Game 7 Madness: Raptors and Blazers come out on top in pair of instant classics
RAPTORS 92, 76ERS 90
TORONTO — Kawhi Leonard hit a shot from the corner over Joel Embiid at the buzzer that bounced off the rim four times before falling to give the Toronto Raptors a 92-90 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
After Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler tied it with a driving layup with 4.2 seconds left, Toronto used its final timeout to draw up a play for Leonard, who dribbled toward the right corner and launched the high-arching shot.
It bounced to the top of the backboard, hit the near side of the rim again, then the other side twice before going through, setting off a wild celebration as the Raptors advanced to the conference finals for the second time in four seasons. They will open the conference finals Wednesday night at Milwaukee.
Leonard scored 41 points on 16-of-39 shooting. Serge Ibaka added 17 points, and Pascal Siakam had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Embiid led the 76ers with 21 points and 11 rebounds. JJ Redick had 17 points, Butler added 16, and Tobias Harris had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
In its only other conference finals, Toronto lost to LeBron James and Cleveland in six games in 2016.
Redick tied it at 85 with a three-point play with 3:29 left. Nearly two minutes passed before the next basket, Leonard’s long jumper with 1:41 to go that was initially ruled a 3, but changed to a 2 after video review.
On Philadelphia’s next possession, Lowry forced a steal near midcourt and fed Siakam for a fast-break layup, giving Toronto an 89-85 lead with 1:14 left.
Butler made one of two at the line and Leonard missed a pair of jump shots, giving the 76ers the ball down 89-86 with 24.1 seconds remaining. Embiid was fouled and made both, cutting it to 89-88 with 12 seconds left.
Leonard was fouled with 10.8 seconds left. He made the first, but missed the second, setting up Butler’s tying layup.
The 76ers missed nine straight shots to start the game and didn’t score until a 3-pointer by Redick midway through the quarter. Still, while the Sixers made just two of their first 14 attempts, the Raptors only made 3 of their first 13. Toronto shot 5 for 24 in the first quarter and the 76ers went 5 for 19.
Philadelphia had as many turnovers (five) as baskets in the quarter that ended with Toronto up 18-13.
Lowry headed to the locker room briefly in the second because of a sprained left thumb. He checked back in midway through the period. Siakam and Leonard each scored seven points in the second and Lowry added six to give Toronto a 44-40 lead at halftime.
Toronto led 50-41, its biggest lead of the game, after a basket by Gasol early in the third. Philadelphia answered with a 16-0 run over the next 4 1/2 minutes as the Raptors missed 10 straight shots. Toronto battled back behind 11 points from Leonard and took a 67-64 advantage to the final quarter.
TRAIL BLAZERS 100, NUGGETS 96
DENVER — Damian Lillard’s shots kept banging off the backboard, rattling off the rim, going everywhere but through the hoop.
The Portland Trail Blazers are going to the Western Conference Finals anyway because CJ McCollum had his back.
McCollum scored 37 points and added a crucial chase-down block in the closing minutes that helped the Blazers beat the Denver Nuggets 100-96 in Game 7 on Sunday to advance to their first conference championship since 2000.
They’ll open Tuesday night at Golden State against the two-time defending NBA champion Warriors in a series pitting Portland’s Seth Curry against his big brother, Golden State star Steph Curry.
Lillard scored 13 points and made just 3 of 17 shots from the field, but two of them were critical 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that put Portland ahead 81-76 and 92-85.
“It’s a luxury to have two guys like that who can find different ways to score in different ways,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “CJ does it one way, Dame does it in another. On a night when Dame struggled shooting the ball CJ came up big.”
“CJ McCollum showed why they have one of the best backcourts in the NBA,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He put his team on his back and made big play after big play.”
None bigger than when his crucial chase-down block with 4:44 left and the Trail Blazers leading 87-83.
McCollum raced to stop a breakaway layup by Jamal Murray, who had a miserable night shooting, missing 14 of 18 shots.
“Seth did a good job of cutting off his lane and making him have to go over his head,” McCollum said. “He put it right there for me and I went and got it ‘Bron style. Shout out to my guy ‘Bron. It was a mini-version of ‘Bron’s block on Iggy some years ago. Definitely didn’t get up as high but it was a cool play. I might get a picture of that.”
Lillard said it was just the spark the Blazers needed to complete the comeback from a 17-point first-half hole.
“Those are the plays that get teams going, coming off a turnover and they get an easy one,” he said. “At that point of the game you want to make them work for everything.”
The Nuggets were down 96-95 coming out of a timeout when McCollum hit a pull-up jumper over Torrey Craig with 12.4 seconds left.
“All summer long I’m going to probably be second-guessing myself at the timeout,” Malone said. “That’s a shot he makes consistently. Torrey played good defense, as good a defense you can play 1-on-1. And I was saying after we should have sent someone at him. He’s having a great game and make somebody else make a play or make a shot.”
The mismanagement continued: Jokic was fouled inside shooting a 2-pointer with 11.4 seconds left and missed the first free throw. Instead of missing the second on purpose, he made it for a 98-96 deficit.
Evan Turner then hit two free throws with eight seconds left for the final margin, and Jokic missed a long 3-pointer, with five seconds remaining, Turner grabbed the rebounds and dribbled out the clock.
The Nuggets raced to a 39-22 lead and Game 7 was beginning to look a lot like Game 5, when Denver blew out Portland by 26 points in this building. But Stotts called a timeout with 7:26 left in the second quarter and his team began chipping away.
“There wasn’t going to be any quit,” Stotts said. “I didn’t think they ever stopped believing. ... It was just about regrouping.”
The Blazers were down 48-39 at halftime and trailed by just a point heading into the fourth quarter.
That’s when the Nuggets’ hopes of reaching their first Western Conference Finals in a decade died with a 7-of-24 shooting performance, including 3 of 10 from Jokic, who tearfully blamed himself in the locker room for the loss.
Nonsense, said his coach, who suggested Jokic established himself during these playoffs as the best big man in basketball and he only petered out at the end because the Nuggets had to rely so heavily on the 7-foot All-Star.
“I hope after 14 playoff games, America, everyone around the world, came to appreciate his game,” Malone said. “For him to be as emotional and upset as he was speaks to his caring. He was upset because he thinks he didn’t do enough for us to win tonight.”
It was a devastating end to Denver’s season after the Nuggets ended a six-year playoff drought and earned the second seed in the Western Conference bracket.
Portland will open the Western Conference Finals at Golden State on Tuesday night.
Toronto opens the Eastern Conference Finals at Milwaukee on Wednesday night.