Kawhi Leonard
Photo Credit: Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images


How Kawhi Leonard Changed the NBA Landscape in 2020



The date was May 12, 2019. It was another typical Sunday; but for basketball fans, it was an action-packed day filled with two game-sevens.


Earlier in the day, CJ McCollum poured in a game-high 37 points to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to an upset victory on the road over the Denver Nuggets. Usually scoring 37 points would make you the story of the day, but something monumental happened later that night that would steal all the headlines and make McCollum an afterthought.


Photo Credit: Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images

In the other game seven, the Toronto Raptors were hosting the Philadelphia 76ers in a game that would conclude a wild back-and-forth series. That game would go on to be one of the most entertaining games of the season with a finish that will be remembered forever.

With 4.2 seconds left on the clock, Kawhi Leonard hoisted up a fadeaway over the arms of Joel Embiid in the far corner near the Toronto bench. The next four seconds felt like an eternity as everyone in the arena held their breath to see if Leonard’s shot would drop.

The ball bounced off of the rim FOUR times before finally dropping into the basket. In that next second an entire arena, city, and country erupted. Leonard had just made the game-winning, series-clinching shot to cap off a 41 point performance and send Toronto into the next round.


The Raptors would go on to win the championship, their first in franchise history, and Leonard won Finals MVP.


Photo Credit: KSAT.com

A year later, everyone remembers that shot the most when they think about the Raptors’ championship run. The funny thing about it is that shot was not in The Finals nor the conference finals, it was only in the second round. 

Toronto would have to defeat regular-season MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in another rough back-and-forth series in the next round. Winning the championship was no easy task for them either, as they had to take down the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in The Finals. Despite being so early in the playoffs, that game-winning shot was the defining moment and most cherished from their memorable postseason run.

Putting an end to the Warriors dynasty set the tone for major change and ultimately altered the landscape of the NBA. With the season over, everyone had their eyes set on what was to be an eventful free agency period. The man who had the whole world wondering what he was going to do happened to be the very same man who made the shot.


The year prior, Leonard was traded out of his control from San Antonio to Toronto. Just a year later, Kawhi had total control as he held the cards over the entire NBA landscape.


Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images

Defeating Golden State possibly led to Kevin Durant leaving to team up with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. Russell Westbrook was traded to Houston to reunite with James Harden. Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers to be with LeBron. But the biggest bomb of the offseason belonged to Leonard when he announced that he was going to join the Clippers, and he was not going alone. Jerry West and the Clippers were able to pull off a trade to have Paul George team up with Leonard in LA.


With his decision made and the other dominoes falling in free agency afterward, we were set for an entertaining and unpredictable NBA season. The regular season ran its course with excitement, and we were all looking forward to the postseason that was only a month away. Then the season was suddenly halted by the Coronavirus.


Although not yet confirmed, at the time of this writing most sources have pointed at a mid-July return for the NBA season with the playoffs being played in Orlando and/or Las Vegas. Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen.

A lot of people forget about the circumstances surrounding the Raptors when Leonard took that shot. If he had missed that shot, they would have gone into overtime with the Sixers. Leading up to that shot, that fourth quarter was a back and forth battle that could have gone either way.

Although he finished the game shooting 5/14 from the field, Jimmy Butler was heating up in that fourth quarter which included scoring the game-tying bucket that preceded Leonard’s shot. To this day, I still believe that Butler would have led the Sixers to victory if that game would have gone into overtime. Obviously, that did not happen. Toronto won that game and eventually became champions. 

Leonard made history that day with the legendary and memorable shot that miraculously bounced off the rim four times before going in. It is a moment that Raptors fans and basketball fans will remember forever. (Sorry, Sixers fans.) A year later, we celebrate it as the shot that changed the landscape of the NBA forever.


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Isaiah Torres

Twitter: Isaiah_Torres24


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