For the first time in their 24-year franchise history, the Toronto Raptors are NBA Champions. They denied the Golden State Warriors a chance at a three-peat, downing the defending champions in six games.
The trade that sent franchise cornerstone Demar Derozan to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard will go down in history as one of the best and most important trades in NBA history. And Leonard himself moves up the ladder in the record books, notching his second NBA title with his second franchise.
The game was a thriller from start to finish. The Raptors were up 60-57 at halftime after the lead changed 14 times in the first half. Golden State would take a narrow two point lead into the fourth quarter before an unfortunate turn of events: Klay Thompson suffered a knee injury and had to be carried off the court. He actually came back to nail both free throws before being ruled out for the rest of the game.
Both teams were knotted at 91 a piece, then again at 101 a piece with 4:15 remaining in the game. Fred VanVleet, who was integral to Toronto’s offense, nailed a big three to go up 104-101, a few moments after sinking three free throws for the Raptors.
As the Warriors came back up the court, Draymond Green committed his 8th turnover and his second in the last few minutes, allowing the Raptors to extend their lead to 5. Kyle Lowry hit an off-balance fader to increase the lead to 6, but just as the Raptors were set to pull away, Green drilled a three-pointer to make it a one possession game.
DeMarcus Cousins hit some free throws of his own and then finished in the paint with the shot clock winding down to cut the margin to a razor-thin 109-108 deficit with 37 seconds left to play. After a timeout, Pascal Siakim used a good move to give Toronto some breathing room with a three point lead.
Then the free throw game appeared to begin with 18.5 seconds to play. Curry hit two at the line to make the score 111-110 Toronto. Then something peculiar happened: after inbounding the ball to Leoanrd, who found Danny Green, the Warriors were hesitant to foul, instead trying to force a turnover. Green’s errant pass (why didn’t he just hold on to the ball?) flew out of bounds and gave the Warriors their chance to win the game.
The Warriors drew up a great play, inbounding the ball to Green who quickly passed to a cutting Curry, who got a clean look at a game-winning three. The erratic rebound was corralled by Golden State, who called a timeout they didn’t have. The Warriors were assessed with a technical foul, giving the Raptors a free throw attempt and possession of the ball.
Leonard nailed his free throw, and after some foul confusion, Leonard hit two more to seal the franchise’s first ever NBA title.
Leonard capped off his incredible postseason with a 22 point outing, supported by Siakim (26), Lowry (26), VanVleet (22). Only eight Raptors players saw the court, and only six had to score for Toronto to win.
The Warriors nearly extended the series to seven games, even with Thompson (30), Iguodala (22), and Curry (21) getting little support offensively. Thompson’s late injury may have hampered a comeback attempt, but the game was still very much within reach until just seconds before the final buzzer.
Some may argue the championship comes with an asterisk, with Kevin Durant only making a mere cameo in the series. But a ring is a ring, and the Raptors earned theirs fair and scare.
Toronto becomes the first non-LeBron James led team to beat the Golden State Warriors in a playoff series since 2014, and the first non-LeBron Eastern Conference Team to win the Finals since the Boston Celtics in 2008.
To no one’s surprise, Kawhi Leonard was named Finals MVP for the 2nd time, and with a 2nd franchise.
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Header Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports
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