Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the Toronto Raptors winning their first-ever NBA title with a clinching Game 6 win over the Golden State Warriors. As such, we're looking back at some of the biggest moments and stories from Raptors run to the championship.
This story was originally published on June 13, 2019.
The Toronto Raptors did it. They won the first-ever NBA title and can rightfully call themselves the best team in the world.
As is seemingly the case with all first-time champions, the win didn't come easy. The Raptors had to beat the two-time defending champs, on the road, inside Oracle Arena, on maybe its loudest-ever night. After the emotional rollercoaster of Game 5, Game 6 almost felt primed for a letdown. Game 6 became a lot of things but it most certainly was not a letdown.
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The Raptors and Warriors played an NBA classic. One of the most intense, tightly-contested games you will ever see and, in the end, the Raptors came out of it with the trophy and the city of Toronto's first title in 27 years.
Before the game started, fans on both sides were unexpectedly cordial to each other. Everyone knew their side's talking points by heart, but almost all back-and-forths in the parking lot and in the arena were light-hearted. Given the intensity of the game that was about to follow, it was an incredible calm before the storm.
Not all fans were stoic in the face of pressure, though. Adam Malone is a Raptor fan living in the Bay Area who could do very little to hide his stress before the game. "I've honestly never been more nervous before a Raptor game ever," he said. "Not even Game 7 [versus the 76ers in the second round] comes close."
I spoke to Malone around 90 minutes before tip. While he wasn't exactly pacing back and forth in the parking lot, he conceded that the slight leg shaking he had been experiencing all day was likely to only get worse over the following hours.
Nerves were still present inside the arena, but Scott McLeod appeared calm. McLeod decided he was going to go to Game 6 only yesterday, buying the tickets and making the plans all within the last 24 hours. He was standing at the edge of the upper deck, intently watching the Raptors warm up and doing his best to soak in every moment of the game.
This was the fifth Raptor game McLeod had ever been to but the fourth this season. He said this team felt different; that after the Kawhi Leonard trade and them overcoming adversity all season and deficits in the playoffs, this team felt different. He seemed very aware of the history he was about to witness and, as soon as the game started, it was clear Game 6 was going to deliver.
In the first few moments of the game, the overwhelming sound inside Oracle seemed to get the best of everyone, except Kyle Lowry. Lowry exploded in the first three minutes for 11 points on 4-4 shooting and helped his teammates ease into the intensity of the game. The Warriors, as they've been one to do, quickly fought back and the game became a slugfest with Toronto leading 60-57 entering the half.
Often, halftime can feel like a drag on the momentum of a game. That wasn't the case in Game 6. Every moment of the break felt absolutely necessary, both for the players to ensure they were 100 percent in the second half and for everyone else to regain control of their heart rate.
The game was in the balance right up until the final moments as the Warrior crowd seemed incapable - or at least unwilling - to believe the had come up short. After Steph Curry missed a contested three and the Warriors called a final timeout they didn't have, the only remaining obstacle standing between the Raptors and a title was 0.9 seconds. It may have taken several minutes for that time to tick off the clock but once it did, fans and players could finally celebrate.
As the team celebrated on the court, a Raptor fan named Mark stood paralytically still while he watched them. The entire time he stood there, Mark had his hands on top of his head as his body language clearly indicated he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing.
Mark chose to go by just his first name and retain some anonymity when I spoke with him because he, along with many other fans in the arena, took a sick day to see history first-hand. I asked him if he planned to go to work tomorrow and, while he said he wasn't sure, you could tell that was the first time the thought had crossed his mind. He was so wrapped up in the moment that everything else had fallen by the wayside.
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