All the blood, sweat and tears from the franchise, all the years of support from fans has led to this, with the Raptors winning basketball’s biggest prize over the Golden State Warriors in six games Thursday night.
Here’s a look back at the key moments and factors that made the Raptors championship possible.
EARLY REALITY CHECK: Historically, Game 1 of a playoff series hasn’t been kind to the Raptors, who had a 2-13 record in those contests heading into this post-season. It was hard to fathom the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 team losing to No. 7 seed Orlando Magic on home court, but D.J. Augustin drilled a three-pointer with 3.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give the visitors a 104-101 upset victory at Scotiabank Arena. It was a swift reminder for the Raptors — particularly Kyle Lowry, who went 0-for-7 from the field, with six three-point attempts — that no win is guaranteed in the playoffs. Toronto went on to win four straight and take the first round 4-1.
A DAGGER IN PHLLY: Toronto went into Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Philadelphia after splitting the first two home games 1-1. The Raptors went down with a whimper in a 116-95 loss in Game 3, but quieted a rowdy, hostile crowd with a 101-96 win in Game 4. The shot that hushed the 76ers fans was a dagger from Kawhi Leonard — a fadeaway three-pointer over centre Joel Embiid near the end of the shot clock, after the Raptors star slipped a Sixers’ double team. It gave Toronto a four-point lead with a minute to play and regained home-court advantage for the Raptors. Leonard scored 39 points on 20 shots that night, with 14 rebounds.
THE SHOT: Leonard’s three-pointer in Philly was only a precursor to what would come in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. There were 4.2 seconds left in a game tied at 90-90 when he took the ball at the top of the arc. With four dribbles down the right side of the court, Leonard drove by 76ers point guard Ben Simmons only to be picked up by Embiid. Leonard took a high-arching jumper from the right corner, just inside the three-point line, over the outstretched arms of the seven-foot defender. It seemed like all of Scotiabank Arena, all of Toronto, all of Canada held its breath as Leonard’s buzzer-beater bounced four times on the rim. Euphoria broke out as the ball dropped through the hoop for the series-clinching win, a lasting image from these playoffs.
OH BABY: The Raptors reached uncharted territory after Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final when they beat the Milwaukee Bucks 105-99 to take a 3-2 series lead. Toronto went into that road game as seven-point underdogs according to betting site Odds Shark. After losing twice in Milwaukee to open the series, the team got its groove back with two wins at home. The Raptors were led by a career-high 21-point performance from Fred VanVleet, who had been shooting 19.5 per cent from deep before making seven three-pointers in Game 5. VanVleet later said the adrenalin of having a newborn — his son, Fred Jr., was born between Game 3 and 4 — helped reboot his playoffs: “Zero sleep, have a lot of babies, and go out there and let loose.”
MEN DOWN: Injuries are a part of the game and the NBA Finals could have been a different story had Warriors’ star forward Kevin Durant not missed the first four games of the series because of a lingering calf strain he sustained in the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets. Durant returned for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, only to rupture his Achilles in the second quarter. The Warriors were also impacted by the absence of all-star Klay Thompson for Game 3 because of a hamstring injury and for the last quarter of Game 6 after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
THIRD QUARTER RUN: The Warriors were known for third quarter dominance this season, outscoring their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions in those 12 minutes. That was particularly true in Game 2 when the Warriors opened the third on an 18-0 run to take the quarter 34-21. But the Raptors turned the tables on Golden State in Games 3 and 4 at Oracle Arena, outscoring the home team by a combined 73-52 in the third quarters. The Warriors did manage to win the third quarter in Game 6 (31-26) but it wasn’t enough to beat the Raptors.
ROAD WARRIORS: The Raptors worked all season to gain home-court advantage but it was their road wins that proved most important in the Finals, as they swept the Warriors in last three games played at Oracle Arena. Toronto’s Game 3 win was the first time Golden State had lost a Finals game at home since 2016.
Full credit to orginal post, courtesy of: https://www.thestar.com/sports/raptors/2019/06/14/key-moments-behind-raptors-nba-finals-championship-drive.html