Canada Clinches Its First NBA Title as Toronto Raptors Defeat the Golden State Warriors

Canadians descended upon Oracle Arena in Oakland on Thursday night, hoping to see the Toronto Raptors win their first NBA title, and the first “big four” (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL) North American pro sports championship for Canada since the Toronto Blue Jays secured their second straight World Series title way back in 1993 (the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup that same year; incredibly, no Canadian NHL team has won the Cup since). The Raptors’ supporters arrived from every province, it seemed, in Northern California, many wearing the garish purple jerseys — featuring an oversized red dribbling dinosaur — that the franchise sported in its inaugural years, when Toronto lost lots of basketball games.

When Game 6 was over and Toronto pulled out a 114-110 victory to win a third straight Finals game on the road — and clinch the series — Canadian fans refused to leave Oracle.

This was the last game in Oakland for the Warriors, winners of three of the past five NBA titles, before they move across the bay to San Francisco next season. But the Raptors’ fans had taken over the arena. Delirious, they filled dozens of rows in the aftermath of Toronto’s win, serenading NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, underappreciated All-Star Kyle Lowry, emerging superstar Pascal Siakam — who finished Game 6 with 26 points, on 10-17 shooting — and reserve guard Fred VanVleet, the overlooked, undrafted, none-too-athletic 6-footer who ripped the hearts out of the Warriors faithful with a dozen fourth quarter points. VanFleet outplayed Stephen Curry down the stretch.

Even as the team chugged from champagne bottles in the locker room, leaving them strewn all over the floor, fans lingered outside. “It feels so good to shut this place down,” says Ankura Tayal, 36, a chiropractor from Victoria, British Columbia. “Respectfully.”

Entering these NBA playoffs, Toronto hadn’t earned too much respect from many hoops pundits, despite finishing regular season with the second-best record in the league. Five straight playoff exits will earn you plenty of doubters. Milwaukee, with MVP candidate Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, Philadelphia, and even Boston — a talented team that could never quite rally around Kyrie Irving — were trendier picks to win the Eastern conference. But Toronto? Sure, the Raptors had Leonard, the league’s most unassuming, keep-to-himself superstar. But Toronto didn’t feature any flashy lottery picks. VanFleet, for one, was undrafted out of Wichita State. “It’s not the glam stars,” says Van Fleet. “None of our guys probably, other than Kawhi, are in that big boy fan club or the fan boy club of the NBA.”

Sure, the Raptors benefitted from Golden State’s surreal rash of injuries. Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles after playing just 12 minutes in Game 5, his only appearance of the Finals. Klay Thompson was torching Toronto in Game 6 — he had 30 points in third quarter when Toronto’s Danny Green fouled him on a dunk attempt. Thompson landed awkwardly on his knee, but told his coach, Steve Kerr, that he’d need just a two minute rest. Thompson tore his ACL. Both Durant and Thompson are free agents coming up this summer, but could both miss significant portions of next season recovering from their ailments, muddling the plans of both Golden State and the teams that planned on pursuing Durant. (Thompson will almost certainly re-sign with the Warriors.)

Even though Golden State lost a lot of firepower these finals, the Raptors earned the title. Toronto withstood inspired performances from Golden State veterans like Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green: Iguodala finshed with 22 points on 3-6 shooting from three-point range, while Green recorded a triple double: 11 points, 19 rebounds, 13 assists. Curry had a chance to put Golden State up a point in the final seconds, but his three-pointer under pressure bounced off the rim.

Lowry, for one, came out firing in Game 6, scoring ten points in just over two minutes to become the fastest double-digit scorer in the NBA Finals in at least 43 years: He finished with 26. Toronto’s path to the title started last summer, when the team traded popular All-Star DeMar DeRozan — Lowry’s closest friend on the team — to San Antonio for Leonard, another free agent this summer who had expressed no interest in playing in Toronto. So the Raptors took a calculated risk. Rent Leonard for a year, perhaps, but give themselves a better chance at a championship. Lowry felt betrayed. Leonard reached out to him. “I texted Kyle probably a day later — or the day I got traded and told him let’s go out and do something special,” says Leonard. “I know your best friend left. I know you’re mad. But let’s make this thing work out. And here we are today.”

Raising the championship trophy, Canada’s NBA first.

Sports – TIME


The Toronto Raptors Respond to Stephen Curry’s Onslaught, Over and Over

Every time Stephen Curry and the injury-addled Golden State Warriors cut a deficit against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, every time Oracle Arena was ready to raise its ample decibels and will the Warriors to yet another victory, the Toronto Raptors had an answer that deflated all of Oakland, shot after shot after shot.

Curry, who scored his postseason career high of 47 points, hit a 32-foot pull-up jumper late in the first quarter to cut a lead to four. Danny Green, whose playoff shooting struggles led earnest Raptors fans to stop him in the street and encourage him to keep firing away, countered with a three of his own. Curry sunk a fourth quarter shot to trim the lead to 11. Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, an All-Star who’s played, according to his critics, an all-too second fiddle to Kawhi Leonard, did one better, with a step back three from deep to push it back to 14. Curry hit three free throws to make it a seven point game in the fourth. Toronto big man Serge Ibaka took a deep two—the most inefficient shot in basketball—and nailed it, rendering it plenty efficient, and giving Toronto more of a cushion.

Every Raptor on the court, it seemed, had an answer for Curry. A Curry steal and two foul shots cut Toronto’s lead to 10 with over three minutes left, which was striking distance for the Warriors, given their three-point prowess. Marc Gasol, however, took the air out of Oracle with a spinning turnaround hook that kind of looked like horse-bleep, but fell. A few minutes later, Fred VanVleet provided the final blow—he launched a three over Draymond Green, like a little kid tossing a prayer against his brother in driveway one-on-one. Swish. Toronto’s lead increased to 15 points with just over 90 seconds left. Golden State coach Steve Kerr called time out and cleared the bench.

Every time a Raptor saw a teammate make a timely bucket, he was inspired to do the same. “When you see shots go in, it could be contagious,” says Danny Green, who finished 6 for 10 from three-point range, taking the fan advice to keep shooting to heart. “Luckily it was tonight.”

Toronto’s 123-109 win over Golden State leaves the Raptors just two victories away from Canada’s first-ever NBA championship. Golden State needs Kevin Durant, who hasn’t played since May 8 because of a calf injury, and Klay Thompson, who missed Game 3 because of a hamstring strain he suffered in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, to heal fast. Without two future Hall of Famers, Curry had to bear too much of the scoring load, sort of like how LeBron James was forced to carry the undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 and 2018 Finals. The Cavs lost both those series.

Leonard led Toronto with 30 points, but Lowry’s offensive reemergence—he finished with 23 points on five threes—is particularly concerning for Golden State. Before the game, someone wrote “Let It Rip” on a board in the Toronto locker room. Lowry told Toronto coach Nick Nurse that he’d honor that directive. Nurse had wondered if Lowry wrote the message. “I don’t know who the f–k did it,” says Lowry. “I don’t even care. That was our team’s motto tonight, be aggressive. My job was to score a little bit more.”

Ibaka’s job, meanwhile, was to stuff every Golden State shot out of the sky. Ibaka finished with six rejections in just 22 minutes of action. His performance sent a message: Golden State needs to think twice before driving to the basket. When asked which swat was the most important, Ibaka couldn’t quite answer. “I don’t remember,” says Ibaka. “I had so many.”

We should all have such problems.

After the Warriors swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, without Durant, many pundits thought their fourth title in five years was a mere formality. That’s no longer the case, especially with these new injuries to Thompson and the effective, under-appreciated big man Kevon Looney, who suffered a chest contusion in Game 2 and is out for the rest of the finals. Still, the Warriors know they’re generating little sympathy. “No one cares if guys are hurt,” says Draymond Green. “Everybody wants to see us lose. So I’m sure people are happy they’re hurt.”

Curry, for one, won’t panic. “It’s a long series you know,” he says. “It’s going to be fun for us.”

The fun needs to start soon.

Sports – TIME


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