The Buzzer

How Kawhi Leonard's shot reversed years of Raptors history

As Kawhi Leonard's fadeaway jumper hung in the air for what felt like 18 years, every Raptors fan thought back through the team's history. And after four bounces on the rim, the shot fell through the hoop, and Toronto found itself in the Eastern Conference final.

Toronto forward sinks 1st Game 7 buzzer-beater ever in the NBA

The normally placid Kawhi Leonard couldn't hold back his emotions after sinking the game-winner on Sunday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Four bounces. That's how many it took to rewrite the long, winding arc of the Toronto Raptors.

As Kawhi Leonard's fadeaway jumper hung in the air for what felt like 18 years, Raptors fans old enough to remember likely flashed back to May 20, 2001.

That day brought with it another second-round Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers. What followed was the first great heartbreak of Raptors basketball as Vince Carter — who had attended his graduation ceremony in North Carolina earlier in the day — missed his fadeaway jump shot at the buzzer, dooming his team to a one-point loss.

You could say it a tone for the seasons that followed.

In 2002, the Raptors lost in the first round and two years later Carter forced a trade out of Toronto. In 2007 and 2008, Chris Bosh's Raptors won just three playoff games and by 2010 Bosh was gone, too.

The latest iteration of playoff Raptors began in 2014, led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. But they kept running into the giant known as LeBron James. He and the Cavaliers eliminated Toronto in each of the past three years.

Last summer, a superstar in San Antonio became disgruntled and wanted out. So Raptors team president Masai Ujiri brought him to Toronto and sent the loyal DeRozan the other way.

On Sunday night, Kawhi Leonard made good on Ujiri's bet.

Where Carter's shot so many years earlier bounced wildly off the rim, Leonard's took its time but finally dropped — giving the Raptors a 92-90 win — and a franchise and its fans finally exhaled.

Leonard's shot was the first game-winning buzzer-beater ever in a Game 7. 

WATCH | Leonard hits buzzer beater to send Raptors to East final:

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

Oh yeah, and there's another round to play. Possibly two.

On Wednesday, the Eastern Conference final opens against the Milwaukee Bucks, with their own superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Raptors, for all the glory of The Shot, entered this season with higher hopes than merely winning a second-round series. The team owns legitimate championship aspirations.

There's also the matter of Leonard's free agency. At his introductory press conference, the 27-year-old said he wanted two things: to be healthy and to win. Asked to describe himself, he said he was a "fun guy."

As his shot lingered in the air, the future of the franchise lingered in the balance. A second-round exit may have sealed Leonard's exit from Toronto. It could have marked the end of the greatest era in franchise history.

Instead, the ball bounced four times on the rim before finally falling through the hoop. Leonard released a primal scream. He said it's the first time anyone's seen him scream since winning the NBA final with the Spurs in 2014.

The Fun Guy made a Fun Shot. It was all worth it.

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