Sundays are often the best days of the week. The family is home, the kids don’t go to school and it’s the one day of the week you can dedicate to recovering and relaxing. While it’s already pretty awesome, we’re sporadically blessed with certain Sundays in which our relaxation period includes a great activity/event to do or watch from the couch. On Sunday, May 12th, a humble and otherwise indifferent day in Canada’s busiest city, produced one of the finest moments in the history of NBA basketball. As great of a moment as it was, the player who executed the moment was even greater.
I predicted a Raptors victory and the friend I watched with did predict a 40-piece from Kawhi, but it would be a lie if I did not inform you that we both were anything from prepared for what we were getting ready to witness. I arrived at his house around 7:30PM and neither of us could contain our excitement for what we deemed the biggest game if the season.
The game sucked. Yeah, I said it. The entirety of that first half, as well as a majority of the third quarter, was an average game. Misses, bad shot selection, plenty of moments where I wanted to knock over the chip bowl and scream, but ended up being a bounced shot off the rim. The defensive intensity was high, however many players, including Leonard, were missing easy shots around the rim, and open shots away from the basket. The game was murky and although it wasn’t pretty, we were all collectively glued to the television. We were all quite aware of the stakes. This brings me to the 4th quarter.
I remember vividly turning to my friend as he devoured a handful of Cheetos and expressing how the game felt like it was tied for longer than either team’s leads. Although it was an ugly game, the fact it was so gritty and close at the end is what made it the perfect game. With 10.8 remaining in the game, Kawhi Leonard stepped to the line for a pair of free throws. The Raptors were up 89-88 and it was in their superstars’ hands to force their visitors to run the ball up the court and attempt a low-percentage 3-pointer and hope for it to go in and tie the game. Leonard hit the first one perfectly but managed to hit the second shot off the back-iron, right in the hands of Jimmy Butler. As the ball came down, Butler, who seemed aware of the clock, raced down the other end and was able to elevate over a caught off-guard Ibaka and tie the game.
Nick Nurse calls the timeout with 4.2 seconds left facing a well-informed Philly team, the chances we would be able to get a viable shot up in that times was unlikely, let alone making it. As Gasol threw it to Kawhi, he spins left and digs his body into Simmons’s chest and manages to get off his feet after Embiid (who arrived on the double-team) has already jumped. His timed leap, along with the awareness to shoot the ball as high as possible (18 feet), were the mechanics of what allowed him to even get the shot off. What proceeded afterward was the most incredible moment in Raptors history. As Leonard and Embiid crashed to the floor, the ball bounced off the rim and stayed in the vicinity of the basket. The players and fans held their breath as they visualized the ball to hit the floor, however, the second bounce changed that. As Leonard crouched to the floor, almost willing it to drop in, the third bounce gave us all a weird sense of, “holy mother of sh*t, I think this might actually go in.”
The fourth bounce was everything. I don’t mean to be so vague, but it’s the best way to describe what that shot truly meant to every Raptors fan. It was everything. It was validation. It meant that what he did, the process of getting to this very place was to experience what we just witnessed. Trading DeMar was difficult for most of us, but in that single solitary moment, Kawhi Leonard proved why that trade will go down as one of the most lopsided deals in modern history. I don’t care if it only produced 1 year of Kawhi. What he has proven and given to this franchise in one year, has been more than 99% of Raptor players have given to us in a career. The fourth bounce felt like it was all worth it. The questions, the quotes and the stresses that come with being a fan, they were all answered with the fourth bounce. Let them say it was luck, let the public denounce the significance of the shot, citing it as “just a second-round victory”. Those people don’t understand the pain, the dedication and the validation that you’ve felt. It didn’t mean we won a trophy, I know that, but it didn’t matter at the moment and it still does not. The fourth bounce was the assurance that we had done it. scrapping and clawing (pun intended) to perhaps one of the finest moments in the history of playoff basketball. Whether he stays or not, I want to use this final sentence to say thank you, Kawhi Leonard. That is all. Thank You.