For the first time in their 24 years of existence, the Toronto Raptors are NBA champions.
Behind 22-plus points from four different players, including 26 apiece for Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors found just enough to dethrone the Golden State Warriors 114-110 on Thursday night.
Kawhi Leonard captured the Finals MVP, making him a two-time winner after taking home the hardware with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014.
The Warriors offered as much resistance as they could, but in the end they couldn’t overcome their injury woes or the Raptors’ depth advantage. After losing Kevin Durant to a ruptured Achilles in Game 5, they watched Klay Thompson exit with a left knee injury and never return. The sharpshooter had already scored 30 points at that point, going 8-of-12 from the field, 4-of-6 outside and 10-of-10 at the line.
Playing in its fifth consecutive NBA Finals, Golden State ran out of gas. After averaging 29.3 points over the first three quarters, it managed just 22 in the final frame. The Raptors blanketed Stephen Curry with the seldom-used (at the NBA level, at least) box-and-one coverage, and he couldn’t get loose, finishing with 21 points on 6-of-17 shooting (3-of-11 from three).
Toronto didn’t miss opportunity’s knock.
Lowry was brilliant, dropping a team-high 10 dimes and posting a game-high plus-16 rating. Siakam was everywhere, snaring 10 rebounds and hitting 10-of-17 shots. Leonard may not have played his best game, but no one should scoff at 22 points, six boards, three assists, two steals and a block in a championship-clincher on the road. Fred VanVleet continued his breakout with 22 points and five triples.
The Raptors looked like the best team for much of this series, and that continued Thursday night. They outscored the Warriors in three of the four quarters in Game 6 and 17 of the 24 periods for the series, with two of the remaining seven quarters ending in a tie.
“They’re a fantastic basketball team-great defensively, share the ball, play a beautiful style, a lot of great two-way players, a lot of veteran players who have been in this league contributing for a long time,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters. “… Winning a championship is the ultimate in this league, and they’ve got a lot of guys who have earned this.”
In the moment, it’s fair to play the “What if?” game, since Golden State was down two All-Stars by the end of it. But the history books will only remember which team came out on top.
Two moments stand out as tide-turners for Toronto.
Pascal Siakam’s Game 1 Eruption
The first clash in a series is always a feeling-out process, especially for two unfamiliar opponents.
Surely, the Warriors knew they were in for a fight before the series ever started. The Raptors won 58 games and had the third-best net efficiency rating in the regular season after all.
But Golden State could’ve never prepared for Siakam’s 32-point uppercut in the opener. He came into the series with more single-digit scoring efforts (three) than games with more than 25 points (two) this postseason, then promptly torched the Dubs for 32 on an absurd 14-of-17 shooting.
That performance showed two things about this team.
The first being that it was unafraid. On paper, Siakam doesn’t have the pedigree or the production of the Warriors’ more high-profile players, but that didn’t matter once the opening tip was tossed.
“We know that they’re human,” Leonard said afterward. “They’re a great basketball team, talented players, high basketball-IQ players. You just got to go out there and compete, take the challenge.”
The second lesson delivered that night was the Raptors had a lot of different ways they could come out on top. They knew Siakam probably wouldn’t explode like that again, but they also knew they didn’t necessarily need him to. In their Game 3 win, Danny Green provided an 18-point jolt on 6-of-10 three-point sniping. In Game 4, Serge Ibaka tallied 20 points in less than 22 minutes.
VanVleet, undrafted out of Wichita State just three years back, was flat-out awesome. He pestered Curry as well as anyone can and did his own Human Torch impression by hitting 16-of-40 from long range (40.0 percent).
Kyle Lowry’s Torrid Game 6 Start
The Raptors had reasons to be nervous about Game 6, even with the knowledge Durant wouldn’t be involved.
They didn’t have momentum, since they let a late lead slip away in Game 5. They still had to contend with the Splash Brothers, who had scorched them three nights prior. They were up against a raucous crowd at Oracle Arena’s last game ever. They would’ve faced all the pressure in the world going back to Toronto for a winner-take-all Game 7 after squandering a 3-1 lead.
Since this Toronto core was making its debut playoff run, there was no telling how it would’ve reacted to getting smacked in the mouth to open Game 6.
But Lowry never let that happen. Before the Warriors had time to process what happened, Lowry put them in an 11-2 hole in less than two-and-a-half minutes.
That set the tone for Toronto’s night. No matter what Golden State could put together, Toronto always had an answer-and Lowry was often at the center of it. By the night’s end, he’d join Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley as the only players to ever tally 26 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three steals in an NBA Finals game.
Not bad for someone with the reputation of coming up short in the playoffs.
“For him to play so great in the playoffs-he hasn’t had some great playoff series-and for him to play so great, I couldn’t be happier for him,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said on NBATV.