Kawhi has erased the demons of The North’s playoff past and changed the culture of the franchise.
Kawhi Leonard had 41 points and hit “The Shot Heard Around Canada” to help Toronto advance to the Eastern Conference Finals with a 93-92 buzzer-beating win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semis.
Toronto fans believe that the dramatic shot may be the one that erases the playoff futility of the past and breaks the curse of “LeThanos.”
🚨 THE SHOT. THE BOUNCE. THE WIN. 🚨
— NBA (@NBA) May 13, 2019
When curses are broken, they are usually obliterated in all-time historic fashion. Toronto has been knocking on the door of an NBA Final series for the past three seasons, but LeThanos James has knocked them out in the semifinals twice and then the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
The inability to get past Bron and Cleveland cost Dwane Casey his job in the same season that he won Coach of the Year and set the franchise record for wins.
When Bron left for LA, the East rejoiced. The conference was officially wide open for a new champion to emerge. The Milwaukee Bucks and Greek Freak emerged as the best team in the regular season and the consensus opinion is that Toronto became a serious contender for that crown when it replaced DeMar DeRozan with a Kawhi rental.
So far, so good, as Toronto moves just one series win over Milwaukee from reaching the franchise’s first NBA Final and erasing the playoff demons of the past. In past playoff series’, the ball never bounced right for Toronto, but it did last night.
It could be an omen of things to comes. Will Toronto finally break the curse of LeThanos?
Raptors President Masai Ujiri knew that he was taking a risk when he traded for Leonard, who becomes a free agent at the end of this season and is reportedly headed to the Los Angeles Lakers or the Clippers once this run is over.
However, Toronto’s never had a two-way superstar of Leonard’s magnitude to put the team on his shoulders and produce clutch daggers when the game is on the line. There’s a different energy bubbling in Toronto.
Leonard has averaged 31.8 points per game on 41 percent shooting from 3-point territory in these playoffs. He’s also contributing 8.5 boards while playing rough-rider defense.
From Game 1 of the series, he sent an emphatic offensive message to the Sixers. He’s been playing every game of these playoffs like it’s his last.
Kawhi’s presence has been deeply felt in Canada and the trauma that he delivered to Philly last night — which caused Sixers center Joel Embiid to break down in tears after the defeat — is a feeling that Raptors fans knew all too well before Kawhi arrived and made them legit championship contenders.
It’s got to feel good to be on the other end of a bone-crushing playoff defeat and series-clinching cliff hanger.