It was midway through the third quarter. The Warriors had just called a timeout up by two, 58-56. My brother turns to me and asks, “if someone had shown you a photo of this moment in 2013, would you have believed it?”
In short, no. But who would? Both these teams have had unbelievable journeys. The Warriors had just made their first playoff appearance since the 2006-07 “We Believe” Warriors, which at that time in 2007 was the best story in basketball and the pinnacle for 2000s era Warriors fandom. They pulled off the first round upset against the third seed Nuggets in six games before falling to San Antonio in the following round. As for the Raptors, they were in the final year of the Andrea Bargnani Era and were desperately looking for something, anything, to instil hope in the franchise. What they did was manage to snatch the 2013 Executive of the Year from Denver. His name was Masai Ujiri.
We like to harken back to the days when things were better. For Golden State it was the 06-07 squad, for Toronto, Vince Carter. However, the things that have happened since 2013 for both these franchises have altered our thoughts of what the good days are. Since the 2014-15 season, Golden State has made the Finals each year, winning three titles in the past four seasons. The main cog in this run, Steph Curry, so prolific in his ability to make NBA teams question the very foundations of their defense, has inspired a generation of kids who all want to shoot from 30+ft and some are already in the league (see Trae Young). This is a dynasty — and no one can deny it.
The other franchise, the one that has been a bottom dweller for the majority of their 24 year existence, has gone through their best run in franchise history. Ujiri has worked wonders and we know this. To me, it’s still unfathomable how all this turned out for Toronto. There’s a part of me that expects to wake up and prepare myself to watch a Game 3 against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with the Raptors down 0-2. In a league that historically has such few winners, the reality that the Raptors are in this position is something I cannot put into words.
There’s very little in terms of tactics and strategies we can discuss. This game will come down to the journey, experience, and a will to win. All I can say is, guys, the moment is here. Toronto is one game – 48 minutes – away from being crowned NBA Champion. Here are the details for tonight’s historic contest.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 9:00 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Golden State – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins
Toronto – none
Golden State – Kevin Durant (calf – questionable)
A Kawhi-et Confidence
Toronto is just returning from pulling out two wins at the Oracle. They’ve won a road game in every series this postseason. They have won in places that have been fortresses this season, as their opponents since the conference semi-finals had won 76.4 percent of their home games in the regular season. It was in Game 4 at the Wells Fargo Center, on the brink of being on the brink, the Raptors pulled out a big win to reclaim home court advantage. Again, against Milwaukee in Game 5 to swing the series. The poise the Raptors have shown all postseason have helped them escape some very sticky situations.
Different players, same tune. The Raptors are all in sync pic.twitter.com/ZY2bnlnBs0— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) June 9, 2019
Kawhi Leonard and his demeanour has been a major factor in Toronto’s ability to stay even keeled. Whether it’s in bad losses like Game 3 in Philly or spectacular wins like Game 4 against the Warriors, Kawhi — and by proxy the rest of the squad — have shown incredible composure. It’s reminiscent of the 1994-95 Houston Rockets led by another quiet superstar in Hakeem Olajuwon. The Rockets title run that season, while being the lower seed in every series, had a veteran group who showed the ability to stay cool, calm, and collected. Much like the Raptors, they were down in the first and second rounds before they played their best basketball in the next two rounds. The Raptors know how it feels to have an unshakeable superstar and its pushing them to their best season ever.
Destiny vs. Dynasty
When Kawhi’s jumper in Game 7 against the Sixers bounced four times before falling in, there was a hint that it was destined. When Toronto rattled off four straight wins against a team that had not lost more than two times in a row all season to book the first Finals appearance in franchise history, there was a little less doubt that it was destined. When a team that was so dominant and heavily favoured started feeling the effects of prolonged runs and subsequently started dropping like flies, all doubt was removed. This was destined. It’s the battle of destiny vs. dynasty, and it seems destiny is winning this round.
Even saying that, we know that eventually all dynasties in the NBA must come to an end. The Los Angeles Lakers dynasty ended in 2004 when they fell to the Detroit Pistons in just five games. The Miami Heat dynasty fell similarly to the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, also in just five games. Both these squads had felt the physical and emotional let down of being at the top of the mountain for so long. The Lakers went to four Finals in a five year span. The Heat went to four straight finals from 2011-2014. Now, it’s the Warriors, going to five straight finals. All these squads faced a hungrier team. Much of the future of Golden State lies in the decision of two men, but as of today, they face a squad with a single belief that its finally their time, their destiny.
From Dream to Reality
In David Simon’s HBO series, The Wire, there’s a scene where two lifelong friends are standing on a roof overlooking the harbour. Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale reminisce about their youth and how they made names for themselves. In the middle of the conversation, Avon asks Stringer to dream with him. Stringer replies, “We ain’t gotta dream no more man.”
To fans of the Raptors, the city of Toronto, and the country of Canada, we ain’t gotta dream no more. All those years where all we did was dream of the day the Raptors could be in this position. Dream of the day we get a transcendent superstar, dream of the day where all the pain of disappointment and devastation leads to a magnificent victory. The Toronto Raptors, the pride and joy for so many of us, are in prime position to win the most prestigious award in all of basketball. The Larry O’Brien trophy is 48 minutes of great basketball away from finally calling Canada home.