Kawhi Leonard’s rainbow arc game-winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals over Philadelphia — a buzzer-beating miracle that bounced on the rim four separate times, for 1.8 seconds, before falling through — was historic the second it went down. And that shot will arguably become even more iconic if and when the Toronto Raptors dethrone the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty in the coming days. Few shots have provided that sort of drama while also indirectly ushering in what figures to be a changing of the guard in the sport as we know it.
Because of that shot, it’s been hard not to notice the others that have all but taken up residence on the cylinder at Scotiabank Arena. “Those rims are really soft,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said.
But do shots really hang on the rims more in Toronto? Will the Raptors have some hidden advantage when they take their home court and try to close out the NBA Finals in Game 5? As it turns out, yes, the Raptors’ jump shots do roll on and around the rim longer in Toronto than other teams’ jumpers do in their respective arenas. But no, that isn’t somehow evidence of anything underhanded at play.
In an analysis of Second Spectrum shot-tracking data run by Matt Scott of STATS SportVU, we looked at all jumpers of 10 feet or greater, both in the regular season and the playoffs, and pulled the time measured between when the ball hit the rim and when it left the vicinity of the cylinder for a miss or went through the net for a make. The Raptors’ jump-shot attempts at home this postseason have bounced on or around the rim for an average of 0.224 seconds, the longest of any team to advance beyond the first round.1
|TEAM||BALL IN VICINITY OF RIM|
Toronto’s made jumpers throughout the playoffs have been by far the most suspenseful of those of any of the final eight teams, taking an average of 0.117 seconds to fall into the basket. That hang time was 44 percent longer than the average of the other seven clubs. And looking at a larger sample size doesn’t change much about the result: At an average of 0.108 seconds, the Raptors’ successful regular-season jumpers at Scotiabank Arena took longer to fall through the basket than any other team’s makes on their home courts, too, according to the SportVU analysis. You might remember that Leonard hit a game-winner in March against Portland — a fadeaway from Scotiabank’s right baseline, with the shooter’s bounce and all — that looked almost identical to the one he would eventually make against Philadelphia.
To be clear, even though the Raptors have the longest hang time at home, their numbers are far from an outlier in the data set. The arena did have an odd rim-related issue last season, when officials had to delay a game because one of the rims was slightly crooked and required an adjustment. But no one could look at the numbers presented here and realistically suggest that anything about them is crooked, or that the arena’s rims are fundamentally different from others in the NBA.
Still, there’s no doubting the fact that Toronto has gotten a couple of very friendly bounces over the course of the playoffs — not just from Leonard, but also from Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, who told me somewhat candidly, “I hate our rims.” (While that might sound odd, given his incredible hot streak lately, VanVleet had struggled mightily the last two postseasons from the perimeter.)
There are a number of potential factors to consider with unusual data like this. One counterintuitive example: A team with dead-eye shooters, for instance, often won’t get opportunities for much hang time on the rim because their jumpers will swish through the net, registering a minuscule amount of time around the basket as a result. At the same time, though, players and teams who use considerable arc might be better positioned to get a beneficial bounce or roll, regardless of how soft or tight the rims are.2 And no team has put more air under its 3-pointers this postseason than Golden State.
In fact, while the Raptors’ shots have had the most hang time on the rim during home games, the Warriors have seen the league’s biggest home-road disparity in terms of how much longer the ball has teetered on the basket while playing in familiar confines. Golden State’s jumpers have stayed in the vicinity of the rim 0.02 seconds longer at Oracle Arena this postseason than on the road, by far the biggest gap of any playoff club. By contrast, Toronto’s shots actually hang near the rim slightly longer on the road than they do at home, so it’s hard to claim a soft-rim advantage at home for the Raptors.
|TEAM||ADDED HANGTIME AT HOME|
The notion of shot arc is where Leonard’s series-ending jumper comes into play. While Kawhi generally doesn’t put much arc on his shots at all, he had to loft the one against Philly over the outstretched hand of 7-footer Joel Embiid to avoid having it blocked. Leonard’s shot reached a peak height of 18.2 feet before bouncing on the rim — a night-and-day difference from the league-average peak height of just 15.1 feet. The extra height almost certainly gave the shot a greater chance of going in from a physics standpoint.
And that shot is the first thing that comes to mind now whenever the Raptors benefit from seemingly lucky bounces. VanVleet, even with his expressed hate for the Toronto rims, has fully leaned into the idea that something magical — with the baskets or otherwise — is happening here.
“I think we’ve got a special thing going. Just kind of the aura, and the magic in the air, you can feel it a little bit,” VanVleet told me. “We have a lot to do with that, our fans have a lot to do with that, and things are just going the right way for us.”
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