TORONTO — Kawhi Leonard’s shot looked short. And it was. His baseline shot as the fourth quarter expired hit the side of the rim. It didn’t look like the ball would go in. It looked like overtime. But then the ball bounced around the rim three more times — it seemingly took forever — and fell in.
The Raptors defeated the Sixers 92-90 on Sunday and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals where they will face the Milwaukee Bucks. Game 1 is Wednesday in Milwaukee (8:30 p.m. TNT).
After 48 minutes and four quarters of Game 7 between Philadelphia and Toronto in this semifinal series, the Raptors were two points better than the Sixers because of Leonard, who finished with a game-high 41 points.
KAWHI LEONARD FOR THE SERIES! ?#WeTheNorth | #NBAPlayoffspic.twitter.com/z0yi7kdxGB
It was not a beautiful game, but it was hotly contested. The defense was stifling, the points hard to come by, the stakes high and the environment tense.
Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler tied the score at 90-90 with a driving layup following a missed Leonard free throw. The Raptors called timeout and ran a play for Leonard.
The Sixers defended the play and forced Leonard into a difficult shot. On a night when the offense struggled against superior defense, Leonard had just enough.
Kawhi Leonard lifts the Raptors over the Sixers in one of the greatest Game 7 finishes you'll ever see. https://t.co/G2ngE6lOUEpic.twitter.com/DhDApHAOEj
Here are three keys to the Raptors' series-clinching victory:
1. Great defense, bad offense: As atrocious as the Sixers’ offense was — they missed their first nine shots and were 2-for-13 from the field late in the first quarter — Toronto’s offense was as equally ineffective: 5-for-24 from the field and 0-for-8 on 3-pointers in the first quarter.
The Raptors actually won this game shooting a lower percentage than the Sixers from the field (38.2% to 43.1%) and on 3-pointers (23.3% to 33.3%). Toronto also attempted 11 fewer free throws.
But the Raptors collected 16 offensive rebounds and forced the Sixers into 15 turnovers, leading to more shot attempts and makes. Raptors coach Nick Nurse was concerned about Philadelphia’s rebounding the entire series, but his team came through on the glass when needed.
During a key stretch late in the fourth quarter, the Sixers had a turnover, missed shot and a 24-second shot clock violation as the Raptors grabbed an 89-85 lead.
MORE FROM THE NBA PLAYOFFS
- OVERCOME: Embiid left in tears after Sixers' excruciating Game 7 loss
- MOVING ON: McCollum proves Blazers always more than one-man show
- DEMISE ON HOLD: Warriors look like champs again after ousting Rockets
- NO DOWN TIME: Bucks put their time off to good use ahead of East finals
2. The stars: Leonard was going down shooting. He didn’t have a great offensive game, and Philadelphia’s defense was responsible for part of that. Leonard ended up taking a career-high 39 shots and making 16 for his 41 points. But in the fourth with the lead going back and forth, Leonard took over. He made the first four shots of the quarter, including a three-point play with 4:48 remaining to put the Raptors up 85-80. He had 15 points in the fourth.
Sixers center Joel Embiid struggled with his offense again. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds, but he was just 6-for-18 from the field, including 1-for-6 on 3-pointers. Sixers forward Jimmy Butler had 16 points, four rebounds and one assist.
3. Bench points: Neither team had great bench production the past two games, but Toronto had just enough from Serge Ibaka in Game 7. He had 17 points and eight rebounds and outscored Philadelphia’s bench, which had just eight points.
Both teams relied on their starters. All five Sixers starters played at least 40 minutes, while Leonard logged 43 minutes, Marc Gasol 45 and Kyle Lowry 39.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
Source: Read Full Article