By Ethan Salm
The road to the Finals wasn’t supposed to run through Jurassic Park and the ScotiaBank Arena. Toronto wasn’t supposed to trade away DeMar DeRozan, and Kawhi Leonard wasn’t supposed to be in Toronto. Toronto wasn’t supposed to make it far in these playoffs after losing Game 1 of the first round, and the shot by Kawhi as he flew out of bounds in the corner against Philly certainly wasn’t supposed to go in. Milwaukee wasn’t supposed to collapse and lose 4 straight games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Pascal Siakam wasn’t supposed to score 32 points in the first NBA Finals game of his career. Golden State wasn’t supposed to lose all three NBA Finals games on their home floor, and Toronto wasn’t supposed to lose Game 5 in the 6ix. The last game at Oracle wasn’t supposed to be won by the visiting team. Fred VanVleet wasn’t supposed to be the player that closed out a championship in enemy territory.
Toronto wasn’t supposed to win this championship.
But who cares what was “supposed to happen” in the playoffs? The only thing that matters is what actually happened and that is the Toronto Raptors coming out on top.
Behind an incredible performance by the now 2-time NBA champion and 2-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors were able to advance to and win their first Larry O’Brien trophy in franchise history. To many people’s surprise, Toronto was the team that dominated this series. They took Game 1 and never really looked back. Toronto dominated the games that they won and that was shown in the average margin of victory. When the Raptors won, they won by an average of 10 points. When the Warriors were able to take a game, they only won by 3 points on average. When the Warriors won in this series it really took something special. They went on a 20-0 run in Game 2 and still only won the game by 5 points. In Game 5 they only won because of Kyle Lowry’s missed shot at the buzzer.
Kawhi Leonard got the help he needed in this series as well. In all of the games the Raptors won, somebody besides Kawhi stepped up and scored. In Game 1 it was Pascal Siakam with 32 points. In Game 3 Kyle Lowry had 23 points. In Game 4 Serge Ibaka had 20 points. In the series clinching Game 6, Siakam had 26, Lowry had 26 and Fred VanVleet had 22. That was exactly what they needed to separate themselves from the Warriors.
With that being said, it is important to note that the Warriors were not at full strength. Kevin Durant missed the first 4 games of the series with a calf injury, then ruptured his Achilles in Game 5. Klay Thompson missed time with a hamstring injury, then tore his ACL in Game 6. Kevon Looney had a fracture near his collarbone and played through that from Game 2 onwards. Demarcus Cousins played his first game since tearing his quad in the first round. Before this series, I said the Warriors would win if they stayed healthy. That is not what happened. Two of their big three, and three of their starting five, either missed time or played through injury.
Some people will put an asterisk next to this title, and I think that is accurate. This title should have an asterisk. If both of these teams were healthy, in my opinion, it would be no contest. If this Warriors team was healthy, I still believe that Golden State would have won the title.
At the end of the day though, the championship belongs to the Raptors. If you are a Raptors fan, congratulations, the wait for a trophy is over. If you are a Warriors fan, there is nothing to hang your head about. The Warriors fought hard through adversity, but in the end they were just overmatched. This season has now come to a close, but don’t worry … the NBA draft is Thursday and free agency opens shortly after that.
Another season of unpredictable moments is coming up soon.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org