Basketball

Kawhi Leonard's wins it at the death for the Toronto Raptors

Raptors star's buzzer-beater bounces off either side of the rim before sealing the 76ers' fate

Kawhi Leonard bounced in the game-winning shot at the buzzer, as the Toronto Raptors advanced to the Eastern Conference finals with a 92-90 win over the visiting Philadelphia 76ers in a heart-stopping Game 7 yesterday morning (Singapore time).

The clash in Toronto's Scotiabank Arena was a microcosm of the wildly unpredictable series, with each team taking turns making runs or being inept until the biggest twist of all from Leonard finished it off in dramatic style.

With the score tied 90-90 and the game appearing to be headed for overtime, forward Leonard took matters into his own hands by getting open for a long shot from the right side.

His arching moon ball at the buzzer bounced twice on each side of the rim, before dropping in to clinch the series 4-3 for the Raptors.

"I got a fortuitous bounce," said the 27-year-old Leonard.

"I just shot it as hard as I could. I got some loft on it and it made the ball bounce soft and it ended up going in."

"It was short, then it was long, then it was in," Toronto's Marc Gasol said of the shot.

"It was like a movie moment," added teammate Fred VanVleet.

Teammates swarmed Leonard along the baseline after his shot.

He let out a scream as fans danced in the stands.

"Pretty much I'm a guy that acts like I've been there before. So probably the last time you've seen me scream was when we won (the NBA title with San Antonio in 2014)," Leonard said.

"Whenever it's a moment that I haven't really experienced, I'll try to show some emotion and let it come out.

A GREAT FEELING

"Tonight was one of those nights. It was a great feeling."

The Raptors advance to the NBA's final four, where they will play the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday morning.

Leonard finished with a game-high 41 points while Pascal Siakam tallied 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Raptors, whose players had a combined 21 games of experience in play-off series deciders, compared to just nine combined games among the Sixers.

Toronto have leaned heavily on Leonard all season long and yesterday he delivered with the help of his supporting staff.

Serge Ibaka had 17 points, Kyle Lowry chipped in with 10 and Gasol grabbed 11 rebounds.

Joel Embiid led the Sixers attack with 21 points and 11 rebounds and Tobias Harris had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Elsewhere, the Portland Trail Blazers rallied on the back of CJ McCollum's 37 points to stun the Nuggets 100-96 in Denver and book a Western Conference finals date with NBA champions the Golden State Warriors.

With Portland star Damian Lillard struggling to get shots to fall, Denver exploded out of the gates, seizing a 29-17 first-quarter lead that they stretched to as many as 17 in the second period.

McCollum kept the Blazers in it, his driving basket giving them their first lead of the game, 71-70 with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Nuggets had reduced a seven-point deficit to one when McCollum drained a step-back jumper with 12.4 seconds left to stretch Portland's lead to 98-95.

Evan Turner, who scored just four points in the first six games of the series, scored 10 of his 14 in the fourth quarter for Portland.

After Nikola Jokic's last-gasp three-point attempt hit the rim, Turner grabbed the rebound and the clock ran down.

Despite the third-quarter departure of Rodney Hood with a hyper-extended knee, Portland booked their first trip to the conference finals since 2000.

They'll open their best-of-seven series against the Warriors tomorrow morning, with a place in the NBA Finals on the line.

- AFP, REUTERS

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