The Toronto Raptors missed a golden opportunity to win Game 5 against the Warriors at home. So naturally, going into Game 6, which was going to be the last game at Oracle Arena, there weren't many that gave them a chance to win. Well, fortunately for the Raptors, they were not in the group of people that did not believe they could not win. The Toronto Raptors, as crazy as it sounds, won three of their four wins in the NBA Finals in Oracle, going undefeated for the season there and hoisting their first championship trophy in franchise history. Many will discount what they did because the injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, but there should be credit given where credit is deserved and the Raptors won the series.
The biggest amount of credit should be given to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri. At the end of last season, he had some tough decisions to make regarding his team. He knew they were not good enough to win it all or make a run at it as they were currently constructed, so he took some chances. He traded one of the best Raptors of all-time, DeMar DeRozan, to the Spurs for superstar Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The big piece, Leonard, will be a free agent this summer and people thought he was crazy to make this move. And along with that big trade and firing Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, the team also made a big move for Marc Gasol at the trade deadline. When those moves were made, they were questioned, but the moves ended up paying off as Kawhi was the superstar they thought he would be, Green hit some big shots along the way, Nick Nurse seemed to press the right buttons as coach and Gasol upgraded their depth and defense along with bringing some offensive skill. Ujiri gambled and he hit the jackpot on all his moves.
Ujiri made the moves, but of course the players had to play and in Game 6, the longest-tenured Raptor on the team showed up. Kyle Lowry got the Raptors started quickly with some deep threes and drives to the basket on his way to 21 points in the first half. His aggressiveness helped carry the Raptors and keep them in the game as the Warriors were equally effective offensively. For a guy that has been ridiculed and tore apart by media and fans, he played one of his best games when it mattered the most for this franchise. And although he did not like that his good friend DeMar DeRozan was traded from the team, he put that aside and did his job and embraced what the team was. Many may not see it, but he was the glue that brought this team together at all times. He shot less this year in the regular season and constantly worked on getting more players involved. And it was because of that sacrifice and leadership that this team got better and better as a unit and not just Kawhi Leonard and the Pips.
Kawhi was special and people expected him to be, but two guys that stepped up and played well were Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. Siakam was drafted by the Raptors and he was an athletic player that played with energy but no one thought he would become what he has been now. He will more than likely end up being the NBA's Most Improved Player this season and he has definitely earned it. He has became a playmaker for the Raptors and he also became a guy the Raptors could depend on down the stretch. And in the biggest game of the season, Siakam came through with 26 points and ten rebounds as he played great in support of their superstar, Kawhi Leonard. Along with Siakam being a supporting member, VanVleet was special. At one point during the playoffs, plenty wondered was he going to hit a shot in the playoffs. Well, he definitely started hitting shots and he got into a groove and rhythm that he never got out of the rest of the playoffs. And in the biggest game of the year, he, like Siakam showed up and showed out. He hit big shot after big shot, scoring 22 points off the bench and seemingly hitting shots alongside Leonard that would stem the tide when the Warriors seemed to want to make one of those magical runs they make. Who would have thought these two players alongside Kawhi and Lowry would be key players on a championship team?
The Raptors and their depth and Ujiri's eye for talent and calculated moves helped make this championship possible. The Raptors were the perfect combination of veterans and team players and they combined to give Toronto their best NBA memory ever.