The only game 7 to ever be decided by a buzzer-beater. The Toronto Raptors faced the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals a year ago today.
There goes the shot. Over the seven-foot Joel Embiid. A shot of desperation. A shot that sees one team moving forward, and the other playing golf. A shot that can shape the legacy of the Toronto Raptors forever. A shot that had the whole NBA at the edge of their seat. A shot that bounced too many times four (sadly it was intended) our own comfort.
The shot felt like it happened yesterday, but each bounce felt like an eternity. Four eternities bounced right before our eyes. Why four times? How can a ball bounce four times before going in? When that does that ever go in!? We can each try to do that shot four million times in our driveway and the same result would never happen. A shot that can be shot another 100 times, and it would never go in again.
But what makes all of this special, which makes the four bounces special. Well, it seems almost like a story for kids when you think of it. A fairy tale of some sort. Each bounce has a significant meaning to it.
The First Bounce
Jimmy Butler makes a fastbreak layup on the other end to tie it up, the score is 90-90. A timeout is called by coach Nick Nurse. After the timeout, Marc Gasol is the player to inbound it. With four seconds left on the clock, he passed it to none other than Kawhi Leonard. The time remaining on the shot clock. Four Seconds. There are four seconds left to win the game in regulation.
The Second Bounce
Kawhi is first defended by Ben Simmons and he decides to go to the right side where he is eventually covered by Joel Embiid. The number of times he dribbled the ball before shooting. Four times. Four times the ball was dribbled around the right side of the court before the 15 feet jump shot was taken.
The Third Bounce
Let’s backtrack a bit, this game could’ve not have been won if Ibaka wasn’t there. Yes, Kawhi Leonard won the game almost single-handily. Everyone not called Ibaka or Leonard shot the ball a combined 12 for 40 from the field --- that’s an awful 30 percent. Serge Ibaka however, had himself the game of his life, being the other only teammate who showed up that day with 17 points, 8 boards, and a team-high plus/minus of +22.
But you know the most important thing he did that game. It was his four offensive rebounds. Four times he gave his team second chances. Two of those times it resulted in two points each, one was a missed opportunity. But the last offensive rebound was the most important. With 40 seconds left in the 4th quarter, Ibaka boxes out Joel Embiid and grabs the offensive board. This gives the Toronto Raptors an extra 16 seconds to kill the clock. 16 seconds that was desperately needed if you’re Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors to not allow the Philadelphia 76ers the offensive possession.
The Fourth and Final Bounce
This is the shot. A shot over a two-time all-defensive team player, a seven-foot giant in Joel Embiid. You can almost hear the exact sounds of that sequence in your head. Kevin Harlan saying: “Is this the Dagger.” Then you proceed to hear the loud sound of the first bounce “Thump.” In that 0.02 seconds, you’re relieved if you are a Sixers fan, but sad if you’re a Toronto Raptors fan.
Yet, it wasn’t over. Instead of bouncing out, the ball had just enough spin. Therefore, again it bounced on the same side of the rim. Again we hear “Thump.”
And if you weren’t already standing, then the second bounce definitely made you leave your seat. And again you hear “Thump,” but this time on the other side of the rim. It felt like time had stopped, and it was more and more likely that this shot was actually going in.
Before going in, you hear another “Thump.” Not as loud as the first one and it didn’t bounce as high as the first but then you see the ball going in. The score, 90-92. The ball bounced four times before going in. Reggie Miller and Kevin Harlan screaming “OHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.” Hearts are broken if you’re a Philly fan, and joy is consumed like no other if you’re a Raptors fan.
The Toronto Raptors would advance to the conference finals, and of course, we all know what happens next.