Last night I and hundreds of thousands of basketball fans were treated to the most dramatic finish to a game I believe I have ever witnessed.
The match in question was the deciding game seven in a best of seven NBA Eastern Conference semi-final series between the Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers. It had already been a hotly contested series with a couple of close victories for each side and a couple of blowouts. Both teams had been highly unpredictable in their offensive and defensive performances. No one could have ever predicted the way this game would end.
However, one player, Kawhi Leonard, who was acquired by the Raptors in a blockbuster trade of another beloved player last off-season, was already having a historic playoff run. He was already proving to be one of the greatest players in the league and a catalyst for the Raptors' success.
You could tell last night's match was going to go down to the wire from the outset. Both teams were playing excellent defense and were struggling to score at the other ends of the court. Either teams' latest leads of the night were no more than 8 points.
With about 10 seconds left in the game and the Raptors ahead by 2, Leonard missed a critical free throw. The 76ers corralled the rebound and raced down the floor to tie the game at a relatively low 90-90 score.
The clocked read 4.2 seconds and the Raptors took a time out to strategize a play to get a winning basket. On the ensuing play, the ball predictably landed in Kawhi Leonard's capable hands. He drove right to the corner of the court with two 76er defenders in pursuit. He leapt, tossed a high arching shot up and over a 7-foot defender and then floated on a cloud out of bounds. He landed in a crouch, at which point, time stood still. The buzzer signaling the end of the match rang out. Thousands at courtside and huddled breathless in front of TVs watched as the ball struck the front of the rim and then bounced around in the cylinder once... twice... three... more... excruciating times, before finally falling through the waiting mesh to secure a victory for the Raptors. Soft touch. A shooter' roll. Exhale. Explode! Leonard, screaming with his mouth agape, was mauled by his teammates and the aforementioned 7-foot defender looked on in disbelief; tears beginning to well down his cheeks.
I checked my pulse to ensure I wasn't experiencing a cardiac event and then dialed the Boy's number to get his reaction. He answered with a aimple, but deafening "HOLY F$%K!"
In my 50 years of being a sports fan, I have watched a lot of exciting moments, but the circumstances surrounding this game and this shot in particular were something special.
The Raptors now go on to play an even tougher opponent. Regardless of what happens, Kawhi Leonard has secured himself a solid spot in Toronto sports history. The stakes get higher and the games may somehow get even more exciting in the Eastern Conference Final, though I'm not sure how they can. Nor am I sure whether or not my nerves and heart can take it. Then again, this drama is precisely the reason why we can't stop watching and rooting for our favourite teams. This is sports.