In a playoff run full of sound bytes the man of fewest words may have offered up the most resounding message.
"(Expletive) that, let's get them both."
That was Kawhi Leonard
's response after Nick Nurse told his Raptors
that the goal should be to win one of the next two games on the road in Golden State. Those six words propelled Toronto to wins Game 3 and 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The rest is history.
In hindsight that quote fits the character of Leonard, a man of few words who lets his play send his loudest messages. But it was also that of a man who knew that there was another level to reach if the Raptors were going to slay the giant.
The two-time defending champs - injuries and all - weren't going to simply roll over and hand it to the Raps on a silver platter. You can't just casually waltz into the ring and win a ring. Not against that team.
Leonard's emphatic statement demonstrated an awareness that something deep inside the soul of the franchise needed to change. The gutsy Game 7 win over the Philadelphia 76ers
and the comeback from 2-0 against the Milwaukee Bucks
hinted at a team ready to shake free from its checkered past of laissez-faire behaviour. But they still had to go out and finish the job. For over two decades, the Raptors were just happy to be there and willing to take whatever the league would give them. A U.S. national TV game here and there, a player or two in the all-star game, some end of season awards.
The dreams of one day being crowned NBA champions were just that: dreams.
Even as the Raptors won the Eastern Conference Finals and then Game 1 of the NBA Finals there was cautious optimism. When the Warriors took Game 2 and home-court advantage with them back to Oakland and Oracle Arena momentum in the series shifted with them. The Raptors were the better team on the court but the Warriors had history on their side. Not just their winning history, but the Raptors history of failure as well.
Toronto fans had seen it too many times. Inching close only to have hearts broken.
- LeBron James had done it too many times to even keep count.
- Vince Carter had returned after a bad break up and sent them packing in the playoffs.
- Paul Pierce once told them they didn't have "it" and backed the statement up by helping the lower-seeded Washington Wizards sweep them out of the playoffs.
There were times when getting to the Finals seemed to wash away all of those bad memories. So what if they couldn't get past the Warriors? Let's face it, even with the injuries it was an all-time great team on paper. If the Warriors were to take Game 3 and 4 at home and at some point get Kevin Durant
back in the lineup, history would look back at the 2019-20 season and say 'man the Raptors put up a great fight against one of the most talented teams ever assembled.'
And then Kawhi spoke up.
"(Expletive) that, let's get them both."
The six words which changed everything.
The six words which flipped the narrative.
The six words that spat in the face of accepting anything less than greatness.
Before the Raptors went into Oracle Arena and won both Game 3 and 4 of the Finals they were 6-16 in Oakland. For many Raptors fans, staying up late on the east coast to watch their team in Golden State ended in disappointment. To this point in the franchise history, no team averages more points per game
against the Raptors than the Golden State Warriors
Toronto wasn't just losing some of these games they were getting hammered.
Jason Richardson led the Warriors to a 26-point blow out
over the Raptors in November of 2005. The Warriors had four players score at least 20 points in a 38-point beat down
in March of 2011. And who could forget the Raptors getting pounded by 21 in January of 2015 capped by this disrespectful Stephen Curry
dunk and scream in the face of Kyle Lowry
Oracle had been a tough place for the Raptors and getting multiple wins there wasn't likely. That's what made the victories in Games 3 and 4 so special. It erased the cloud of failure from the team and had the country believing they could see a banner being raised.
Leonard didn't just talk the talk he walked the walk averaging 33.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.0 steals shooting 51.3% from the field in the back-to-back wins at Oracle. Toronto won both games easily by 13 and 14 points respectively. Lowry's 15-point first quarter in Game 6 would set the tone and eventually seal the title for the Raptors.
Toronto's fearlessness heading into Golden State and subsequent triumph turned the franchise from an underachieving mess to a champion. The same building where the Warriors had romped to a perfect 5-0 Finals record over the previous two seasons served as the forge for melding Toronto's championship DNA which now pulses through the veins of the entire franchise, from the players on down to the rabid fanbase.
Nobody walks around with the mentality of 'we'll be happy with one.'
'(Expletive) that, let's get more'.
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