The Toronto Raptors beat the Kevin Durant-less Golden State Warriors, 114-110, on Thursday night to win Canada's first National Basketball Association championship.
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet rained clutch 3-pointers down on the Warriors, scoring 22 points — double his regular season average — as Toronto fought off a gritty challenge from the Warriors, who also lost All-Star guard Klay Thompson to a knee injury in the third quarter.
"I wanted to make history here. That's what I did," said a soaking wet Kawhi Leonard, ski goggles perched on his forehead and sporting a fresh black champions hat.
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Stephen Curry missed a contested 3-pointer in the waning moments before Golden State called a timeout it didn't have, giving Leonard a technical free throw with 0.9 seconds left to seal it. Leonard, the NBA Finals MVP for a second time, then got behind Andre Iguodala for a layup as the buzzer sounded, but it went to review and the basket was called off before Leonard's two free throws. That only delayed the celebration for a moment.
When it actually ended, the typically stoic Leonard could let it all out. A Canadian team — and we're not talking hockey here — stood on top of one of the traditional major sports leagues for the first time since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series.
The loss marked a somber end to the Warriors' residence in Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, their home for 47 years, which was crowned with three of the previous four NBA titles. The team is scheduled to move into the new Chase Center in San Francisco next season.
The Raptors had already squandered one chance to win the best-of-seven series, falling at home, 106-105, after having won three of the first four games. The Warriors rampaged from behind on Monday thanks to 57 points from Thompson and Curry, their sharpshooting guards.
But Curry and Thompson weren't enough on Thursday night, not without Durant, a former league Most Valuable Player and 10-time All-Star, who ruptured an Achilles tendon after having scored 11 points in just 12 minutes on the floor in the Warriors' Game 5 victory.
Things got worse Thursday night when Thompson was carried off the court after he landed awkwardly, appearing to twist his left knee, while driving to the basket. He didn't return after having scored 30 points, including 4-of-6 from behind the 3-point line.
The Raptors, meanwhile, swept a gust of fresh air into the playoffs, becoming the first team other than Golden State or the Cleveland Cavaliers to appear in the finals since 2014. And they became the first team based in Canada ever to win the championship. (To be fair, only three Canadian teams have ever played in the NBA and its predecessor, the Basketball Association of America.)
In preparation for the historic win, authorities in Toronto closed several major downtown streets to accommodate the crowds.
Even Montreal, Toronto's great rival city, shut down two downtown blocks to allow fans to cheer on the Raptors.