The Toronto Raptors capped off their magnificent 2019 playoff run by defeating the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals to capture their first championship in franchise history. Some folks, however, have already stained their title with the daunted asterisk because of the Warriors' plethora of injuries throughout the Finals.
Kevin Durant – who was already sidelined since the Western Conference semi-finals due to a calf strain – played all but 11 minutes in the series after rupturing his achilles in his heroic comeback attempt in Game 5. Klay Thompson missed Game 3 with a hamstring injury and more recently, tore his ACL in the series clincher.
Kevon Looney valiantly played through a fracture near his collarbone, while DeMarcus Cousins clearly was a shell of himself after tearing his quad in round one. Even Andre Iguodala came into the series with a calf issue.
The Warriors certainly could have used a healthier roster to match-up better with the Raptors. And it's arguable that the outcome of the series would have been different if they were in full strength.
But in all seriousness, this little gimmick of putting an asterisk on a title has to stop. Let's not discredit what Toronto did, not only in this series, but also throughout these playoffs.
The Raptors won the championship because they played incredible. They displayed great team work and played lock down defense. They executed well, made key adjustments, and showed plenty of poise down the stretch in close games.
How about we start with that, instead of discrediting them with something that is out of their control? And they consistently did all those, not only in the Finals, but throughout this entire run.
Everything obviously started with the leadership of their superstar forward Kawhi Leonard. However, Toronto wasn't just a one-man show. Leonard had plenty of help from his supporting cast.
Everyone stepped up – from Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, and Serge Ibaka. All of them had their own significant impact at some point in this series and in the playoffs.
Head coach Nick Nurse was also great with both his in-game adjustments and game-to-game adjustments. For example, when Klay Thompson went down with a hamstring injury in Game 2, they immediately used the box-and-one against Curry and this clearly bothered him the rest of the way – albeit the Warriors went on to win that game. But seeing that the defensive scheme bothered the two-time MVP at the end of Game 2, Nurse deployed that in the next contest.
He also made a smart call to play fast in Game 4 to wear down an already exhausted Curry, who previously had a heavy load in Game 3.
Likewise, the adjustments they made defensively against MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, building a wall around him to prevent him from getting near the basket, certainly turned their Eastern Conference Finals series around.
Toronto's defense was just top-notch. As we have seen all season long, Toronto's defense is very good.
Their suffocating defense made life difficult for Curry throughout the series, sending constant double-teams at him and blitzing him on pick-and-roll coverages. Surely, with Curry as the Warriors' only threat for most of the series, it became easier for the Raptors to lock them down and force them into shots that they don't normally generate.
Toronto also went through a lot in this run. It took the luckiest of bounces for them to get past the Philadelphia 76ers in the East semis, which was arguably their toughest series in these playoffs. They had to comeback from a 2-0 deficit against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Heck, their postseason even began with a Raptors classic “oh no, here we go again” loss against the lowly Orlando Magic care of a D.J. Augustin walk off three-pointer.
If anything, all these speed bumps that the Raptors experienced along the way prepared them for the final test against the defending champs. They came together at the perfect time and displayed incredible chemistry and poise as the playoffs got deeper, especially in the Finals.
Make no mistake about it, the Raptors truly earned this championship. Go ahead, Toronto. Go ahead, Canada. Celebrate. This is yours. You deserve this. Savor it. No asterisks for sure.