The Toronto Raptors secured their first NBA championship Thursday, topping a beaten and battered Golden State Warriors team in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Behind a hot start from Kyle Lowry and a late closeout after Klay Thompson suffered a knee injury in the third quarter, the Raptors secured a 114-110 victory to ensure that the Larry O’Brien Trophy would return to Toronto in their possession.
Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam all had big games, with each surpassing 20 points as Toronto turned back a gutsy performance from a Warriors team riddled with injuries.
Klay Thompson reportedly tore his ACL
The Warriors lost Thompson when he fell awkwardly after getting fouled on a dunk attempt in the third quarter, leaving Golden State to play the fourth quarter without two of their three best players after Kevin Durant’s Achilles injury in Game 5.
Postgame reports on Thompson’s knee confirmed the worst, that he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee.
Raptors hold off gutsy Warriors effort
Toronto took a 104-101 lead on a VanVleet 3-pointer with 3:46 left that it would not relinquish despite the best efforts of Golden State’s role players keep their three-peat hopes alive.
For a moment in the game’s final seconds, the Warriors looked en route to a repeat of their Game 5 performance that saw them rally from a late deficit.
Toronto held possession of the ball and a 111-110 lead with less than 19 seconds remaining in what looked like a run-out-the clock situation that would require them to hit free throws. But Golden State trapped Kawhi Leonard in the backcourt, forcing him to throw the ball to Danny Green who was pinned in the corner near halfcourt by Draymond Green.
Danny Green threw a sideline pass to a streaking Pascal Siakam that was beyond his reach and sailed out of bounds, giving the Warriors possession and new life.
The Warriors set up a 3-pointer for Stephen Curry on the ensuing inbounds play. Draymond Green took a dangerous inbounds pass and found Curry on the wing, who got a good look at a go-ahead shot with 8.2 seconds remaining.
But it didn’t drop. A scramble ensued for the long rebound near halfcourt. Draymond Green secured possession, but the Warriors called a timeout they didn’t have, leading to a technical foul with 0.9 seconds remaining.
Video replays, a personal foul and free throws ensued. But at that point, the game was over. Raptors fans were finally granted license to celebrate Canada’s first NBA championship.
Kawhi wins MVP
Leonard earned MVP honors, capping a brilliant playoff run with his second NBA championship and second Finals MVP trophy. He joins LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players in league history to win NBA Finals MVP honors with two different teams.
Leonard was also Finals MVP in 2014 when the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Miami Heat for the NBA championship.
“I had a great support system,” Leonard said in the postgame ceremony, referencing his trade from the Spurs to Toronto. “I just kept working hard, working hard and having my mind set on this goal right here. I came to a team, a new coach — that mindset was the same as mine, trying to get that Larry OB [trophy] over there.
“This is what I play basketball for. This is what I work out for all summer, during the season. I’m happy that my hard work paid off.”
Kawhi coy about free-agent plans
As expected, the pending free agent politely declined to discuss his future plans.
Leonard finished Game 6 with 22 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
He averaged a remarkable 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks throughout the Raptors’ playoff run. He was the best player in every series he played in, vanquishing foes like Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry along the way.
Lowry exorcises playoff demons for good
Leonard was far from the only Raptors hero. Seven-year Raptors veteran Kyle Lowry was the first to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy on Thursday. Without his exploits on Thursday, Toronto would likely be flying back home needing a Game 7 win to secure a championship.
Lowry came out on fire in the first quarter, scoring the first eight points of the game and the first 11 points for the Raptors. He opened the game with a quick layup.
Three 3-pointers later, and Toronto had opened up an 11-2 lead. Lowry finished with 21 points in the first half before cooling off in the second. But his 26 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three steals were integral to Toronto’s win.
For a player who entered this postseason with a reputation for repeated playoff failures, Lowry put to bed those demons in emphatic fashion in a championship-clinching game.
Strong showing from supporting cast
Siakam concluded his breakout season in fitting fashion with 26 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. He and Serge Ibaka combined as Toronto’s go-to frontcourt force on a night where Marc Gasol (three points, nine rebounds) struggled against a smaller Warriors lineup that featured Green, Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala on the front line.
Siakam finished with 15 points and three rebounds while hitting several clutch buckets down the stretch. His benchmate VanVleet had another big performance with 22 points while hitting 5-of-11 3-pointers.
Toronto needed every little bit of those performances as Golden State performed well beyond what any team missing Durant and Thompson should expect. For a moment in the second half, it looked like the Warriors would force a Game 7 when they capped a 10-3 third-quarter run with a Klay Thompson 3-pointer to take an 83-79 lead.
Thompson’s injury, heroic effort
Thompson was in the midst of a vintage playoff performance when the unthinkable happened yet again to Golden State. With the Warriors leading 83-80 late in the third, Thompson attacked the basket on a fast break.
A Danny Green foul sent Thompson to the floor where he grabbed his left knee and writhed in pain. Thompson eventually needed help off the court. But while he was walking toward the locker room, he apparently realized that if he didn’t return to the court to shoot his free throws, he wouldn’t be allowed to play again.
He returned and hit both of his free throws before immediately exiting on the next stoppage of play.
The diagnosis of his torn ACL wasn’t reported until well after the game, but he was seen using crutches before the game was over.
Huge game interrupted
He finished with 30 points and five rebounds while hitting 4-of-6 3-point attempts. With Golden State already down Durant, Thompson was keeping Golden State’s championship hopes alive.
Golden State keeps fighting
The Warriors didn’t fold after Thompson’s injury. Draymond Green, Iguodala and DeMarcus Cousins all stepped up to ensure that Curry wasn’t Golden State’s only option.
Iguodala finished with 22 points; Green tallied 11 points, 19 rebounds and 13 assists; Cousins filled in off the bench with 12 points and five rebounds.
Golden State held onto the lead after Thompson’s injury until VanVleet tied the game at 91-91 with a 3-pointer with 9:06 remaining. From there it was a back-and-forth game until another VanVleet 3-pointer with 3:46 remaining gave Toronto the lead for good.
Curry finished with 21 points and seven assists while shooting 3-of-11 from distance. It wasn’t enough as he needed one more bucket to fall at the end to keep hope of a Game 7 alive.
End of an era
It was an admirable showing from the Warriors, who looked like a team playing in their fifth straight NBA Finals. But in the end, it was the closing of a chapter.
Thursday was the final game played in Oakland’s Oracle Arena with the team moving across the bay to San Francisco next season. Durant is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and pursue a long-term deal on the free-agent market that he’s still reportedly likely to get in spite of the Achilles injury.
The ACL injury to Thompson and his pending free agency further cloud Golden State’s future.
The Warriors may be contenders next season. But it’s unlikely they enter the season as the overwhelming title favorites that’s become the norm for Golden State.
But that’s a story for the offseason. Thursday is about the Toronto. It’s about Kawhi Leonard. It’s about Kyle Lowry.
It’s about Canada, drunk on the thrill of an unprecedented playoff run celebrating a championship the whole country can savor.
And it’s about the Raptors securing an unlikely championship while possibly putting an end to one of basketball’s greatest dynasties.