Kawhi Leonard’s “Shot Heard ‘Round Canada”

Kawhi Leonard’s “Shot Heard ‘Round Canada”

New stars are shining in this NBA playoff season

NBA fans were treated to not one, but two Game 7's this past Sunday. Both of them turned out to be fantastic, with a grand total of six points separating the winners from the losers.

With a lackluster PGA field at the Byron Nelson serving as the only real competition for ratings, my television was glued to the NBA playoffs all day long. Between Kawhi Leonard's "Shot Heard 'Round Canada" and CJ McCollum's signature chase-down blocked shot, the highlight moments were plentiful. The day must be considered a huge win for the Association.

And to think that we were sold a narrative that the NBA Playoffs would be a yawner without LeBron. Don't buy it folks. There is still plenty to see here. For starters, let's give a nod to the teams that were eliminated on Sunday, the Philadelphia 76'ers and the Denver Nuggets.

Philadelphia finally took "The Process" to the next level. Having drafted and developed both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, the process was expedited with the additions of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Philly's front office spoke about having championship expectations this season and while that obviously won't occur, they did advance past the first round. Jimmy Butler proved to be a team leader and if this team can convince him and/or Harris to stay in the City of Brotherly Love, they may just be scratching the surface.

Speaking of just scratching the surface, that certainly appears to be the case with the Denver Nuggets. This is the team that I probably enjoyed watching the most so far in the playoffs. In an era of free agency super teams, how cool is it to see a collection of players that was almost 100% organically drafted and developed.

Denver has two rising stars in Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. They have tremendous young complimentary pieces like Gary Harris. They also have a 48-year old head coach whose stock appears to be as high as any coach’s in the league. While the 2019 season may be over for Denver, I am buying stock in the Nuggets future and can’t wait to continue watching the growth of Jokic. 

Kawhi Leonard used the series against the Sixers to remind the world that not only is he a tremendous player, but that he's capable of kicking it up a notch in the postseason. In fact, he's been the best player in the playoffs in my estimation. While we still face an offseason of uncertainty surrounding his future, he's starting to feel like a long-term Raptor to me.

If Leonard stays, he'll have a budding star to team up with in Pascal Siakam. Perhaps no player's reputation has risen more in the 2019 postseason than Siakam’s, going from the guy with the interesting name, to a name to remember going forward. That says nothing of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and other proven players. It certainly feels like something special is brewing in Toronto. The Kawhi deal was a big risk for Toronto, but one that may just pay off.

And how about those Portland Trail Blazers? Damian Lillard was already established as a borderline star, but his stock soared with a first-round buzzer beater and a 50-point performance. Then Sunday, it was CJ McCollum's turn with the heroics as he paced Portland offensively and made the defensive play of the game.

While we'd long known of the potential of this tandem, it now feels like they are a force to be reckoned with for the next 4-5 years. So sure, watching LeBron chase a fourth title while continuing to add to his legacy would've been fun.  And perhaps we'll get to see that next year. But don't think for one second that this year's playoffs have disappointed. With or without the King, the playoffs have been fascinating. 

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Tom Hoggard is sports director/media consultant at East Carolina Radio. He hosts the Outer Banks Sports Report on 98.1 The Score Monday through Friday from 7 to 9 a.m.

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