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Leonard, Raptors make historic run

Columnist Bruce Penton looks at the Toronto Raptors' playoff run
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Kawhi Leonard has joined some ultra exclusive company in the world of Canadian sports. He’ s in the Joe Carter atmosphere; the Paul Henderson galaxy. He made The Shot — the Game 7 last-mini-second heave from the corner of the court against Philadelphia that hit the rim, bounced once, twice, three times, then a fourth and then, almost as if the hand of Canadian basketball coaching legend Jack Donohue was guiding it, miraculously found nothing but net — to propel Toronto Raptors into the Eastern Conference final. And now, after a Leonard-led comeback against Milwaukee Bucks in the East final, into the NBA Finals, for the first time in their 24-year existence, against the favoured Golden State Warriors.

And through two games, so far, so good for the Raptors — a split of the first two games in Toronto.

Leonard, a San Antonio Spur with one year left on his contract last summer, was traded to the Raptors for former face-of-the-franchise DeMar DeRozan. While Leonard was obviously the team’s best player, fans’ focus on the newcomer centred primarily around his future: Could the Raptors sign him to a long-term deal? Would he come to love the city of Toronto? Is it true he wants to play with LeBron in L.A.? Would a Toronto NBA title impact his decision?

Canadians from Cape Spear to Ucluelet have bruises from jumping on the Raptors bandwagon as their playoff run gained speed, but only a Maple Leafs’ run to the Stanley Cup, which took another routine detour this season, could possibly surpass the sports hysteria the Raptors have created in Canada this spring.

Down 2-0 to the Bucks to start the Eastern final, Leonard, Kyle Lowry and breakout star Pascal Siakam picked up the Raptors and posted four straight victories to earn the right to take on the Warriors, who are in the NBA final for the, ho-hum, fifth straight year.

Win or lose — and the Raptors were Vegas underdogs, despite the early absence of Golden State’s Kevin Durant — the Raptors have taken over the Canadian sports world as the Blue Jays did in their World Series runs in 1992 and 1993. Raptors jerseys are flying off sports gear shops; TV ratings in Canada are through the roof; and next year, the name ‘Kawhi’ might be one of the more popular ones in Canadian maternity wards.

  • Janice Hough of “Finland won its third world hockey title,  3-1 victory over Canada.  And in Canada they’re thinking … who cares, our new national sport is basketball.”
  • Bob Molinaro of, with an NBA suggestion: “The courtside seat of rapper/Toronto Raptors fanatic Drake should come with a lap belt.”
  • Brad Rock of the Deseret News: “A hiking trail is planned that would span 3,700 miles, stretching from coast to coast. Apparently the Knicks will stop at nothing to show Kevin Durant how much they want him in New York.”
  • Headline in, next to a photo of Kevin Durant: “Employee Using Up Sick Days Before Leaving Company.”
  • Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Western Christian High School soccer player Caleb Dokter soared into the air on a corner kick and knocked in a goal with his butt in the Iowa High School Class 1A playoffs. If he got both cheeks on the ball, would that make it a doubleheader?”
  • Perry again: “The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is ‘involuntarily’ removing Division III powerhouse St. Thomas’ football program because of its “competitive” advantages. Translation: It wins too much. ‘You can do that?’ asked 31 NBA teams in unison.”
  • Reporter Dennis O’Donnell of the Bay Area’s KPIX-TV, after the Trail Blazers fan he was interviewing live predicted the Blazers — trailing in the series 3-0 — would beat the Warriors in seven games: “As you can see, cannabis is plentiful here in Portland.”
  • Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, after TV cameras captured golfer Jon Rahm urinating on a tree during the PGA Championship: “Must be what they mean by ‘livestreaming.'”
  • Comedy writer Brad Dickson, on the difference between football and horse racing: “Unlike the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl a couple years ago, Maximum Security still thinks he won.”
  • Greg Cote of the Miami Herald, after the sad sack Miami Marlins went on a late-May winning streak: “When you’re in the gutter, even the curb is a big step up.”
  • Headline at “Blues forced to forfeit Stanley Cup after exhausting annual travel budget.”
  • Comedy writer Jim Barach, after the NHL suspended the Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist for boarding the Bruins’ Matt Grzelcyk: “Apparently he hit him so hard he knocked the vowels out of both their names.”
  • Comedian Argus Hamilton, after President Trump shot a 112 while playing golf with Japanese Prime Minister Abe: “But insisted it’s a 68 after the exchange rate.”

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