They are proof that bold moves pay off.
OAKLAND — The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions. Take a minute and let that thought marinate. The franchise that brought us the purple dinosaur and Zan Tabak is the best basketball team on the planet.
They did it by beating the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in six games, winning all three at Oracle Arena. They were the better team throughout the series. They were more connected on defense and offered a more diverse attack on offense.
Game 6 was a thing of beauty, a breathtaking thrill-ride of lead changes, clutch shotmaking, and one brilliant play after another. After a series in which the play could charitably be called uneven, the Raptors and Warriors offered up a classic that finally overshadowed events off the court and returned the spotlight to where it belonged.
Longtime Raptor Kyle Lowry was sublime, scoring 26 points to go with 10 assists, seven rebounds, three steals, and a half dozen moments that can only be called Kyle Plays. One game after getting benched for the balance of the fourth quarter, young Pascal Siakam redeemed himself with 26-and-10. Gritty reserve Fred VanVleet continued his metamorphosis into a modern-day Sam Cassell with 22 points off the bench.
Barring a third quarter meltdown in Game 2 and a late collapse in Game 5, they were clearly the better team in every respect. That they came back from both defeats only shows just how far this Raptor team has come. No more Raptoring. No more hoping things will turn out differently this time. The Raptors met every challenge and offered creative solutions to any problems that arose
“Two months of playoff basketball, they never seemed tired to me,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “Mentally they kept wanting film sessions, they kept wanting to walk through things, they kept wanting to keep learning and improving. And I think that was a big key. We had to do that in the playoff run because we really hadn’t had all that much time together.”
Most of all, the Raptors won a championship because they refused to wait their turn. While the rest of the league bided their time and waited for Golden State’s run to die of natural causes, the Raptors took them on with a series of swift and decisive decisions.
They won by gambling on a franchise player who may not stick around to enjoy the title defense and a first-year head coach who worked the minors for more than two decades. This is the ultimate shoot-your-shot team.
When general manager Masai Ujiri traded for Kawhi Leonard, he did so with the knowledge that Leonard offered no guarantees or assurances that he would remain in Toronto past the final year on his contract. When he hired Nurse to replace longtime coach Dwane Casey, he did so after the best regular season in franchise history and a year in which Casey won Coach of the Year honors.
Throwing caution to the wind and abandoning a carefully constructed roster that had run its course, the Raptors had one chance to get it right. They nailed it with an inspired stretch of basketball that ranks among the finest runs in playoff history.
Down 2-0 against the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, Toronto ran off four straight wins. Throw in an epic seven-game series in the second round against Philadelphia, one whose outcome literally hung on the rim, and the Raptors truly deserved their champagne moment.