There is nothing like the joy when the team you root wins in dramatic fashion, and the city of Toronto got to feel that elation on Sunday when Kawhi Leonard’s shot bounced off the rim and in to give the Raptors a 92-90 victory in Game 7 over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The emotions overflowed in the arena and outside at Jurassic Park/Maple Leaf Square, just as they did in 2015 and 2016 when the Toronto Blue Jays made the American League Championship Series, but that euphoria might be tame by comparison had Auston Matthews or John Tavares scored in overtime of Game 7 against Boston.
The Blue Jays are the only franchise to win a major sports championship in the last 50 years and there is no doubt that the Raptors bringing an NBA title to Toronto would be meaningful. but the Leafs winning a Stanley Cup would be as cathartic to fans in the GTA as the Chicago Cubs winning after 108 years of futility or the Boston Red Sox ending the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004.
The sports landscape in Toronto is quite fluid. The Jays are going to take two or three years to return to contender status as they rebuild around Vladimir Guerrero Jr, the Raptors could remain among the NBA’s top echelon if Masai Ujiri’s gamble to acquire Leonard results in his re-signing with Toronto, but if he leaves via free agency this summer, they might be in rebuild mode as well.
It is quite ironic that the ecstasy of the Raptors win comes on the sixth anniversary of one of the most painful moments in Leafs history, the third-period collapse in Boston in Game 7. Only Nazem Kadri and soon-to-be ex-Leaf Jake Gardiner remain from the club that blew a three-goal lead to the Bruins, who went on to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013, and like six years ago Toronto may have been the most difficult hurdle for Boston on their path to another Cup appearance.
The Leafs are in that middle ground of being a good team (where the Raptors were before trading Demar DeRozan for Leonard), but are still too flawed in areas to get past more established or more balanced clubs. That puts GM Kyle Dubas in the position of having to make decisive moves this summer to get his club to the next level or staying with his current group and risking another disappointing result.
If Dubas uses Ujiri as a model of how to approach this critical off-season, the Leafs will look very different come the opening of training camp this September.
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