OAKLAND — When the North remembers, it will no longer have to be the horrors of dreadful seasons and stars fleeing South. The Toronto Raptors will return to Canada as NBA Champions, after denying the Golden State Warriors a third straight title on Thursday night.
A true team effort got it done against a Warriors team that got even more bad injury luck when standout shooting guard Klay Thompson had to leave after scoring 30 points in 32 minutes. Still, the absences shouldn’t negate Toronto’s worthiness as a champion. Led by a brilliant superstar in Kawhi Leonard, proud, talented veterans like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Danny Green, the emerging Pascal Siakam and, on this most memorable of nights for sure, Fred VanVleet, The Raptors deserve to be the last team standing.
And Golden State remains one of the NBA’s greatest dynasties, despite losing at home in the Finals for a second time, to go with the three titles.
Over the years, Golden State had had a striking ability to come through with everything on the line like few other teams in NBA history. The Warriors brought a 6-1 record in potential elimination games dating back to 2015 into Thursday’s sixth game of the NBA Finals. That included comebacks against title-caliber teams like Oklahoma City and Houston from 3-1 and 3-2 series deficits. Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have been particularly great in those contests, averaging 28.9 and 26.1 points per game, respectively. Both struggled in the lone loss before Thursday, the 2016 seventh game against Cleveland (17 for Curry, 14 for Thompson in that great moment for LeBron James and Co.).
I asked Andre Iguodala, the team’s elder statesman, why, besides the group’s obviously immense collection of talent, it had found so much success when staring into the brightest of lights.
“We’ve just got a resilient group. Everybody believes in each other,” Iguodala told the Toronto Sun earlier in the week.
“Being a winner doesn’t show up in analytics, doesn’t show up in data. Those are like certain traits and personality things and morals and life-learning experiences that you kind of grow up in and you have a respect and a reverence for the game and we have guys who have that and it shows up. That saying: You reap what you sow, we’ve sown some good fruit and hopefully we’ll continue to do that and hopefully we’ll get a chance to enjoy it at some point, because we haven’t been able to do it,” Iguodala said cryptically.
When Curry and Thompson faltered against Cleveland, Draymond Green stepped up with the offensive game of his life. Kevin Durant has been dominant at times in year’s past and Iguodala has also come through. He did it again on Thursday night, happily taking the ball when the Raptors smothered the Splash Brothers and scoring at an efficient clip. Thompson had been brilliant before injuring his knee and Curry was OK, but Iguodala had an immensely needed, if rare, big scoring night with 20 points.
The 15-year-veteran had said a big part of the secret has nothing to do with physical talent.
“For me it’s just clearing out noise. Understand the intentions of all of the noise that’s around it and understand it really isn’t about the actual game,” he said, pointing to the media storylines.
“When you can understand that and put things in its proper places, it actually clears it out for you to embrace those moments and you know the work you put in, you know what you’re playing for you’re playing for yourself and you’re playing for your teammates and when you’re thinking about that and you’re not thinking about, ‘I’m making a shot because it’s going to boost my ego or boost my following or boost my brand,’ if that’s the intention you have, as I said, you reap what you sow.”
Iguodala said the experiences of being in so many big games is something the Warriors can draw on.
According to Green, the Game 5 victory on Monday, with Durant being injured and the team facing a 3-1 deficit to Toronto, was as impressive as any win that came before it.
“I think it’s got to be the greatest,” Green said.
“When you’re down six with a couple minutes to go in an elimination for these guys to win a championship, we could have thrown in the towel. We could have folded, but we didn’t. I said it before: I’ve never seen this group fold. And that stands true still.”
This one would have been just as impressive, considering Thompson had to leave early when he had been the best player on the floor, but Toronto managed to pull it out.
Toronto fans dancing to Drake’s “started from the bottom now we’re here” after the Raptors become NBA champions for the first time in their history #wethenorth #torontoraptors #raptors #nbafinals #drake pic.twitter.com/gSSqZTi0se— Alima (@AlimaHotakie) June 14, 2019
Curry had said the Warriors no longer had anything to prove, having accomplished just about everything. The visitors can now say the same.
“I think we’re done with proving people wrong or making bold statements with our play, people know who we are,” Curry had said.
And now people know who the NBA champion Toronto Raptors are too.
RAPTORS PROVED THEY COULD RALLY
Nick Nurse had been reminded before the game about a blowout loss at San Antonio way back in January and he mentioned.
“We got our doors blown off down there. I haven’t thought about that night much, but I do, the playoff games, we have had some up and down moments as everybody has,” Nurse said.
“After that San Antonio loss, we got on a plane and went to Milwaukee and beat them. We bounced right back. And that’s what we normally do. That’s what we have normally done in the playoffs. And this is a strong minded, tough-ass group of guys.”
Which they proved once again.
ONE AND DONE
This was it for Oracle Arena, the NBA’s oldest arena after 2070 games (regular season and playoffs).
“This is unique. This is sort of a once-in-a-career moment where you play in a building for the very last time, and you absolutely know positively without a doubt that it’s the last game you’ll ever play here,” Kerr had said before the game.
“We had a ceremony at the end of the year in the regular season, but we knew we were coming back here to play. And then we had that weird Game 4 a few days ago where we lost and it sure felt anti-climactic, like this can’t be the last game at Oracle,” Kerr said.
“It is a strange and unique night.”
It sure was just that. Few will ever forget Oracle’s last stand.
FEELING FOR DURANT
Several Warriors supported Durant by wearing pre-game shirts with his name and number on them, including Green and Durant’s long-time friend Quinn Cook.
Kerr said he’s been texting with Durant following his surgery to repair a torn Achilles.
“I mean, it’s still raw, obviously. This has only been whatever it is, 48 hours, 72 hours,” Kerr said. “I’ve talked to some of the guys who have spoken with him. Everybody’s been reaching out to him and fortunately everything went well. And so tonight we’re thinking of him. I know our fans are all thinking about him.
“We got a game to play and got work to do. But everybody in our organization is thinking about Kevin as we go. So we go to work and we’re trying to achieve something special. We wish he were here with us.”
AROUND THE RIM
Only four franchises had won all three road games at the NBA Finals: Boston in 1974; Chicago in both 1991 and 1993; Detroit in 1990 and Los Angeles in 1953 and 2001… The previous game was only the third Finals game where the winner hit more three-pointers than two-pointers. And, indicating how much the game has changed, the 20 made three-pointers by the Warriors was one fewer than 2004 champion Detroit hit in that entire five-game series … Thompson had hit 57% on three-pointers in the series, the other Warriors 33% heading in. Thompson went 4-for-6 before his exit.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019