Raptors Win 3-2
Let this sink in.
A team from Canada just won the NBA Championship.
Think about that for a moment.
That’s a big deal. Maybe not quite as crazy as the U.S. losing in the Olympics with a team comprised of professional ballers, but pretty crazy. It speaks to the frenzied passion for basketball all over the world that America no longer has a monopoly over a game that was invented here, and until recently, was only played here.
I’m not expecting some deep change in the global balance of basketball power, but I do think this opens the door for a wider audience. Like the NFL playing games in both London and Mexico.
But it took a lot to make this happen.
It took Toronto taking on Kawhi Leonard on an exceptionally risky one-year deal to make it happen. It took his teammates playing at an entirely different level in these playoffs, especially the Finals. Sadly, but probably most importantly, it took an entire all-star team’s worth of injuries to their opponents to make it happen, yet here we are.
Before Toronto fans start screaming “The injuries don’t matter!”, let’s clear this up. They matter. A lot.
Kevin Durant, the only player who might be better than Kawhi at this moment, two-time finals
MVP ruptured his Achilles tendon playing on a badly strained calf.
DeMarcus Cousins, a top five big man, rushed back from what was considered a season-ending quad injury, he provided minutes, but he was never the dominant figure that opposing coaches have nightmares about.
Andre Igoudala, former Finals MVP, a legendary thirty-five-year-old team player who played the Finals on one leg.
Kevon Looney, who was ruled out not once, but twice, for the series with cracked cartilage in his chest, but played hurt for the entire series.
Lastly, Klay Thompson blows his ACL in a must-win game six, the final game to be played at Oracle Arena. That’s way too much to look past when we talk about his year’s NBA Finals.
Let’s face facts. Those five injured players, if they were healthy, would not only make the playoffs, they’d probably be a two or three-seed. Let’s face facts. If Klay Thompson doesn’t get hurt, the Warriors most likely win game six, and in game seven, who knows.
Let’s face facts. If Kevin Durant is even at 80%, the Raptors might have avoided getting swept. Maybe.
The Raptors did exactly what they should have done. They broke down the remaining Warriors and won the series in a one-sided war of attrition. It’s like beating the Showtime Lakers without Magic and Kareem, or the Bulls without Jordan and Pippen. It just isn’t the same.
I know it isn’t cool to focus on injuries, but this tidal wave of trauma is too much to ignore when we consider Toronto’s ascendance and what this means for the Warriors as an all-time great unit.
Looking forward, are the Warriors done?
Next year is probably too soon to answer that question. Klay Thompson won’t be back for at least a full calendar year. Same for Kevin Durant, on the off chance he decides to stay put.
I would liken next year’s Warriors to the 2008 New England Patriots, who lost Tom Brady to a knee injury in the first game of the season, only to win eleven games behind Matt Cassell and still somehow miss the playoffs. Only the Warriors probably won’t miss the playoffs, assuming the health of Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Like the Patriots, the Warriors will likely make moves to find new talent and contend, even if they don’t look like the same team that played in the NBA Finals five straight years.
Will they be an overwhelming favorite to take the West?
Nope. That will be the new look Lakers with LeBron, Anthony Davis and ???
In any event, if those question marks in the previous sentence aren’t a placeholder for Kawhi Leonard, I don’t think you can look past Golden State while the core that started this dynasty is still intact.
Image Source: AP Images/Ben Margot