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Morning Coffee of Champions – Fri, Jun 14


The vindication of Kyle Lowry, as KLOE gets to shine on championship stage: ‘It’s been a long time coming’ – The Athletic

“Nobody deserves it more than that guy,” Fred VanVleet said. “What he’s been through, the slander that he takes. People kill him for better and for worse, when he deserves it and when he doesn’t deserve it. For him to play one of his better games on the highest stage for a championship, I’m so happy for him. I know he’ll say it doesn’t bother him, but I know him. Nobody likes to go through the wringer like that, especially when it’s not always deservingly so.”

Never was Lowry’s value more obvious than when it mattered most, in a clinching game of the NBA Finals. Lowry had very nearly done the job in Game 5, controlling the third and fourth quarters before the Raptors let the game slip away late. Here, he left nothing to chance.

Right out of the gate, Lowry was uncharacteristically aggressive. He took an early possession right at Kevon Looney for a bucket, hit a relocation 3 and then hit a pull-up 3 in transition, long a bellwether of a big Lowry game. He came up with a steal shortly after, then drilled a step-back 3. The Warriors had come to play, but Lowry was making sure the Raptors were ready to hang. By the end of the game, Lowry had scored 26 points with seven rebounds, 10 assists and three steals. And the most Lowry thing of all: He had a plus-16 mark, by far the highest of any player in the game.

“It’s unbelievable, man. It’s unbelievable to have guys like Kyle Lowry on your team who step up and go for 15 in the first quarter, VanVleet said in response to Lowry crashing his scrum and asking a question. “But he should have had 50. But he slowed down. So I just wanted to come out there in the second half and bail him out and just try to help him for his legacy. They killed my man all the time in the playoffs. He gets more slandered than anybody I ever seen in the league. And so to have him be able to hold that trophy up tonight, that’s what means the most for us.”

It was a pinnacle KLOE game on the most important night of his career.

So, about KLOE. It was way back in 2011 when Zach Harper came up with the phrase “Kyle Lowry Over Everything” in the Daily Dime Live chat. K-Low, the lazy mashing of his name for a simple nickname, was not good enough, at least not when Lowry was in his zone. KLOE, the same by sound but not at all by meaning, was a more distinct and apt handle. When Lowry landed with the Raptors in 2012, the KLOE acronym was quickly adopted. At first, it was a rallying cry around a new player the fan base was becoming enamoured with. Lowry was new and Lowry was different – after years of Jose Calderon fighting off middling point guards for his starting spot, the Raptors had bet a lottery pick on Lowry becoming The Guy in that role. He was not that yet, but he would get there.

Kawhi Leonard a Raptor forever after leading franchise to first title –

So how perfect was it that when it was time to climb the top of the mountain, to plant the flag at first light, he had so much help?

One man, no matter how special, can’t win an NBA title. It’s too hard. The Warriors know that, as they saw their stars fall one-by-one. First Kevin Durant in Game 5 with a torn Achilles and then Klay Thompson late in the third quarter of Game 6, with what turned out to be a torn ACL.

So you had Fred VanVleet sprinting around after Steph Curry and somehow still having legs to score 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead triple with 3:44 to play?

Or Kyle Lowry taking command of the most important game of his career? Or Pascal Siakam rebounding after a rare poor outing in Game 5, in which Raptors head coach Nick Nurse benched him down the stretch for poor defence?

It was his runner with 26.5 seconds left — beating all-NBA defender Draymond Green — that helped the Raptors survive a determined Warriors rally from down six with 1:55 to play and an open look from Curry from three that could have put Golden State back in front with seconds left.

There were many hands on Toronto’s 114-110 Game 6 win that gave them their first-ever NBA championship, in the game that finally put them over the top, but it was the Klaw who did the heaviest lifting.

His Game 6 line — 22 points, six rebounds three assists, and two steals — was ordinary for him, but his season in Toronto was anything but.

He helped the Raptors and their fans feel the weight of history give way to the weightlessness of pure ecstasy.

Even in a championship celebration the Raptors stand out for their individual stories – The Athletic

Kawhi Leonard got 10 out of the 11 votes for Finals MVP. Legendary analyst Hubie Brown voted for Fred VanVleet.

Leonard got the award, but it is kind of nice that VanVleet got some recognition. He hit 16 3-pointers in the series, the most for any reserve ever in the Finals. But VanVleet was hardly a bench player, starting the final four second halves and playing north of 30 minutes in four of the six games.

VanVleet imbibed quite literally, taking a swig of champagne in the interview room before he hit the dais. VanVleet is always kind with the media, so he conducted a five-minute scrum back near the locker room afterward. He was asked what moment from this year would stand out the most right now?

“I can’t remember anything right now,” VanVleet said.

Every Raptors employee couldn’t help but gush over VanVleet, and for obvious reasons. In the series against Philadelphia, VanVleet was nearly played off the floor, shooting 3.6 percent from deep. He went 2-for-11 from 3-point range in the first three games against Milwaukee. Then, of course, his girlfriend gave birth to their second child, Fred Jr. After that, he hit on 30 of his 57 attempts, including five on Wednesday. His last one gave the Raptors the lead for good, a step-back joint with 3:46 remaining.

“I never beat myself up over numbers,” VanVleet said. “I’m not a numbers guy. Never will be. Just being able to have the opportunity, next game, Game 4 (against Milwaukee), hit the first shot, felt good, and it was lights out after that,”

“Fred was ridiculous,” Masai Ujiri said.

The mayor of Rockford.

Raptors rewrite a slogan with win over Warriors: We. The. Champs. | The Star

The Warriors deserve all the respect you can give them; if they are healthy, this is a different series. But that’s basketball. The Raptors won the war of attrition, and hammered until the dynasty fell. VanVleet had 22; Lowry finished with 26 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds: he has the greatest Raptor career ever, now.

“We’ve been growing and trying to prove to the world that there is a meaning to having an NBA team, one NBA team, outside the U.S.,” said team president Masai Ujiri, coursing with emotion. “And all these guys, these players, they’ve been unbelievable, to our coaches, to our ownership. And much respect to the Golden State Warriors: Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, we love you as NBA players.

“But we wanted to win in Toronto, and we have won in Toronto!”

The past here is a list of heartbreaks, of disappointments. Every Raptors fan knows them by heart; it’s like a rite of Raptors passage to get them tattooed in your memory. But people stuck with this team, inside the organization and out, and the congregation grew.

But hockey wasn’t just Canada’s dominant cultural currency; it wasn’t just the lead on the sports shows and the front of the sports sections and the way every big company tried to sell you beer. It was wended inextricably to a sense of what it means to be Canadian in this winter nation, and in many ways the prophecy was self-fulfilling, and true.

Raptors’ championship will have long-lasting impact on basketball in Canada –

With their 114-110 series-clinching win over the reigning two-time champion Golden State Warriors – one of the greatest dynasties the game has ever seen – in the final game at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, the Raptors made history.

Whether you recently hopped on the bandwagon, are a fan of over two decades, or fall somewhere in between, if you have even a basic knowledge of the organization and its journey from the NBA’s outhouse to penthouse this was a surreal moment.

It was the culmination of years of heartbreak – the losing seasons, botched lottery picks, disgruntled franchise players that forced their way out, and the unceremonious playoff exits. Anything that could go wrong would go wrong, until now.

It’s also the result of years of work, building a foundation, and contributions from many folks on and off the court – some which are still in the organization and many that aren’t.

Still, it doesn’t happen without Ujiri’s bold off-season gamble. It doesn’t happen without Leonard.

After missing all but nine games with a quad injury last season – his last of seven with the Spurs – and biding his time during his first and perhaps only campaign in Toronto (“There’s 82 games and for me these are just practices,” he said in March), Leonard has been on a mission throughout the playoffs. He’s put up historic numbers and produced iconic moments en route to his second career championship and Finals MVP award.

He wasn’t just as good as advertised, he was better. To say that this is what Ujiri expected when he made the trade would be a stretch – like the rest of us he wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Leonard – but it’s what he envisioned as the best-case scenario. He knew what Leonard was capable of and how good this team could be. He believed he owed it to the franchise and the city and country it represents to take the shot.

Ujiri worked under former Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo during one of the team’s darkest eras. Chris Bosh had just left to join LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami, which sent Toronto into a franchise-long five-year playoff drought.

When Ujiri returned and took the post atop Toronto’s front office in 2013, he promised to bring a championship north, as farfetched as that seemed at the time. That was the goal, as much to empower a city had passion for and to help grow the sport throughout Canada.

A Raptors championship would be bigger than just the team or even the city. Unlike any other title-winner that came before it, this one would have the reach to inspire an entire nation, something that Ujiri always understood and took seriously.

2019 NBA Finals: The Toronto Raptors win the 2019 NBA Championship! – Raptors HQ

VanVleet, an undrafted player who came up through the Raptors 905, might be an unlikely hero to the uninitiated. Since late in the Milwaukee series, though, he’s been a bench hero for Toronto, and was so again in Game 6. Those 12 points in the fourth quarter were part of 22 on the night. In the frantic celebration after the final buzzer, VanVleet’s ABC interview was ransacked by another unlikely star — Pascal Siakam. Though the Cameroon native looked uncomfortable at times in this game, he made a handful of clutch layups in the fourth quarter and a pair of important threes in the first, part of his 26 points and 10 rebounds.

Then, of course, there was no silencing Kawhi Leonard completely. Even with the entire focus of the Warriors’ defence on him, Kawhi got 22 points on 16 shots — another game where he quietly got his production despite double teams and tons of physicality thrown his way. Kawhi’s most important play didn’t show up on the scoreboard either, as he fought two Warriors for a loose ball at halfcourt with three seconds left in the fourth — running clock and, after a lengthy review, securing the win for Toronto.

Those four players for Toronto — Leonard, Siakam, VanVleet, and Lowry — accounted for 96 of the Raptors’ 114 in the game. A superstar brought on thanks to years of careful, yet opportunistic asset management. An unlikely star who worked all summer to make the NBA’s biggest leap in talent. An undrafted point guard. A veteran of 13 years who brought everything together, then and now. It’s admittedly a bit poetic that these were the four that earned the Raptors their first championship in 24 years.

The Warriors, for their part, were an honourable fight. Thompson’s injury in the third quarter ended up being the turning point in the game, as he tweaked his knee after a contested transition dunk and was forced to exit. Klay was working through a typical Game 6 for him at that point, making 8-for-12 overall, 4-for-6 from three, and proving unguardable against a Raptors defence that was selling out completely on him and Steph Curry.

Raptors dethrone two-time defending champs on their own turf | Toronto Sun

Raptors team president Masai Ujiri knew exactly when this run began to feel like it was possible and it dates all the way back to last July.

“To be honest, as soon as we got one of the best players in the world,” he said going back to the deal that brought Kawhi Leonard to Toronto. “You know you have a chance. You don’t know how all those other things are going to go, but at the trade deadline I could tell that Kyle was tuned in. Bringing in Marc Gasol and then all the other players and Nick, Nick is good.”

Nick, of course, is Nick Nurse, the rookie head coach who has gone from “Who dat?” to NBA champion in the blink of an eye.

This was a team that was stoic and composed until the final minutes but once over they let loose like only first-time champs can.

A year that has been, and rightly so, predominantly about Leonard ended on a winning note on this night primarily because of Lowry and a two-man bench unit of Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka.

Lowry wasn’t just great in the early stages of Game 6, he was dominant, scoring his team’s first 11 points and setting the tone for the night.

No one on the court could hold a candle to what the Raptors’ 33-year-old point guard did through the first 30 minutes of the game. Lowry finished with 26 points, all but five of them in that first half, along with 10 assists and seven rebounds.

Lowry brushes aside critics: ‘I’m a champion’ – ESPN

“I think the thing about this whole thing is, when I come out and play aggressive, we win, and we play hard and play better,” Lowry told ESPN. “That was the biggest thing, was coming out and being aggressive and not settling. Not letting them get going and knowing they were going to come out and be super aggressive and the crowd would be into it, and they were going to be tough to beat in this building on a night like this, the last night at Oracle.

“We knew it was going to be tough. But for me coming out and being aggressive, it allowed us to set the tone.”

What it also did was show that this game was not going to be like others during this postseason for Toronto, when Kawhi Leonard was going to have to do everything. On this night, not only did Lowry have a huge game, but so, too, did Pascal Siakam (26 points, 10 rebounds) and Fred VanVleet (22 points).

That meant Toronto could win a game in which Leonard, who became the first player to win an NBA Finals MVP while playing for a team in each conference, played well — 22 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 41 minutes — but wasn’t at the same transcendent level he was at so many other points during these playoffs.

“It allowed Kawhi to rest a little bit, and not have to do everything,” Lowry told ESPN. “Give him a little bit of a break to kind of get them to not make Kawhi have to f—ing get 60 points.

“That’s when we have always been at our best, when Kawhi doesn’t have to get 60 early. So Kawhi can kind of figure it out and then we can get him the ball, and that’s what happened in the second half.”

But while Leonard wasn’t transcendent, he did seal the win by fighting for the loose ball that was bouncing around the floor after Curry missed an open 3-pointer in the final seconds. Leonard, along with several others, dived on the ground after the ball, with Golden State eventually getting called for a technical foul for attempting to call a timeout it didn’t have.

Leonard made the ensuing free throw, and then two more after yet another foul on the following inbounds play. He said after the game that after he was on a team that failed to get a critical rebound in a similar situation — the San Antonio Spurs, in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat — and that he was not about to let that happen again.

“I’ve been in situations like that in a Finals that I lost by two or three points, and we lost that game because of rebounds,” Leonard said. “I forgot who shot the ball. You guys know the story. It was the last two possessions for Miami. They got two chances to shoot 3s — well, four chances at the basket out of two possessions.

“And that was my fault because I was trying to get the rebound. Once he missed the ball I tried to keep tipping it so some more time could run out. Didn’t want to grab it right away so they could foul me. And Draymond ended up waiting with 0.9 seconds and called a timeout and kept moving from there.”

Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet is the shot clock king –

In the first 15 games of these playoffs, VanVleet averaged four points in 20 minutes. He shot 26 percent from the floor, 19 percent from beyond the arc, and the Raptors were outscored in nine games with him on the court. Up until that point, he was the least effective rotation player in the entire playoffs. (Out of everyone who averaged at least 20 minutes per game, only DeMarre Carroll had a lower field goal percentage and only Jared Dudley tallied fewer points.)

Since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, VanVleet’s scoring is up to nearly 14 points per game in a dozen more minutes. He’s drilled 53 percent of his shots and 54 percent of his threes. No player has made more threes than VanVleet’s 25 since May 21, and no player has registered a plus/minus more favorable than his whopping +83.

But the most remarkable feat of VanVleet’s run is his success rate under duress. Nearly a third of his shots over the past eight games have been launched with four or fewer seconds on the shot clock; his effective field goal percentage on them is an impossible 58.3. These are the hardest shots in basketball for a variety of reasons, yet, in the biggest games of his life, VanVleet has converted them with the stoicism of a statue. (In these playoffs, Kawhi Leonard is the only player who’s taken more late clock shots than VanVleet.)

Each one of these shots is a spike strip for the opponent’s momentum. The most deflating thing any team can endure is when 20 seconds of intense defensive effort, communication, and discipline yield no reward. VanVleet is the source of enough of these sequences to make you question if/when he sold his soul to the devil. It’s hard to see how he can sustain that shooting over time, but at this point, nobody should be that surprised when the shots go in.

Raptors exec strikes deputy after Game 6 of NBA Finals at Oracle Arena, police say –

NBC Bay Area first reported news of the altercation, and said witnesses identified the man as Raptors president Masai Ujiri. The video in their report shows Ujiri, but does not show the executive pushing the deputy. Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, would not confirm the identity of the Raptors executive when reached by The Chronicle.

After the Raptors’ victory, the executive was denied access to the court by a deputy because he didn’t have the proper credential, Kelly said.

“(The deputy) did not know who the man was and asked for the credential, and that’s when he tried to push past our deputy, and our deputy pushed him back, and there was another push that kind of moved up and struck our deputy in the face,” Kelly said. “At that point, several bystanders intervened and the executive did ultimately get back onto the court without displaying credentials.”

Several minutes after the encounter, security learned the man was a Raptors executive, Kelly said.

Ujiri was on the court after the game, posing for photos.

“It’s not like we were going to chase him down,” Kelly said. “He had a right to be there, but he didn’t follow the credential policy.”

The Toronto Raptors win the 2019 NBA Finals! – Bullets Forever

Before Ujiri came to Toronto, the Raptors only made the playoffs twice between 2002 and 2013. One of those reasons is because the city wasn’t viewed as a desirable place to play.

Toronto isn’t in the United States. It’s in Ontario, the largest province in Canada, and many American players are hesitant to live in another country. Also, the winters can be quite cold.

Even after this NBA championship, Toronto is probably not skyrocketing past Los Angeles and New York City as destination cities for star free agents, most of whom are Americans. And that is what make their NBA championship that much more remarkable, and to be quite frank, awesome.

Like Toronto, Washington isn’t viewed as a destination city to outsiders even though it’s a really great place to live. But with the right front office management that is willing to take some risks, I don’t see why Washington can’t do the same.

But for now, I’m really happy to see that the Raptors won the 2018-19 NBA Championship.

Congratulations, Toronto Raptors!

Sources: Wizards preparing prolific offer to Ujiri – ESPN

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is expected to reach out to Toronto ownership soon to request formal permission to meet with Ujiri and offer a staggering financial package that would include running the Wizards’ basketball operations and, perhaps, taking on a larger leadership role in the Monumental Sports and Entertainment company that oversees the Wizards and NHL’s Capitals, league sources said.

Ujiri’s vision and team building helped deliver the Raptors their first NBA title on Thursday night, beating the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in six games.

Washington stalled its search for a top basketball executive in the aftermath of Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly rejecting an offer on May 20. Washington ownership has been pleased with the performance of interim GM Tommy Sheppard, who has instituted a number of cultural and process changes since replacing his former boss, Ernie Grunfeld, in April.

The Wizards have interviewed two candidates, Oklahoma City executive Troy Weaver and former Atlanta and Cleveland GM Danny Ferry, for the job, league sources said.

Ujiri, who has two years left on his contract, is the architect of the first championship in Raptors history. He’s responsible for building the Denver Nuggets into a contender and, now, the Raptors into a championship franchise.

Ujiri, 48, is also in the difficult position of needing to navigate this Wizards courtship as his franchise prepares to make its closing case to free agent Kawhi Leonard about staying with the Raptors on a long-term deal.

Report: Wizards to Offer Raptors’ Masai Ujiri $10M Per-Year Contract to Run Team | Bleacher Report

Ujiri orchestrated a trade that led to the Raptors’ NBA Finals victory, sending leading scorer DeMar DeRozan and center Jakob Poeltl to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

DeRozan is a beloved figure in Toronto who co-led the Raps to a No. 1 seed in the 2018 NBA playoffs with Kyle Lowry. Making the move was an astonishing decision.

However, it worked out for Toronto as Leonard led the Raptors to their NBA Finals win. The forward dominated in the playoffs and especially in the NBA Finals, during which he won his second MVP after averaging 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.0 steals in the championship round.

Ujiri, who was named the 2012-13 NBA Executive of the Year when he was running the Denver Nuggets’ operations, is arguably the game’s greatest executive in the present day. Therefore, it’s no surprise the Wizards, who haven’t won 50 or more games in the regular season since 1978-79, want him to lead the team.

Rebuilding Washington would be a tough task. The team is coming off a 32-50 season, and hope isn’t on the horizon with All-Star point guard John Wall set to miss at least half of next season after suffering a ruptured Achilles.

At this point, the Wizards’ best bet is to break it all down and do a full rebuild. Ujiri could be the man to oversee it.

But if not, Wojnarowski mentioned a few other candidates. Of note, the team has interviewed Oklahoma City Thunder executive Troy Weaver and ex-Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry.

NBA Champion Toronto Raptors Have Everything Kawhi Leonard Needs to Keep Winning | Bleacher Report

Toronto looked wobbly to start the Eastern Conference Finals. The Milwaukee Bucks opened the series with two straight wins, the second of which was a 125-103 drubbing. It then took the Raptors two overtimes to edge past them in Game 3. The beginning of their four-game winning streak could just as easily have been a 3-0 death sentence.

With Durant out for all but 12 minutes of the Finals, the Warriors arguably posed an easier test for the Raptors. Except, well, they didn’t. Dynasties don’t dissipate without a fight. Toronto’s 3-1 series lead, built in part thanks to Thompson’s absence in Game 3, never really felt safe.

The Raptors navigated this minefield anyway. It could have been worse. It also could have been better.

Toronto’s supporting cast spent much of the playoffs drowning in inconsistency. Fred VanVleet is a hero now, but he was a borderline no-show until he turned things around against Milwaukee in an about-face that just so happened to coincide with the birth of his son.

Danny Green went cold toward the tail end of the Sixers series and through the Bucks matchup. He perked up to start the Finals but went 3-of-15 from the field (1-of-11 from three) over the final three tilts and didn’t attempt a single shot in Game 6. That is hardly an afterthought if the Raptors are preparing for a Game 7.

Ditto for Marc Gasol’s up-and-down performance. His pendulum swung between passive and present all postseason. The former won out in Game 6. He missed all five of his shots, had more fouls (four) than points (three) and looked relatively unplayable.

All the setbacks, potential pitfalls and, above all, general newness makes the Raptors’ title that much more impressive. This was Year 1.

It only gets better if Leonard stays.

NBA Finals: Kawhi Leonard caps epic playoff run as Finals MVP – USA Today

“Last year, a lot of people were doubting me,” Leonard said. “They thought I was either faking an injury or didn’t want to play for a team. That was disappointing to me that that was out in the media, because I love the game of basketball. Like I always say, if we’re not playing this game, if we’re hurt, I mean you’re down.

“So me just going through that, and I just knew that I would have to make myself happy and no one else. And I have to trust myself. And whatever, it doesn’t matter what anybody has to say about me.”

He ended up with a team that had a plan for getting him healthy and making sure he stayed that way. Toronto employed “load management,” sitting Leonard out in one game of a back-to-back.

“Last summer was tough. I was still rehabbing and just trusted the process, really, with myself,” Leonard said. “I told myself I would be back. I wasn’t going to come back until I could be the player I am today. I wanted to come back in the same shape and form without coming out playing five games and then re-injuring something.

“Just being able to win this championship this year is just something special for me because you know how the last year everybody was looking at me, and I stayed true to myself, and I had a great support system. And once I got here to Toronto they understood everything and kept moving from there.”

Leonard was an All-Star this season and re-established himself as a top-five player in the league, especially after his playoff performance. It just wasn’t in the Finals. He was the best player, either conference, from the first round through the Finals, and was the best player on the court in each series.

The move, yeah, it was worth it, even if Leonard leaves the Raptors this off-season.

Kawhi 1st to win Finals MVP in both conferences – ESPN

The lists Leonard joins with this performance are the elite of the elite. He’s just the third player to win the Russell Trophy with two teams, the others being Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Bucks and Lakers) and LeBron James (Cavaliers and Heat). He’s the fourth player to win Finals MVP in his first season with a team, joining Magic Johnson with the Lakers in 1980, Moses Malone with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983 and Kevin Durant with the Warriors in 2017.

This MVP came after Leonard missed most of the 2017-18 season with the Spurs due to injury.

“I just kept working hard, working hard, and had my mind set on this goal right here,” Leonard said. “I came to a team, a new coast — that mindset was the same as mine, trying to get that Larry [O’Brien championship] trophy there. And this is what I play basketball for; this is what I work out for all summer [and] during the season. And I’m happy that my hard work paid off.”

Leonard scored 732 points in the postseason, third-most in NBA history behind Michael Jordan (759 in 1992) and LeBron James (748 in 2018).

Leonard will now turn his focus toward free agency. He has until June 26 to exercise a $21.3 million player option for next season, which he is expected to decline and become an unrestricted free agent on June 30.

NBA Finals: Kyle Lowry on critics: ‘They don’t affect my life’ – USA Today

“People got their own opinions,’’ Lowry said. “They can say what they want to say.  They always have. I hear them, I listen, but they don’t affect my life.’’

When Lowry is shooting bricks, his teammates come to his defense. He’s vital to setting the pace on offense, they say. But on Thursday, his impact was obvious not just to his teammates but even to the uninitiated eye.

“I took what the game was going to give me, but I wanted to be aggressive,’’ he said.

Oddly enough, the season started with Lowry unhappy after the Raptors traded his good friend DeMar DeRozan as part of a deal for Kawhi Leonard. Thursday, TV cameras caught them in a joyous embrace after the Raptors won their first championship in their 24-year history.

Leonard mentioned to reporters that he’d texted Lowry shortly after the trade.

“When he texted me it was a quick text and just showed the type of person he is,’’ Lowry said. “Willing to reach out, understanding that this situation was a little bit sensitive.  But he knew that he felt something could be done special with our group …”

But how could Leonard have possibly known what might transpire? That not only would the Raptors win their first NBA title, but that Lowry would quiet his critics.

At least for a night.

NBA Finals 2019: Raptors outlast Warriors to win first ever title |

That journey itself will likely prove to be more satisfying in the long run than the championship clincher. Kawhi had far from his best night in Game 6. Gasol and Green combined to shoot 0-for-5. Lowry and VanVleet had big nights, but their numbers were buoyed by big halves. By the end, the Raptors moreso outlasted the Warriors than outdueled them. Already down Kevin Durant, Golden State also lost Klay Thompson, who tore his ACL and missed the final 14 minutes of the game. Toronto didn’t need to be at its very best to secure its first championship, but that in and of itself is an accomplishment for an organization that routinely couldn’t be at its best during the playoffs—and endured the embarrassments that come with that.

The championship win is legacy-altering for many involved. Leonard now has the same number of Finals wins as Durant, as well as the same number of Finals MVPs. After essentially missing the meat of two straight postseasons, Kawhi has re-thrust himself into the heart of any greatest player alive debate, and his legend-potential is as high as anyone’s in the league right now. Lowry, already a fan favorite in Toronto, will now be able to justify his years of suffering and, at times, insufferable play. Masai Ujiri, the architect of the championship roster, already coveted by other teams to deliver them their own title, has long been a respected executive, but he will now be used as an example in the coming years for the front office leaders who want to take their own risks.

These are the spoils that come with winning a championship. It’s not just money, it’s not just fame. It’s immortality. This Raptors group, from top to bottom, will be remembered forever, both for helping to topple a dynasty and for bringing an entire country its first Larry O’Brien trophy. For years, Toronto was remembered for the wrong reasons. The Raptors were always the stepping stone in someone else’s journey. This season, from the moment Ujiri traded for Leonard, Toronto was the aggressor. The 2019 Raptors will be remembered for flipping the script. This time, they were the ones stepping over others on the way to success.

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