark Ages game…for the ages.

Highlights:

Jennifer 8, Blazers-Nuggets 7

Damian Lillard shot 3-of-17 from the field. The Nuggets completely shut him down, laying all the pieces for an offseason chock-full of think pieces and hot takes about how Portland will never win anything with Dame at the point, and leading too many idiots in northwest Oregon to bark at talk radio about how the team should get rid of him.

CJ McCollum ain’t havin’ none of that.

McCollum had 37 points on 17-of-29 shooting, Enes Kanter had 12 points and 13 rebounds, Lillard nearly notched a triple-double despite his shooting woes (13 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists), and the Trail Blazers beat the Nuggets 100-96 in Game 7 on the road.

So how did a team that shot just 4-of-26 from three-point land (15.4 percent!) manage to win?

Hitting a little better than half of their twos (34-of-67) helped. So did free throws (20-of-24.) So did offensive rebounds (12.) And so did committing four (!) turnovers all game.

Meanwhile, the defense stepped up—if you thought Lillard was bad, the Nuggets were worse, hitting just 2-of-19 three-pointers (10.5 percent), shooting 33-of-89 (37.1 percent) overall, while being nowhere near as accurate despite all the help in the world from the refs (24-of-39 FT.)

The Nuggets turned it over just five times and had 13 offensive boards, so that was actually a wash.

Nikola Jokic was 11-of-26 shooting the ball on his way to 29 points. But Jamal Murray (4-of-18) and Paul Millsap (3-of-13) combined for a 22.6 percent shooting night, and Jokic hitting not much over 40 percent of his shots isn’t going to get it done.

The game was ugly. Both games were ugly. But ugly doesn’t matter when it’s the prelude to fourth-quarter heroics.

All the highlights from an ugly-but-fantastic game a mile high:

Games are getting thin on the ground. There are, at most, 21 games of basketball left to be played before the long dark tea-time of the soul before next October. Some people get seasonal depression in the winter. My gnawing emptiness comes with a 5 AM sunrise and (ugh) baseball.

So enjoy it while it lasts, stay tuned, and thanks for reading!