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We’ll always look back fondly on the 2019 NBA playoffs, when the Toronto Raptors won it all. Although it began in startling fashion — we should all forget Kyle Lowry’s zero-point Game 1 loss against the Orlando Magic — it ended in triumph, with Lowry at his finest, and Kawhi Leonard lifting the Finals MVP trophy.
Here are the best moments from the Raptors’ playoff run, which culminated in the first title in franchise history. Feel free to send suggestions, the more the merrier, it’s busy on the cutting room floor.
Kawhi, Lowry share touching moment with Finals MVP trophy
We all know Kawhi Leonard is a man of few words, a point that was belaboured throughout the entire 2018-19 campaign. The payoff was well worth it.
Leonard was elated after winning his second title and Finals MVP of his career and shared the moment with Lowry, who was somewhat shy about holding the individual award. Everyone wanted to know how Kawhi was as a teammate and it’s clear he was beloved in the locker room, even if he didn’t always want to be vocal.
Also, Kawhi refers to the Larry O’Brien Trophy as the ‘Larry O-B’ so it’s the Larry O-B now. Proceed accordingly.
The city of Toronto begins the party of a lifetime
It’s been 26 years since a team in the major four North American professional sports won a championship, and Toronto was starved for a title until Thursday. The drought is over and the city kicked off the party of a lifetime which I can safely report, is going well into the weekend.
Only in Toronto!
She’s in love with who I am.
We clean up nice, too.
Kawhi Leonard will forever be a civic hero, and if you don’t know the story of the board man getting paid, well, this next moment is for you.
Board man gets paid
The Athletic’s Jayson Jenks wrote a story about Kawhi’s high school and collegiate career, providing further insight into what makes the NBA’s most mysterious star tick. And boy, did it provide some real gems, including a line that will forever serve as a greeting, an exclamation, and an affirmation in Toronto.
Leonard’s teammates revealed that he was fond of saying ‘bucket’ or similarly short phrases upon scoring or locking up his opponent. The undeniable favourite, however, is that Leonard used to say “board man gets paid” upon securing rebounds. We know he’s a fun guy and it only further endeared Leonard to Raptors fans everywhere.
Board man gets paid, indeed, Kawhi.
A champagne-drenched Kawhi busts a move in the locker room
This one doesn’t need much explanation. Kawhi’s dance moves, like everything else in his arsenal, are simply spectacular.
Bet on yourself
Fred VanVleet was mired in a horrific shooting slump. He shot a ghastly 12.9 percent from the field during Toronto’s second-round series against Philadelphia and the fans were quickly losing confidence in him. Luckily, VanVleet’s motto has always been to bet on himself, and he emerged as one of the real heroes of the title run.
After the birth of Fred’s son, Fred Jr., on May 20, VanVleet’s entire game turned around, capping off one of the most drastic swings we can recall. VanVleet shot a blistering 83.3 percent from the field in Games 4 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, while adding 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from three in Game 5. He was just getting started.
The Raptors’ guard had the unenviable task of blanketing Steph Curry and did so admirably, with Nick Nurse electing to start him for the second half of Games 3 and 4, steering his team to road victories over the Warriors. VanVleet also took an inadvertent elbow from Shaun Livingston which jarred his tooth loose and had him looking like former Philadelphia Flyers star Bobby Clarke. It didn’t stop him one bit.
VanVleet set the record for most threes off the bench in Finals history, and his rainbow looper to clinch Game 3 is one of the defining moments of the Raptors’ run.
Bet on yourself. Always.
I’m going to Toronto
Kawhi simply doesn’t have time for the rote platitudes that often occupy the media space. Asked where do the Raptors go from a 2-0 deficit against the Milwaukee Bucks, Leonard answered the question with his typical deadpan delivery and in doing so, galvanized the Raptors, who won the next four en route to the Finals.
Raptors lift the Larry O-B for the first time
We’ll let the videos tell the story here.
Drake vs. Everybody
What a time to be alive.
Drake is officially the Raptors’ global ambassador and has made no secret of showing out for his team. The Canadian rapper is also close friends with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and a host of Warriors, or at least was prior to the Finals. After getting into a flame war with Mallory Edens, the daughter of Bucks co-owner Wes Edens, Drake turned his sights on his pals.
The OVO boss was a non-stop troll throughout the Finals, wearing a Dell Curry Raptors jersey to Game 1, a Home Alone sweater making fun of Kevin Durant in Game 2, and implored the internet to make a meme out of him after the Raptors defeated the Warriors in Game 6. We’ve gone this far without even mentioning his Instagram stories, which he used to take plenty of light-hearted barbs at the Warriors.
We’ll see you at the parade, Drake.
Lowry’s 11-point first quarter barrage in Game 6
The Ballad of Playoff Kyle Lowry ended forever after Game 6. Lowry was maligned, perhaps unfairly, by some critics for his string of sub-par playoff performances. No one can ever say that to Lowry again, after scoring Toronto’s first 11 points during the Game 6 victory over Golden State.
Lowry submitted arguably the best game of his career, finishing with 26 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, three steals, and a team-best +16 as the Raptors defeated the Warriors 114-110. It’s not a fun hypothetical, but it may have gone seven games without Lowry exploding out of the gate, and this ought to define his Raptors legacy.
Kawhi posterizes Giannis in Game 6
Giannis Antetokounmpo is likely going to win the NBA MVP, and he seems poised to be a dominant threat in the Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future. He led the Milwaukee Bucks to the best record and point differential during the regular season.
It’s too bad Kawhi doesn’t care about any of that.
Prior to the series, it was postulated that it would come down to the battle of the superstars, and Kawhi won it handily. After slamming on Giannis with his hand in the rim during Game 4, Leonard followed up with an encore that could serve as the precursor to a truly titanic Eastern Conference rivalry. That is, if Kawhi opts to re-sign in Toronto.
Kyle Lowry makes a perfect read and while Giannis has the pedigree to contest any threat he sees fit, Kawhi makes him look foolish. It was the highlight of a 26-3 Raptors run which ultimately sunk the Bucks. Run it back.
Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce. You already know.
Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers was etched into league lore forever the second it happened. Whether it represented the sudden triumph of a city that has been conditioned to experience nothing but heartbreak, a new era in itself, or just a cold-blooded knockout, Leonard’s shot forever changed the trajectory of the Raptors.
There is no title without The Shot. There is no title without Kawhi. And in a season where he might’ve already become the most influential athlete in Toronto sports history, this was his defining moment. It’s already on t-shirts, murals, and should be the first clip on his eventual Hall of Fame reel.
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