An NBA Championship run is long. Game 1 against Orlando was more than two months ago! And there were so many incredible moments during this postseason — one that ended with the Toronto Raptors as NBA Champions, in case you’re just getting back from a trip to Mars — that it can be easy to forget all the things that happened on the trip from there to here.
So, because I can apparently only write things in five-piece chunks, I’ve compiled my top five moments from this postseason run. I’ve tried to limit them to on-court moments; otherwise, Kyle Lowry lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy might be number one, followed by four scenes of the guys showering each other in champagne.
Let’s start with a few honourable mentions:
- Kawhi Leonard scores 37 points (on 21 shots) in a Game 2 blowout against Orlando: The first (of many) moments that showed us what we’d been waiting for, what load management was for, what “82 practice games” were for. Playoff Kawhi had arrived.
- Leonard and Pascal Siakam combine for 74 points as the Raptors blow out Philadelphia in Game 1. If the Orlando series didn’t tell you who Kawhi Leonard was, this game sure did. And it forced the 76ers to adjust their defense to stop Siakam — the ultimate sign of respect.
- Leonard’s two dunks in the second overtime in Game 3 against Milwaukee. This game turned Eastern Conference Finals around; it looked like Toronto would lose at multiple points, in which case — down 3-0 — this would be over. Leonard just wouldn’t let them lose. And they didn’t lose to Milwaukee again.
- Kyle Lowry-to-Leonard for the Giannis facial in Game 6. If there was any doubt Toronto was winning this series, this sequence — the steal by Lowry, the dish to Leonard, the dunk to give Toronto an eight-point lead after they trailed by double-digits — put them to rest. This was the toughest one to leave out of the top five.
- Lowry’s game-sealing three-pointer in Game 1 against Golden State. I’ll admit this game was pretty much over by the time Lowry hit this three, but as a game-capper, in the first Finals game in Toronto, and Toronto’s first-ever Finals win, for the longest-serving Raptor, there could be no better moment.
- Leonard scores 10 straight to nearly win Toronto the title in Game 5 against Golden State. I’ll still never forget this moment. Had they won that game, this would probably be #1.
All right, let’s countdown my top five moments from Toronto’s 2019 NBA title run:
5. Leonard’s game-sealing three-pointer in Game 4 against Philadelphia
It’s been well-documented by now, that the Game 3 loss to Philadelphia was the only real low point of this postseason for Toronto; in a 2-1 hole against a talented team that was bigger and more physical, if not necessarily better, than the Raptors, Toronto needed a spark. Leonard provided it — because of course he did — with 39 points on 20 shots and a huge three-pointer over Joel Embiid with two minutes to go. This is what Masai Ujiri brought Leonard here for, to create, take and make these shots in the biggest possible moments in the biggest possible games.
4. Kawhi’s 17-point third quarter in Game 4 against Golden State
Thanks to Fred VanVleet, we have the perfect way to describe how this run started: Eff-you three, steal, Eff-you three. By the time it was over, Toronto had outscored the Warriors 37-21, flipping the script on the Warriors and their well-documented third quarter dominance. With a 3-1 lead, and two more games at home, the idea of the Raptors becoming NBA Champions was now real.
3. The final seconds of Game 6 against Golden State
Uh, how is this not higher? How is this not #1!? Thank the Replay Center: The way Game 6 against Golden State ended has to be the most anti-climactic title-clinching moment in NBA history. From the minute Steph Curry missed his potential game winner to the time the final buzzer sounded, the game took an eternity to end and sapped so much emotion from the moment, turning it from a feeling of elation to a feeling of frustration that we can’t get to that feeling of elation... frankly, it kinda sucked. (And the fact that it started with a botched inbounds play, well, that took some steam out of it too.) All the amazing things that came after — the champagne celebrations, Kawhi and Kyle with Rachel Nichols, Lowry in the press room, all of that — made the frustration easy to quickly forget, but it kept that moment out of the #1 spot for me.
2. The Bounce.
As a singular moment, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen live in a basketball arena. I’ve watched the replays at least a hundred times. It will be the most replayed highlight, the signature moment from this title run. You could argue this should be #1, and I’d be fine with that; it’s the only Game 7 walk-off shot in NBA history, after all. It’s been immortalized on billboards and posters and will replayed in every montages for ages. But ultimately, it only won the Raptors a trip to the Conference Finals — a place they’d been before and something that, while a step on the path to their goal, wasn’t their goal.
1. The final seconds of Game 6 against Milwaukee
As with the final moments against Golden State, this moment was a bit marred by a review and a poor inbounds play, and then was delayed by a (pointless) Bucks timeout and a deflection out-of-bounds. But when Siakam hit his first free throw to make it a two-possession game, and when Leonard hauled in Siakam’s miss on the second attempt... man, what a feeling. And it came at home, which I think gives it the edge over the Golden State win. And of course, this, with three seconds to go, during that Bucks timeout...
I don’t think I’ve ever had a moment as a Raptors fan that brought so many emotions out in me, even in the title-clinching game and its aftermath. That elation on Kyle’s face, more than anything else, will stay with me, forever.
What were your favourite moments from the 2019 NBA Playoffs? Let us know in the comments!