FOR the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors are NBA champions. They accomplished this by outplaying a tremendous dynasty in the Golden State Warriors. In honor of the city of Toronto, which is coined as “The Six,” here are the six areas that led the Raptors to victory:
1) HEALTH. Throughout the playoffs, the Raptors have managed to stay healthy. Both their starting five and bench, have played at their highest levels—and that is extremely necessary to succeed in the long grind. It goes without saying, though, that the Warriors have been on the unlucky side of injuries this year.
2) DEFENSE. Looking at the stats, there may not be an obvious indication that Toronto played great defense on Golden State. The Warriors eclipsed the century mark in all games but Game 4; and the Raptors even allowed a 47-point outburst by Stephen Curry in Game 3. However, they did just what was needed. Overall, they held Curry to only 41 percent from the field, and 34 percent from the three-point area. As a team, Golden State shot only 38 percent from the arc. For a team that is universally acclaimed for its three-point shooting, Toronto did a great job in stopping that.
3) ROAD WINS. Many analysts say that “in order to win a series, you have to win on the road.” The Raptors did just that, making sure that the raucous fans of the “Roaracle” in Oakland did not faze them. Three of their four wins came at the Oracle Arena, with the last being the sweetest of them all—the series clincher.
4) VANVLEET’S SHOOTING. A player whom I would consider as Toronto’s unlikely hero is Fred VanVleet, the team’s three-year backup point guard. He connected on four three-pointers in Game 3, including a desperation heave with 1:40 left to seal the win. He had five three-pointers in Game 6, one of which gave the Raptors the lead for good. In total, he made 16–the most by a bench player in Finals history. His name may not be known in the NBA landscape, but after this historic performance, he will forever be remembered in Toronto’s legacy.
2) KAWHI LEONARD. Personally, I would claim that Kawhi Leonard had the greatest individual run in NBA playoff history. It sits right on the top alongside Dirk Nowitzki’s 2011 performance. Kawhi started with multiple 30-point performances in the first round against the Magic; ended the Sixers’ season on a historic game-winning fadeaway; out-dueled Giannis in an emotional conference finals win against the Bucks; and capped his brilliant season off with a monumental performance in the Finals against the Warriors. He has led his team on both offense and defense. His humility and focus are unmatched. He has learned from the Spurs’ legends and is using his gained expertise to help his team do the unthinkable.
1) SPURS-ESQUE BALL MOVEMENT. The way the Raptors set up their offense is what makes the game of basketball beautiful. Their passing is intangible—difficult to value using stats. Their offense starts with Kawhi and ends with the 12th player on the roster. Even former Knick superstar Jeremy Lin served as a mentor on the bench; and he was rewarded with his first title, making him the first Asian-American to achieve the feat.