Toronto’s magical playoff run came to end last night. The outcome was a juuuust little different than the endings we’ve seen in the past: This time, the Toronto Raptors are NBA Champions!
After 24 years, seven Kyle Lowry seasons, six straight playoff appearances since Masai Ujiri arrived, three hard-fought rounds and three straight road wins in the NBA Finals, the Raptors did it.
They really did it.
I’m running on about three hours of sleep and last night is a blur, but here are a few thoughts on Game 6:
Kyle Lowry [heart emojis]
With Oracle Arena about to explode, a good start was critical for the Raptors; keeping that raucous crowd quiet was key. Kyle Lowry clearly got the message! Layup, three, three, three and it was 11-2 Toronto: A perfect road start.
Kyle finished the first half with 21 points, and although he was slowed with foul trouble in the second, hit a ridiculous bouncing fadeaway with two minutes to go that gave the Raptors a six-point lead. He finished the game with a pretty impressive stat line:
Kyle Lowry is just the seventh different player in NBA history to record at least 25 points and 10 assists in a Finals-clinching win. The others are LeBron James (2x), Walt Frazier, Larry Bird, James Worthy, Michael Jordan, and Stephen Curry.— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) June 14, 2019
Throw in seven boards and three steals to that stat line, and four three-pointers made, by the way. Lowry averaged 16 points, 4 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.7 steals in the Finals, and shot 37% from downtown. He finishes this postseason averaging 14.6, 4.0, 6.5 and 1.2 on 43/35/81 shooting splits. He’s an NBA Champion, and hopefully, has forever silenced his postseason critics.
For me, and I suspect for most long-time fans, seeing Kyle get his “Gold Ball” is the sweetest part of this entire run. I was feeling all kinds of emotions as the clock ticked down and over the next couple hours as I watched the city celebrate, but I didn’t tear up until this moment:
How good was Fred VanVleet (Sr.) last night? I can’t say it any better than this:
still a whole lot happening right now but wanted to say:— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) June 14, 2019
FRED VANVLEET played the entire fourth, scored 12 of his 22 in the fourth where he was 3-for-5 from the floor, all three-point attempts, and 3-for-3 from the line. he tied the game or gave the Raptors the lead four times.
What a sensational, unbelievable game, and series, from Fred VanVleet. Guarding Stephen Curry every minute he was on the floor, hitting tons of huge, and difficult shots, taking an elbow to the face, getting stitches and breaking a tooth...
What can you say? He’s the smallest guy on the floor, but he was absolutely huge in this series. And he was almost unplayable through the Philadelphia series and the first two games of the Milwaukee series! An incredible turnaround.
Win as a Team
Kawhi Leonard deservingly won the Finals MVP Award, but it was great to see such an even distribution of shot attempts and scoring: Five Raptors were in double-figures, and all five of them shot between 12 and 17 times. Leonard missed nine of his 16 shots and only scored 22, but Lowry set the pace early, Pascal Siakam was consistent scoring throughout, and VanVleet finished strong. Serge Ibaka brought more energy and defense off the bench, picking up for an off night from Marc Gasol. Norman Powell didn’t score but was active on defense in his 10 minutes.
And that’s been the case all series. Leonard carried the Raptors at times this postseason, especially against Philadelphia (I still can’t believe those 39 shots in Game 7), but in the Finals, everyone contributed. Not every night — Gasol, Powell and Danny Green missed all their field goal attempts last night — but different players stepped up on different nights. And that depth, the ability to get scoring and defense up and down the roster, was critical to winning this series.
Nearly The Most Raptors Moment Ever
So, who else had an “oh, of course” moment when Danny Green threw that pass away with nine seconds to go? And who nearly vomited on the spot when Stephen Curry rose to shoot the ensuing three-pointer?
He missed it (unbelievably) and the Raptors (eventually) ran out the clock. But I can still picture that Green pass in my head, and I can still play out the what-ifs, including Steph splashing that three and that building going absolutely insane.
And if you know your Raptors history, you know that’s the sort of thing that usually happens — or at least, that’s how it feels. But this year, obviously, has been different. Those mistakes haven’t bitten them, or broken their mental focus. Those bounces have gone our way, instead of rimming out.
Think back to Game 1 against Cleveland last year. How many times did Fred VanVleet’s potential game-winner, and Jonas Valanciunas’ tip-in attempt, and DeMar DeRozan’s tip-in attempt, and C.J. Miles’ tip-in attempt, touch the rim without going in?
This year, those bounces have gone through the hoop. And that Raptors misery, the “Raptorsing” as our man Daniel Reynolds calls it, is done. It’s over.
Dethroning the Champs
No team is ever crowned champion without a little luck and without a few of those bounces going their way. The Raptors had their share of bounces in this run, from the legendary (Kawhi’s Game 7 winner against Philly) to the subtle (Kyle’s bouncer last night); and of course, Golden State’s unfortunate injury luck worked in their favour.
None of that should discount how incredible the Warriors were last night, and in Game 5, and across this whole series. I cannot even put into words how terrifying Klay Thompson was last night before his terrible knee injury; he simply couldn’t miss. Game 6 Klay is absolutely ridiculous. Kevin Durant, Kevon Looney, a poorly conditioned DeMarcus Cousins, a banged-up Andre Igoudala (who was unbelievable last night)... last night the Warriors played a Cousins-Looney-Thompson-Shaun Livingston-Quinn Cook lineup in the second quarter that had never played together this entire season. In Game 6 of the Finals!
And the Warriors never quit, despite all that adversity. They made the Raptors earn this championship.
When I woke up this morning, my two cats, Gordon and Joseph were sitting on the bed, waiting for me to get up. I looked at them, gave Joseph a scratch behind the ears and said, “guys... we’re the champs.”
NBA Champions. How sweet it is.