NBA playoffs 2019: Three takeaways from the Raptors' Game 7 victory over the 76ers

Kawhi Leonard hit one of the greatest buzzer beaters in NBA history, but the Raptors would have been in trouble without Serge Ibaka's work.

Kawhi Leonard   -  (Getty Images)

Kawhi Leonard scored one of the most dramatic buzzer beaters in NBA history to cap an incredible performance and lead the Raptors to a 92-90 victory over the 76ers in Game 7 Sunday.

With the score tied at 90, the Raptors inbounded the ball with 4 seconds left. Leonard, who scored a game-high 41 points, took the ball, dribbled into the corner and nailed the game-winning 2-pointer over Joel Embiid. The ball bounced four times on the rim before dropping through, as Toronto fans erupted.

"It felt great. … I just wanted to put it up in the air and got the fortuitive bounce," Leonard said.

The Raptors will now face the Bucks in Milwaukee in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Here are three takeaways from the Raptors' huge win


Is there any NBA player more important to his team than Kawhi Leonard?

Think of the top players in the NBA, from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant to Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Joel Embiid.

Are any of them more valuable to their team than Leonard is to the Raptors?

While Leonard can keep pace with any of the aforementioned players on the offensive end (he's averaging 31.8 points in the playoffs), he creates so many problems for Raptors' opponents on defense. Twice in the first half, Leonard stole the ball and took it down the court to finish with a dunk. 

Leonard stepped up time and time again when Toronto needed him most. Down the stretch, he scored 13 of the Raptors' last 15 points in the final six minutes, including a long jumper that broke an 85-all tie.

And then he hit the game winner. Leonard didn't have a great shooting performance (16 of 39 from the field) but he came up big when it counted.

No one wants to talk about the obvious after such a thrilling finish, but Leonard, of course, is eligible for free agency in the offseason. As he showed Sunday, Toronto needs him back. Period.

Serge Ibaka played critical role off the bench

As Leonard carried the Raptors during Game 7, everyone watching wondered: Would someone, anyone else step up for Toronto?

Serge Ibaka answered the call. The 29-year-old center scored 17 points off the bench, and knocked down three of his five 3-point attempts.

Ibaka came into the game averaging only 8.3 points in the playoffs. He couldn't have picked a better time to come alive off the bench. If the Raptors hope to beat the Bucks and advance to the NBA Finals, they'll need more contributions from everyone on the roster not named Kawhi. The other four starters hit 12 of 35 shots and scored a combined 30 points against the 76ers. That can't continue.

The NBA regular season really does matter

How many times during the regular season do we hear fans utter the cliché, "The regular season doesn't matter — our team will be totally ready when the playoffs begin."

Of course, some teams take nights off during the regular season, and coaches like to rest their players. But regular-season wins can create a huge advantage in the postseason. The Raptors, who finished second in the Eastern Conference, had the home-court advantage over the 76ers, who finished third. And that advantage showed in Game 7. The Toronto fans in Scotiabank Arena were vocal and enthusiastic most of the game. They went silent when the 76ers sucked the life out of the building with a 16-0 second half run, but the fans came alive down the stretch.

The 76ers won two of three games against Toronto in Philadelphia, both by healthy margins. Just imagine if Game 7 had been in Philly. Would the outcome have been different? It's not a stretch to think playing at home might have been worth at least three points for Philadelphia.

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