There were moments in Thursday night’s game 6 where it felt a lot like the previous game, back home in Toronto. The Raptors had surrendered a lead after controlling the early parts of the game, Kawhi Leonard hadn’t fully established himself, and the Raptors just kept having opportunities to take control, and not quite getting there and the frustration started to build. The doubts seeped in, maybe there would be a game seven back in Toronto, and maybe the defending champions would have their shot at redeeming themselves and coming back from down 3-1 in a series, and maybe the Raptors playoff history would find a new way to re-invent the torments of years past.
Of course, that’s not how it ended, or how it started. This game started with Kyle Lowry, after being maligned for having a rough ending to game five as the Warriors escaped elimination, coming out like a man on fire. Lowry scored the first eleven Raptors points of the game, and he was everywhere for most of the night. Being effective defensively, creating shots for his teammates, and getting his own offense with ease, as the Raptors built a lead at halftime. The heroics of Klay Thompson kept the game close, despite Lowry, but the Raptors held a lead with Kawhi quiet, and Danny Green and Marc Gasol mostly ineffective offensively(as they would remain in this game).
We’ve all talked about the mental toughness of this Raptors team, and their ability to find answers, and it was the Warriors doing that in games five and six, it seemed. After Kevin Durant’s injury, with Steph Curry struggling, the Warriors just refused to go away. They played a tough defensive game, had Klay Thompson hitting everything all over the floor, and just kept the game within reach, and then took a lead in the third quarter.
Then Klay Thompson, towards the end of the third quarter, went up for a transition dunk and was fouled by Danny Green. It was a clean foul, there was nothing dirty about it, but Klay came down awkwardly on his knee and the entire arena went silent while waiting to see if he was okay. Klay started towards the locker room before turning around in the hallway, coming back out to shoot his free throws so he would have the option of returning later in the game. After sinking both though, Klay would go to the locker room and leave the arena on crutches, and his absence became the story the rest of the night.
The Raptors capitalized and built a small lead of their own towards the end of the fourth quarter, with Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam doing the heavy lifting offensively, and just proved too much at the end. VanVleet’s shooting has been incredible throughout the last two rounds of the playoffs, and incredibly timely, and this game was no different. It wasn’t the Raptors being carried by Kawhi Leonard, who went on to win Finals MVP, it was the Raptors being the tougher, better team, as they’ve been throughout the series. It was Nick Nurse finding answers to get the team over the hump, and get them to the point of champions.
From there, the emotions took over and they still feel somewhat overwhelming after the game, watching the team celebrate and enjoy the moment they’d given themselves. Kyle Lowry finally achieving redemption for the years of playoff struggles with the Raptors, being a champion, and being a player who can’t be questioned any longer that he can get it done in the biggest moments on the biggest stages. Kawhi Leonard, finalizing his comeback season after missing most of the year last season, showing that he is well and truly back to being the player who belongs in conversations as one of the best players in the league. Pascal Siakam, who was brilliant again in this game, showing the growth that he’s had not just from one season to the next, but also within this season, being challenged by the best defenders in the world in the playoffs and finding new wrinkles in his own game to create ways to help his team.
This was what Masai Ujiri said he came to Toronto to do, to deliver the city a championship. He never wavered from that goal, preposterous as it seemed sometimes as the team had some terrible outcomes in the past postseasons. He kept working, kept his eye on getting to that mountaintop, and on Thursday night he was able to watch the team he built get to that point. He made a lot of tough choices to get here, and there are never any guarantees, but he found a way to get it done, and Raptors fans will never forget this night.