OAKLAND, United States (AFP) — Five things we learned from Toronto’s win over Golden State in the NBA Finals:
Always the quiet ones
Victory and defeat looked the same most nights for the Toronto Raptors. Keeping a not too up or down manner, they kept a firm focus on their ultimate goal of a championship trophy, taking after star Kawhi Leonard, who was named Most Valuable Player.
No trash talk. No joyful high fives or celebrations after each win. The Raptors went about their business quietly and methodically, Leonard stressing the fun of playing over big talk.
Finally, the Raptors got to enjoy one big celebration when it mattered most.
A team for the world
The Raptors became the first team from outside the United States to win the NBA Finals, and they did it with a roster of stars from around the world.
Cameroonian forward Pascal Siakam scored 32 points in an opening win and 26 in the clincher.
Spanish center Marc Gasol was a force in rebounding and defensive work.
Serge Ibaka, born in Republic of Congo but an international player for Spain, blocked six shots in game three and scored 20 points in game four.
Britain’s O.G. Anunoby was out after an emergency appendectomy and Canada’s Chris Boucher with back spasms for most of the playoffs while Jeremy Lin, the NBA’s first US player of Chinese or Taiwanese heritage, spent most of the finals on the bench.
Even coach Nick Nurse had a background in Europe, most of it coaching in England, and he had assistants from Italy and Africa.
Credit Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who is Nigerian, for blending talent from across the globe into a championship organization.
Kawhi’s game talks big
Forget his monotone remarks and focus on staying in the moment. Kawhi Leonard lets his game do the talking and it screamed “Champion” throughout the NBA Finals.
The Warriors dynasty could do nothing to stop him. After a solid 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists in support of Siakam’s breakout night when Golden State tried to clamp him down, Leonard unleashed 34 points in game two, hitting all 16 of his free throws in an NBA Finals record for perfection at the line.
He then followed on the road with 30 and 36 points to power lopsided wins.
If he’s not the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, he’s in a very short conversation about who’s best as a possible NBA free agent.
Injury-hit free agency
Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, at one point two of the top free agents on the market to switch teams next season, are instead headed for long rehabilitations in the 2019-20 campaign.
Durant went down with a right Achilles tendon injury in game five of the NBA Finals during his first game after a month out with a right calf injury.
That was bad enough. Some teams had worked years saving money to offer Durant a maximum deal.
He will spend next season working to recover and likely the next campaign tyring to regain peak form.
Thompson, who fought off a hamstring strain to return, suffered a torn left knee ligament in game six and departed on crutches.
Now clubs like the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers must consider other options or accept what appeared to be sure success with both players could now turn into a gamble on either.
But Toronto took such a gamble on Kawhi Leonard after he missed most of last season and the result was an NBA title.
All good times must end
For the Golden State Warriors, there was a sense that time and injury had finally caught up to a team that had defied the odds for years.
They hoped for a third consecutive title and fourth in five seasons, the latter feat having not been done in half a century.
Instead, back-to-back MVP Durant was out with a right calf injury before playing 12 minutes and injuring his right Achilles tendon, a choice in hindsight that looks awful for the Warriors.
Klay Thompson tore a left knee ligament in game six, while Andre Iguodala, Kevon Looney and DeMarcus Cousins battled through pain.
Golden State’s dynasty has made five consecutive runs to the finals but as they prepare to leave Oakland for a new $1 billion arena in San Francisco, they might have seen the end of their golden run.
© Agence France-Presse