Why the Raptors beat Warriors in the NBA Finals

We look at three reasons why the Toronto Raptors won its first NBA title in franchise history.

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard (R) celebrate after beating Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of NBA Finals.   -  (Getty Images)

Toronto Raptors is NBA champion and much of it was thanks to Kawhi Leonard.

Toronto closed out the Golden State Warriors with a 114-110 win at Oracle Arena on Thursday in Game Six of the NBA Finals to win its first title in franchise history.

Kyle Lowry scored 26 points to lead the Raptors to the victory while Pascal Siakam chipped in 26. Klay Thompson finished with 30 points in the losing effort, but left in the third quarter with a knee injury. The Warriors were going for their third straight championship and fourth in the past five seasons. They came up just short.

READ | Kawhi Leonard revels in Raptors' success

Here are three reasons why the Raptors won the 2019 NBA Finals.

Containing Curry

The Warriors sharpshooter was effectively contained by the Raptors throughout the series, who tried to trap, double-team and harass him at every step of the way.

Defenders Fred Van Vleet, Kyle Lowry, Danny Green and sometimes Pascal Siakam and Leonard always kept at his hip, giving him less time and space to shoot. The Raptors also tried unconventional defensive tactics such as the "box-and-one" -- a ploy generally used in high school basketball in the U.S -- where an active defender played man-to-man against Curry even as other players formed a zone within the arc.

READ | Stephen Curry: 'The story is not over yet'

The box-and-one dared other Warriors players to shoot and was most effective when Curry's Splash Brother Klay Thompson was not on court. 

Injuries

Kevin Durant's calf tear and later, a devastating Achilles heel injury took him out of the reckoning, reducing the Warriors' super team into a more manageable machine for the Raptors to handle.

Klay Thompson missed a game with a hamstring injury but was brilliant in Game 6 of the NBA finals as he scored 30 points in 32 minutes and kept the Warriors in the fray. An untimely ACL tear took him off the game and that proved to be the final straw for the short-handed Warriors. Curry became more of a non-factor without Thompson to relieve him of scoring responsibilities.

Klay Thompson in pain after suffering a torn ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals   -  Getty Images

 

Kawhi's malleability

Kawhi Leonard has been the Raptors' leading scorer in this postseason, and his record this year ranks among the best ever.

The Warriors tried to limit his effectiveness in offence by double-teaming and trapping him early at the top of the arc and limiting his forays into the paint. The Raptors managed to circumvent this by using Leonard as a secondary option on offence and routing the plays through two point guards on the floor - Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Vleet, who both rose to the occasion in vital moments in Game 6 and other games.

READ | Family tragedy taught Kawhi to enjoy life and hoops

The plural nature of the offence and Kawhi's ability to spot up or score off second chance points allowed the Raptors to keep the strong Warriors defence at bay. At the other end, Leonard played stellar defence, grabbing contested rebounds, stifling passing lanes along with Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol.

Key stats

1 Maiden title for Toronto Raptors, a franchise that joined the NBA in 1995. Like his Warriors counterpart Steve Kerr and former Cavaliers coach Tyron Lue, Toronto coach Nick Nurse won the championship in his very first season as coach

1 Center Marc Gasol joins his brother Pau in becoming the only set of brothers to win NBA titles

3 Kawhi Leonard is only the third player to win Finals MVP with two different teams (San Antonio, Toronto) after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee, Los Angeles) and LeBron James (Miami, Cleveland). Kawhi is the only player to win the MVP honours representing two different Conferences 

Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard became only the third player in NBA history to win Finals MVP with two different teams.   -  Getty Images

 

3 Leonard is the third highest scorer in the post-season ever - his 732 points in 24 games is next only to Michael Jordan's 759 (in 1992) and LeBron James' 748 in 2018

More stats here

6 Number of Raptors players who averaged double digit scores in the NBA Finals. The last time this happened was in 1987 when the Showtime Lakers matched that tally

11 After Toronto's triumph, only 11 active teams in the NBA are yet to win the title - Phoenix, Indiana, Minnesota, Brooklyn, Utah, Orlando, Denver, Memphis, Los Angeles Clippers, Charlotte and New Orleans 

17 Raptors might have lost two games en route to the championship, but they dominated the Warriors, leading in 17 of the 24 quarters in the six games