For the first time in their 24-year history, the Toronto Raptors are NBA champions.
Kyle Lowry threw his arms around Kawhi Leonard, and the rest of the Raptors spilled into a blissful pile around them to celebrate in one of the NBA’s most storied arenas.
The Raps beat the Golden State Warriors 114-110 in a wild Game 6 on Thursday that had 18 lead changes. They denied the Warriors their third straight championship, and spoiled the party in the Dubs’ last-ever game inside their beloved Oracle Arena.
Leonard – the player brought to Toronto from the San Antonio Spurs to lead the way to this title – was handed the NBA Finals MVP trophy, as his teammates each thrust an arm in the air with fingers spread wide in honour of the big-handed superstar called The Klaw.
“I wanted to make history here and that’s all I did,” Leonard said to the press after the game, recollecting the trade that landed him and Danny Green in Toronto and sent long-time Raptor DeMar DeRozan away. “I texted Kyle probably a day later – or the day that I got traded and told him I said let’s go out and do something special. I know your best friend left, I know you’re mad, but let’s make this thing work out. And we are here today.”
Lowry, the longest tenured Raptor, had 26 points – including four three-pointers – as well as 10 assists, seven rebounds and a game high plus-minus of 16. Pascal Siakam added 26 points and 10 rebounds. Leonard had 22 points, and so did Fred VanVleet on a night he hit five threes. Serge Ibaka powered in 15 points.
“Words can’t explain how I feel. It’s been 13 years of NBA basketball,” said Lowry. “To be able to say I’m a world champion feels great….it’s been a long time coming.”
It was the first NBA championship for all but two of the Raptors – Green and Leonard, who won with the Spurs.
They overcame a 30-point night from Klay Thompson, 22 from Andre Iguodala and 21 from Steph Curry.
They did it in a wild atmosphere. Gold-t-shirted fans had waved rally towels that read “For Oakland” during what would be the last Warriors game at their home of 47 seasons, before the team moves to a new state-of-the-art venue in San Francisco next season.
The Warriors were playing with heavy hearts, three days after their two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant made his long-awaited return from a calf injury in Game 5, only to suffer a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“Everyone is thinking of Kevin as we go,” said Golden State Coach Steve Kerr. “We go to work and we're trying to achieve something special.”
Lowry opened the game by scoring Toronto’s first 11 points while also helping guard Curry and Thompson. Siakam, who had gone 0-for-12 from beyond the arc in the past four games, charged out of the gate with a pair of threes.
The Raps went up by as much as nine in the opening quarter, and Lowry had already amassed 15 points – including four threes. The Warriors sliced away at that lead behind some hot shooting by Thompson. Toronto took a slim 34-32 lead into the second.
The teams went punch for punch in a crazy second quarter. Back-to-back threes by Siakam and Van Vleet vaulted Toronto ahead, then a Curry jumper and a couple of Warriors dunks had Golden State snatching the lead.
Leonard, who had just four points at that stage as the Warriors relentlessly trapped him, pumped in five more. Ibaka exploded for three dunks at one end, while Iguodala was drilling buckets at the other.
A wild seesaw half that had 14 lead-changes ended with Toronto ahead 60-57. The second half would be just as gripping.
There was a long chorus of boos from the Warriors faithful just inside the third quarter as Leonard got away with a blatant travel seconds before Curry was called for a foul. Then Lowry picked up his fourth personal foul, and the fans sung the hot-scoring Toronto point guard off the floor for a break.
Leonard managed to score 10 in a tense third quarter. Iguodala, Curry and Thompson were all hot, and the fans hollered for a victorious farewell.
Then catastrophe had struck again for the Warriors. Thompson vaulted up for a layup, got fouled by Danny Green, and landed awkwardly on his knee. The sharp-shooting Splash Brother rolled around on the ground for several minutes clenching the leg as fans went silent. He headed for the tunnel and then re-emerged to frenzied applause from the crowd. He took a quick jog, hit his two free throws, then left the game for good, his extraordinary 30-point night cut short.
The two foes went into the final quarter with the Dubs ahead by a hair, 88-86.
Neither team could pull ahead by much in a white-knuckled fourth.
In the final four minutes, the Raps relied on Ibaka, Van Vleet, Lowry, Leonard and Siakam.
Ibaka and Van Vleet provided the scoring punch to inch Toronto ahead. Lowry picked up an uncomfortable fifth foul. The Raps held a three-point lead going into the final minute, and DeMarcus Cousins cut it to one. Siakam put them back up by three, but then put Curry on the free throw line and he cut it back to one.
The Warriors pressed so hard on the Raps final possession that they squandered it away, which resulted in a turnover with 9.6 seconds left.
A Curry shot bounced off the rim, and Leonard chased down a bouncing layup. Draymond Green nabbed the ball back, rolled around with it and tried to call a timeout with 0.9 seconds left that the Warriors no longer had available. An excruciating few final seconds went on forever as the Raps and their fans all across Canada waited to celebrate.
“Credit Toronto on a great series. They went out and won it,” said Curry. “It’s a tough feeling being on this side of losing in the Finals. But our DNA and who we are and the character that we have on this team, I wouldn’t bet against us being back on this stage next year and going forward.”
The Raptors and Warriors hugged one another and expressed their mutual respect before the home team left the floor and let the Raps celebrate.
The Raps popped on championship hats and red ski goggles and sprayed some champagne around the visitors locker room.
“To the city of Toronto, the country of Canada,” said Lowry. “We did it.”