OAKLAND, California – Kawhi Leonard raised his arms high in triumph and celebrated Canada’s first NBA championship.
“We the North!” is now “We the Champs!”
Leonard and the Toronto Raptors captured the country’s first major title in 26 years with their most remarkable road win yet in the franchise’s NBA Finals debut, outlasting the battered and depleted two-time defending champions Golden State Warriors 114-110 on Thursday night in a Game 6 for the ages.
“I wanted to make history here. That’s what I did,” a soaking wet Leonard said, ski goggles perched on his forehead and sporting a fresh black champions hat.
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.
Serge Ibaka pulled his head up through the hoop by the Golden State bench as the crowd chanted “Warriors! Warriors!” after a sensational send-off at Oracle Arena.
Curry walked away slowly, hands on his head on a night Splash Brother Klay Thompson suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and departed with 30 points.
Fred VanVleet rescued the Raptors down the stretch with his dazzling shooting from deep to score 22 points with five 3s off the bench, while Leonard wound up with 22 points.
Kyle Lowry scored the game’s first eight points, and finished with 26 in all to go with 10 assists and seven rebounds.
Fans poured into the streets in Toronto, screaming and honking horns after the Raptors pulled off a third straight win on Golden State’s home floor that said goodbye to NBA basketball after 47 seasons.
And the Raptors did it with the very kind of depth that helped define Golden State’s transformation into a dynasty the past five seasons.
This time, the Warriors were wounded.
Golden State already was down two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant, who had surgery on Wednesday for a ruptured right Achilles tendon.
Then, the Warriors lost Thompson – and they couldn’t overcome just one more heartbreaking injury.
“A lot of bad breaks in the finals, to be honest,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Like us, they kept on playing. We just had to keep on playing no matter who was out there.
“And I think they were super intense high-level games and both teams desperately trying to win.”
This thrilling back-and-forth game featured 18 lead changes, nine ties and neither team going ahead by more than nine points.
Curry scored 21 points, but shot just 6 for 17 and went 3 of 11 on 3s.
Iguodala added 22 for his biggest game this postseason as the Warriors did everything until the very last moment to leave a lasting legacy at Oracle.
Thompson provided his own dramatic memory. He injured his knee when fouled by Danny Green on a drive at the 2:22 mark of the third, was helped off the court and walked partially down a tunnel toward the locker room, then – shockingly – re-emerged to shoot his free throws before going out again at 2:19.
He didn’t return and left the arena on crutches, and the Warriors announced that an MRI had confirmed the torn ACL.
“More than the what-ifs is just feeling bad for the players involved. Injuries are always part of the NBA season – any professional sport, injuries play a huge role,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“It’s just the nature of these injuries, the severity of these injuries. And we’ll know more about Klay. But we can sit here and say, well, if this hadn’t happened or that hadn’t happened, that doesn’t matter.
“What matters is Kevin Durant is going to miss next season with an Achilles tear, and Klay suffered a knee injury.”