This ending was all too perfect. Two unique players. Two unique teams. Two unique cities. Which one would come out on top? Was it going to be the team with the number one record and the MVP candidate who soared to the top via an all-around new business venture? Or was it going to be the team with the number two record and number one quality performance from a quality player? It seemed like fair game, until one team clawed their way back from the other – 2 down – just to win 4 straight and prove themselves as the better winner.
Was this about being the better winner all along? Yes, it was. The playoffs have always been about being the better winner, if not the better team and player. Unlike the regular season, where teams win and lose all the time, and even good teams lose and bad teams win, the playoffs are about the better winner regardless of the circumstances. The playoffs are about who will win it all, and so of course, using this concept, a team like the Toronto Raptors seemed fit to win. The Raptors, led by newly acquired Kawhi Leonard after trading former and longtime leader DeMar DeRozan, embarked on a feat when they faced teams in the playoffs. Furthermore, they seemed to have easily conquered it when they faced and beat the Milwaukee Bucks. They’d beaten every team they faced before Milwaukee, Orlando and Philadelphia, which proved they were meant to be there even through doubts on how far the Kawhi experiment would go. And winning, especially 4 straight, proved that they were not only supposed to be there but win it all, which had been the goal for Toronto and Leonard.
Meanwhile, the regular reason had been all too perfect for the Bucks. A new arena, new head coach, and new and improved team embarked on an NBA takeover. They went 60-22 on the season, and even started on an undefeated streak. They too had beaten every team they faced before the Conference Finals, the Pistons and Celtics, where they fell short against the Raptors. And indeed their fall was a fall compared to all of what the Bucks had accomplished. Milwaukee had it all even more than Toronto. The entire city of Milwaukee was renovated because of the team when the Fiserv Forum arena was unveiled during a busy Summer before the season began. The team was rebuilt around a new General Manager and head coach, Jon Horst and Mike Budenholzer, who knew about winning 60 games in a full season. The team, most importantly, was better and it was because of their core, which included mainstay superstar since being drafted in 2013, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo was better because of all of it. He listened to Coach Bud better than he had any other coach. He rose to the top of the team and the NBA as an MVP candidate alongside highly competitive competition in league favorites James Harden and Paul George. He was clearly focused on winning a championship, and surrounded by such a system, he and his team were destined to win one.
When the Bucks made it far enough to face Toronto, they were not only met with an opponent, but an equal opponent with all of the same problems, and all of their problems had suddenly been erased. Giannis was resilient, but so was Kawhi. The others were supportive of Giannis, but Kawhi’s “others” were more supportive and better players. Milwaukee was a thriving city, but Toronto was even more thriving because of their own business ventures, which included making rapper and native, Drake, an ambassador of the team who went to every game. A billboard of Kawhi had been unveiled after the Bucks-Raptors series in Oakland with the headline, “The King of the North is Coming” and next to it cities that Toronto defeated were crossed out, which included Milwaukee and left Golden State out.
So when Toronto made it to the very end, there was a clear winner in all of this and the winning had not been a facade, but a real and perfect ending. The Toronto Raptors made it to the Finals – a feat that hadn’t yet happened and seemed impossible even during the DeRozan days – and they won. And they beat the respected and admired leaders of the Western Conference, Golden State Warriors, to do it. The Warriors were a real matchup for the new and hungry Toronto team.
We hoped that Kevin Durant was playing, so that the Warriors would have a fair and much better shot than the Bucks. We hoped that longtime Raptor and friend of star point guard Kyle Lowry, DeRozan, was still with the team for the joyous moment at the end when Toronto won. However, neither of these things happened, and the finals still went to a Game 7 full of surprises. Anyone watching would have hoped that the Bucks were playing against the Warriors, but fate would have it that two other perfect teams would compete and give us a happy ending.
This ending was all too perfect. Two unique players. Two unique teams. Two unique cities. Which one would come out on top? Was it going to be the team that in spite of their diverse core, relied on the hot shooting of one man? Or was it going to be the team that clawed their way to the top, and had been there before and knew all too well about being there?
This time, it wasn’t so obvious, which made the matchup that much more perfect. The Warriors had the experience, an experience that the Bucks did not have which would give even a rising team like the Raptors a troubling time. The Raptors had the excitement, though, which would give the Warriors trouble at the famous Scotiabank arena (formerly known as the Air Canada Centre) and their own loved Oracle arena. Without Durant and suffering through several other roster problems, the Warriors experience and excitement paled in comparison to the Kings of the North.
Leonard was an undeniable and respected talent, which troubled opponents. With him and the rest of the Raptors core intact, including veteran Kyle Lowry, scoring forward Pascal Siakam, and reliable newcomer Fred VanVleet, the Raptors were a true matchup for the Warriors and proved they could win. The North was a true matchup for Oakland. Drake stood out most amongst all of the stars who attend Warriors games, and don’t even think about stepping into Scotiabank for a Raptors game where the rapper sits front row and cheers on his team loudly.
At the end of the game, there’s the moment where the teams move toward the sideline and congratulate each other and the team who won celebrates and the team who lost looks solemn and despair. When the Raptors took Game 1, it looked celebratory and I knew then that we were in for a series in which the Raptors would control and once again by a matter of winning and losing. After that, the Raptors took both games, 3 and 4, at Oracle, which was a matter of being the better team. That’s a lot of Kawhi Leonard, a lot of the North, and a lot of Drake. At the end, it seemed real and perfect that the Raptors were to win and they deserved it. They won, regardless of arenas, clearly regardless of records, and other players on the other team. They congratulated each other and celebrated, and everyone around the world congratulated and celebrated the North.