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2 Game 7s that changed Raptors history

Ahead of the Raptors' big rubber match vs. Boston, CBC Sports' daily newsletter looks at the franchise's two most memorable Game 7s.

Carter's miss and Kawhi's make are legendary – for better or worse

The best photo of the best shot in Raptors history. (Mark Blinch/NBA/World Press Photo/The Associated Press)

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Game 7s are a big part of Raptors history

On Wednesday night, the Toronto Raptors kept their NBA title defence alive with a 125-122 double-overtime win over Boston. That gutsy/inspiring/thrilling victory forced a highly anticipated Game 7 tonight at 9 p.m. ET in the Disney bubble.

Like everyone else in sports, the Raptors have mixed results in Game 7s (they're basically, almost by definition, coin flips). The franchise's all-time record in them is 3-2.

Two of those games ended with one of the most memorable moments in team history — for better or worse. Both happened in the second round vs. Philadelphia. Here's a look back at them:

2001: The Vince Carter graduation game

One of the great turning points in NBA history. The result of this game, and the reaction to it, changed the course of both a franchise and one of basketball's biggest stars.

In the spring of 2001, Toronto was still firmly in the grip of Vinsanity. Carter had become the Raptors' first true superstar by winning the Rookie of the Year Award for 1998-99 and then putting on the best show in the history of the Slam Dunk Contest in 2000. In the '01 playoffs, he rallied the Raps to their first-ever playoff series win with back-to-back clutch elimination-game performances vs. New York in the best-of-five opening round.

Now Carter was going toe-to-toe with the great Allen Iverson, the 2000-01 scoring champion and MVP. Vince answered The Answer's 54 points in Game 2 with 50 of his own in Game 3. With the Raptors facing elimination in Game 6, Carter came through with 39.

But then, Vince made an unusual move. On the day of Game 7, he flew to North Carolina to attend his university graduation ceremony. Today, this would probably be more warmly received (Education first! Isn't that what we're always telling our kids?). But back then, the sports-radio ghouls were ready to pounce when Carter missed the potential series-winning shot at the buzzer and the Raptors lost by one. They accused him of being "soft" and "not caring enough" — conveniently ignoring that he played all 48 minutes that night and had a solid 20 points in an 88-87 slugfest typical of that hard-nosed era.

It would turn out to be Carter's last playoff game as a Raptor. A knee injury caused him to miss Toronto's brief appearance in the 2002 playoffs, and his relationship with the team and its fans continued to sour until he asked for a trade and was sent to New Jersey in December 2004. The Raptors wouldn't make it back to the playoffs until 2007, and they wouldn't win another series until 2016 — a decade and a half after Carter led them past the Knicks.

2019: The Kawhi Leonard Shot

While Vince was the Raptors' first true superstar, Kawhi is the best player ever to put on a Raptors uniform. When he arrived in Toronto, he already had a Finals MVP, two Defensive Player of the Year Awards and a pair of top-three finishes in MVP voting under his belt from his time in San Antonio. But he'd never truly led a team to a title.

Of course, Leonard ended up doing exactly that in his lone season in Toronto, delivering the city its first NBA championship and earning his second Finals MVP award. But he and the Raptors came close to being bounced in the second round by a big Philly team that backed them into a rockfight of a Game 7 in Toronto.

The game was tied 90-90 with less than five seconds left when Toronto inbounded the ball to Kawhi and Philly's tough defence funnelled him to the corner, forcing him into an incredibly difficult fallaway attempt over 7-footer Joel Embiid. The shot, as you know, bounced four times off the rim before dropping in to give Kawhi 41 points and the NBA's first-ever Game 7-winning buzzer beater. The rest is history.

So those are the two extremes. Will tonight's Game 7 be more Kawhi or Carter? As usual, it's a tossup. Read about how the possibility of more Game 7 magic has reinvigorated Raptors fans in this piece by CBC Sports' Devin Heroux.

Kawhi Leonard poured in 41 points, including a dramatic game-winner as the Toronto Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 92-90 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. 1:23

Serena Williams missed a golden chance to match the Grand Slam record

She'll remain one shy of Margaret Court's all-time mark of 24 singles titles for the time being (at least) after losing to Victoria Azarenka in the U.S. Open semifinals last night. Williams took the first set 6-1 but then faded as her lower-ranked opponent rallied to win the next two sets 6-3 to take the match. Read more about it and watch highlights here.

Serena is still one of the better players in the world, but her window is closing. She turns 39 soon and is having more and more trouble keeping up with the best younger players. Her last Grand Slam title came more than 3½ years ago and she's 0-4 in finals since then. This U.S. Open was a great opportunity for her because five of the seven players above her in the world rankings decided to skip the tournament, and the two that did show up both got bounced before the quarter-finals.

But the title is now Naomi Osaka's to lose. The 22-year-old from Japan is favoured to win her first Slam since she took the U.S. and Australian Opens back-to-back in late 2018 and early '19, which pushed her to No. 1 in the world. She came into this tournament ranked ninth — one spot behind Serena. Azarenka, 31, is also a former world No. 1 with two Slam titles. The Belarusian won back-to-back Aussies in 2012 and '13. She was ranked 27th heading into the U.S. Open. The final is Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.

The men's semifinals were just getting started at our publish time. It's No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev vs. No. 20 Pablo Carreno Busta, and No. 2 Dominic Thiem vs. No. 3 Daniil Medvedev. The winners meet in the final on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET. No matter who takes it, it'll be his first Grand Slam singles title.

Quickly...

Brooke Henderson is in the hunt at the second women's golf major of the year. The Canadian star celebrated her 23rd birthday yesterday by shooting a 4-under that put her in a tie for fourth place after the opening round of the ANA Inspiration in California. She tees off at 4:27 p.m. ET today. The only other Canadian in the field, Alena Sharp, finished her second round today at 2-over. That's close to the cut line, but she was projected to make it at our publish time. See an updated leaderboard here.

The favourites face obstacles in the NHL's conference finals. Vegas has looked like the better team in the Western final. But this is hockey, so of course Dallas leads the series 2-1 after Alexander Radulov scored 31 seconds into OT last night. Game 4 is Saturday night. Tonight, Tampa Bay can go up 3-0 on the Islanders in the Eastern final. But the Lightning could be without Conn Smythe Trophy candidate Brayden Point, who left Game 2 after falling into the boards. And they'll definitely be without less-important forward Alex Killorn, who got a one-game suspension for hitting Brock Nelson into the glass from behind. Plus, captain Steven Stamkos has yet to play since the NHL returned from its pause. Read more about the challenges facing Tampa here.

Kia Nurse reached a milestone. The Canadian national-team standout surpassed 1,000 points for her WNBA career by scoring 18 last night in New York's loss to Indiana. It's been a tough season for the third-year pro and her team. The Liberty are an awful 2-18 and Nurse is shooting only 26 per cent from the field (down from 39 per cent last year). But it'll be over soon. The WNBA regular season ends Sunday and New York has already been eliminated from playoff contention. Read more about last night's WNBA games here.

This weekend on CBC Sports

Canadian Premier League soccer: The CPL's championship tournament is down to the final four teams, who are playing a round robin to decide who advances to the title match next weekend. On Saturday, Forge FC faces Pacific FC at 1 p.m. ET, and Cavalry FC meets HFX Wanderers FC at 3 p.m. ET. You can watch both matches live on the CBC TV network or stream them live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Read about how some former Canadian university players are proving themselves in the CPL here.

Beach volleyball: The King of the Court tournaments in the Netherlands feature an interesting twist: at least three teams are involved in every match. In order to score a point, you have to be playing from the "King's" (or "Queen's") side of the court. If the other team on the court wins the rally, they take over the King's/Queen's side. Either way, losing a rally means you get bumped off the court in favour of the next team in line. Read more about how these matches work and watch them live here. The men's and women's semifinals are Saturday from 5:30 a.m. ET to 1 p.m. ET, and the finals are Sunday from 1:30-5 p.m. ET.

Those are the highlights, but you can get CBC Sports' full broadcast and streaming schedule here.

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