Raptors, Trail Blazers clinch game sevens to reach NBA final four
Los Angeles (AFP)
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 seven on Sunday.
Game seven 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.
"I got a fortuitous bounce," said 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."
The Raptors advance to the NBA final-four where they will play the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in game one of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.
With the score tied 90-90 and the game appearing to be headed to overtime, 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 for the Raptors.
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 game sevens compared to just nine combined games by the Sixers players.
Toronto has leaned heavily on Leonard all season long and Sunday he delivered with the help of his supporting staff. Serge Ibaka had 17 points, Kyle Lowry chipped in 10 and Marc 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 Golden State.
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 hyperextended knee, Portland booked their first trip to the conference finals since 2000.
They'll open their best-of-seven series against the Warriors on Tuesday with a place in the NBA finals on the line.
Despite his shooting woes, Lillard contributed with 10 rebounds and eight assists to go with his 13 points. He connected on just three of 17 shots from the floor -- but that included two three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
"I think for us the biggest thing was just to take it one possession at a time," McCollum said. "We came out a little tight defensively ... Our biggest thing was just one stop at a time, one possession at a time."
Portland coach Terry Stotts called the victory "arguably the biggest win we've had in the franchise in a long time.
"To be a part of it and the way we did, I'm thrilled for our guys tonight," he said.
Jokic led Denver with 29 points. Jamal Murray had 14 points on four-of-18 shooting.
But Denver coach Michael Malone said Jokic blamed himself for the Nuggets' inability to hang on.
"For him to be as emotional and upset as he was speaks to his caring," Malone said. "He was upset because he thinks he didn't do enough for us to win tonight."
? 2019 AFP