This championship win by the Raptors marks the first for a Canadian team in all professional sports since 1993

By Nicole Ganglani | Photo from Inquirer.Sports | Art by Tricia Guevara

Throughout the regular season, no one would have thought that the Toronto Raptors could make it to the NBA finals. All season long, the team proved to have the makings of a champion, but because the NBA today is still dominated by superteams, not a lot of people cared to notice.

Toronto is a team composed of a single superstar on an expiring contract, role players that seemingly weren’t enough to make a championship-caliber team, and a veteran that’s never savored the sweet taste of winning the brass ring.

Now, the Toronto Raptors have reached the summit, and they did it by dethroning the Golden State Warriors (well, what remained of them) —thus achieving the biggest NBA finals upset in history.

From the very start, the Warriors were always predicted to win the title.  It seemed as if no team could figure out how to put a stop to their dominant roster—until they were faced with a series of injuries and the most unexpected champions in NBA history.

Unexpected Champions

Since the past few championship teams were built around multiple-all-time-talents—the kind of teams that don’t necessarily bring to mind the Raptors—the results in this game shocked the world, naturally. The Raptors took control of the finals and the whole post-season through their elite offensive talent, smooth and smart ball movement, exceptional defense, and guys who could pose a threat every time they had control over the ball.

Throughout the post-season, Kawhi Leonard was always the biggest threat of every opponent the Raptors faced. Leonard has come full circle—from being a rising star for the San Antonio Spurs to becoming the superstar of the Raptors and arguably the best basketball player in the world right now. The finals MVP averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists in the playoffs and game six, cementing his reputation as the murderer of the Golden State Warriors dynasty. Leonard was a silent assassin—crushing his opponents and annihilating the bigger superstars this year.

The Hungriest Man on the Court

And then there’s Kyle Lowry. How do you even stop the hungriest man on the court? It seemed as if Lowry was playing the last basketball game of his life. He was at the rim battling through bodies bigger than him to score those tough layups and off-balance teardrops. No Warrior could put a stop to the veteran who put up 21 points, six rebounds, and six assists in the first 22 minutes of the game.

The Raptors needed Lowry to play the best basketball he’s ever played in his 14 years in the NBA, and he did just that. In the second half, he was playing as if his team were down 2-3 and found himself everywhere around the court—including at the end when he finally carried the Larry O’Brien trophy as an NBA champion for the first time in his life.

The Larry O’Brien trophy this year belongs to a team who formed its roster through multiple trade deals and undrafted free agents. But somehow, the Raptors found this to be the perfect mix to take down one of the most powerful teams in NBA history. Fred VanVleet, who the Raptors signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2016 scored 22 points in 34 minutes—including the crucial three-pointers late in the finals-clinching game. Pascal Siakam, the 27th pick in the 2016 draft, put up 26 points and 10 rebounds, while Marc Gasol (who came over to the Raptors with just two months left in the regular season) found his place in this championship puzzle.

This was also the team that finally figured Steph Curry out. It took them a game plan constructed for hours in the film room; they figured out ways to defend one of the best shooters of all time.

On Toronto’s Defense

Although it’s a fact that injuries really did take its toll on the Warriors this finals, it doesn’t mean that Toronto’s elite-defense should be discredited. In game six, Curry finished with 21 points on 6-of-17 shooting. He attempted 11 three-point shots but only made three of them; plus, he missed the shot that would have sent the finals to seven games. Throughout the finals, the Raptors found ways to limit the scoring of the Warriors and overpower them with their own offensive weapons—which is something no team has ever really done before.

In the 23 years of their 24-year existence, the Raptors hardly gave their fans reasons to celebrate. It took them a miracle to complete one of the sweetest and most unexpected runs in NBA history—and in the process taking down one of the greatest dynasties that’s ever lived in sports. The Raptors and their ever loyal fans were the only ones that bet on themselves this season and now here they are, officially the 2019 NBA World Champions.

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