The Toronto Raptors did it, becoming the latest in franchises to win their first ever world championship with a 114-110 win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday in the final game to be played in Oakland’s Oracle Arena.
In their first NBA Finals appearance since the Jurassic Park-inspired team began playing in 1995, the Raptors are not only now champions, but they did it in the most unlikely of ways — toppling arguably the NBA’s greatest dynasty since the turn of the 21st century in the Warriors, who were looking to win their fourth Larry O’Brien Trophy in what was their fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance. And the Raptors won their championship by winning all three of their games played on the Warriors’ home court in this NBA Finals series.
Even more unlikely was how the Raptors sealed the series against the Warriors. Often criticized for his inconsistency in these playoffs, Kyle Lowry started the game red-hot, shooting the Raptors into a nice early lead. Meanwhile, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who has been outstanding all playoffs long, had a relatively quiet performance — although he did fittingly drain the game-clinching free throws at the end.
Led by the brilliant shooting and defense of Klay Thompson, the Warriors battled back as one would expect a proud champion to do, but Lowry also continued to knock down huge shots in the first half. Toronto got solid support from youngster Pascal Siakam, sharpshooter Fred VanVleet and veteran Serge Ibaka, as well.
The two heavyweight teams traded blows back and forth in a razor-close game. And then Thompson suffered an apparent knee injury late in the third quarter — the final frustrating setback for the Warriors after Kevin Durant returned from injury in Game 5 only to be knocked back out with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Without Thompson for the remainder of the game, the Warriors were unable to maintain the 85-80 lead they held when he exited, although the Warriors fought and kept the game close to the bitter end, seeing a potentially game-winning 3-point try by Steph Curry with less than 10 seconds to play just miss.
Making this an even greater moment in the wide world of sports was that Toronto’s championship came the day after the St. Louis Blues ended their franchise championship drought of more than 50 years with their first-ever Stanley Cup.
As someone who in 2017 celebrated the World Series victory of the Houston Astros, the joy being experienced by the Raptors’ and Blues’ fan bases is relatable.
Like the Blues, the Astros had not reached the top of the mountain in a franchise history that spanned more than five decades. And while the Raptors have not been around for nearly as long as either the Blues or the Astros, the city of Toronto had not experienced any championship glory before Thursday night since the Blue Jays’ World Series win in 1993. Similarly, Houstonians had been waiting since the Houston Rockets’ 1994 NBA Finals win to throw a championship parade.
Making the Raptors win even more special, is that the team has been the NBA’s one and only in Canada since the Grizzlies moved from Vancouver to Memphis in 2001. So, the win is one that will be celebrated by not just Toronto, but all of Canada — pretty cool stuff.
Ignore the haters who will call this NBA Finals win tainted due to the Durant and Thompson injuries, and soak it in, Canada. On this night, #WeTheNorth are #WeTheChamps.