The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions.
Say it once, say it a thousand times, make like Bart Simpson and write it all across a chalkboard and it may still take some time to sink in. The Raptors have won the final game of the 2019 playoffs, ending the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty with a thrilling 114-110 victory.
A moment 24 years in the making took excruciatingly longer when, with a mad scramble for the ball just before the buzzer and the Raptors leading 111-110, the Warriors’ Draymond Green corralled the loose ball and called for timeout. Except, they didn’t have any remaining. The result of the Chris Webber blunder meant a technical foul shot and possession of the basketball for the Raptors, which led to another two free-throws after a foul on the ensuing inbounds. Kawhi Leonard, the Finals MVP, made all three free-throws, and Toronto was crowned champions.
When the Warriors escaped Toronto with a Game 5 win after trailing by six with just over three minutes remaining, the two-time defending champions proved they were not going to go away lightly. If the Raptors were going to win their maiden title, they were going to have to earn it.
Lowry lining up a corner three at the buzzer to win a championship for the Raptors seemed like a perfect script in that game, but Green had other ideas. This time around, the five-time all-star had no plans of leaving it so late.
Toronto’s starting point guard came out on fire with 15 first-quarter points, including a perfect 4-for-4 from three-point range before finishing with 26 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, and also helped limit Steph Curry to zero field goal attempts in the first nine minutes.
“Words can't explain how I feel. It's been a long, long time,” Lowry said at the podium while drenched in champagne. “Thirteen years of NBA basketball. Couple years of college. A couple years of high school basketball. And to be able to say I'm a world champion, it makes me feel great. And to do it with the group of guys that we did it with is amazing, like it's just kind of still surreal. Kind of, it hasn't hit me yet.
“I'm still kind of in this moment of just like ‘is this real yet?’ And for me just at the end of the day, I work extremely hard on my game, I work extremely hard on myself, and I am extremely hard on myself. And I'm happy to be able to say I'm a champion and it's been a long time coming.”
Pascal Siakam, who was a no-show in Game 5 to the extent that head coach Nick Nurse benched him for the final nine minutes of the game, rewrote that script with 26 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, including a huge post-up on Green and runner in the final minute to push the Raptors’ lead to three.
The Raptors’ strategy of selling out on Curry worked wonders in terms of limiting his scoring — he finished with 21 points on 17 shots — but the rest of the Warriors took advantage of the opportunities presented them, beginning with Klay Thompson. The legend of Game 6 Klay continued, as Thompson finished with an incredible 30 points on 12 shots before leaving the game in the third quarter after landing awkwardly and hurting his knee on a drive to the rim. He quickly returned to shoot his free throws to ensure he wasn’t ruled out for the rest of the game.
Andre Iguodala added 22 points while Green racked up 11 points, 19 rebounds and 13 assists to help push this game to the final seconds.
Leonard, who arguably waited a little too long to go for the kill against the Warriors in Game 5 with that Jordan-esque stretch of 10 straight fourth-quarter points, began going to work in the third quarter this time around with 10 points in the frame. The game took a turn when Thompson left — now reported to have suffered a torn ACL in his left knee — but the Raptors still needed to seize the moment and take advantage.
They were shaken when Durant left Game 5 with his catastrophic ruptured Achilles, but as they’ve been wont to do all post-season, learned from their previous errors and made sure that didn’t happen again.
“We just had to keep on playing no matter who was out there,” Nurse said after the game. “And I think they were super intense high-level games and both teams desperately trying to win. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Kerr and his staff and their players, for sure.”
When the fourth quarter came, it was Fred VanVleet who gave Toronto its biggest moments when the team needed it. He had 12 points in the final quarter, including three massive three-pointers and three points at the line after getting fouled on an attempt from long distance.
First, there was a three to tie the game at 91 with 9:06 remaining, then there was the three that gave the Raptors a one-point lead with 7:06 remaining. The three free-throws tied the game once again with 5:39 remaining, and then his final bomb gave the Raptors the lead for good with just under four minutes remaining.
What a time.
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