The good, the bad, and the triumphant from Thursday’s close-out Game 6.
Raptors 114, Warriors 110
Winner: Kyle Lowry, Finally
Where did you see Lowry in Game 6? Was it at the rim battling through bodies bigger than him for tough layups and off-balance teardrops? Or pulling up from behind the 3-point line as he made his first three 3s of the game without the ball even touching the rim? Was it when he pushed the pace after grabbing one of his seven rebounds, or making one of his 10 assists? The correct answer is everywhere, including, in the end, holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy, wearing a smile of relief across his face.
Lowry came out fueled by rocket boosters, ready to rev up to a speed of his liking and erase any kind of sentiment that he is not a playoff performer. In the first half, he was an omnipresent blur, one that no Warrior could stay in front of. It’s like Lowry didn’t wait for Kawhi to get going before he decided to leave his own mark. In 22 first-half minutes, he totaled 21 points, six rebounds, and six assists. Where Kawhi struggled (nine points in the first half), Lowry carried the Raptors.
Lowry added only five points in the second half, but he didn’t stop moving, or passing, facilitating with urgency like he was the one whose team was on the ropes. Lowry finished with 26 points and bragging rights—no one can say anything critical about him in the playoffs now. Lowry stuck around even as everything around him changed. He fought through tough performances and the LeBron era that nearly sent this franchise into a tailspin. And after all of that, he now has a ring and a signature clinching game to go with it.
Winner: Masai Ujiri and Kawhi Leonard
It’s impossible to credit one without the other. Leonard carried the Raptors here. He willed them with an improbable shot, pushed them through with titanic performances, and finally vaulted them over the top with a playoff run that will go down in history. But this championship for a franchise that had never had one, and this superstar on a team that had been desperate for one, never would have materialized had it not been for Ujiri, the team president who once cursed out Brooklyn, and now can say that he built a title winner where no one saw one. He did it with savvy decision-making and boldness, with good hires and risks.
Kawhi wasn’t a risk so much as a lifeline. It made all the sense in the world to get him (and Danny Green!) for DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl. But even Ujiri likely didn’t see this kind of run, this kind of assertion, from Kawhi coming. He averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists in the playoffs and became one of four players ever to average at least 30 points and 1.5 steals plus a 60 percent true shooting percentage in the playoffs while playing at least 10 games. The others are Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kawhi crushed lesser opponents and toppled bigger stars. He said very little, but inspired many to say a lot about him, even to the point of creating fake stories. These were Kawhi Leonard’s playoffs, presented by Masai Ujiri. It was an improbable marriage that turned out to be a fruitful one, whether Kawhi stays or not (or whether Ujiri does too).
On the trophy dais after Game 6, Kawhi accepted his second Finals MVP trophy and said that he’s just “trying to get that Larry O’B” over there. First of all, that’s the trophy’s official name now. I don’t make the rules. Second, it’s getting increasingly easy to argue that Kawhi is the best player in the world. He’s come full circle, from his ascension in San Antonio to his coronation in Toronto. Regardless of where he goes next, the league will have to reckon with him.
Loser: Warriors Injuries; Winner: The Legend of Game 6 Klay
Klay Thompson’s best skill is not his shooting. It’s his confidence. It’s not exorbitant like J.R. Smith’s, or misplaced like Dion Waiters’s. But it’s there, hovering between engaged and fully deployed. Klay’s ability to harness it in the biggest moments is what makes him elite. But in Game 6s, Klay seems to unlock a different level of it, almost like a reserve of rations he deploys only in case of emergency. Game 6 on Thursday night, with the Warriors on the brink of elimination was, once again, an emergency.
Travel back in time with me to the five-minute mark in the third quarter when Klay received an outlet pass around half court and looked like he knew exactly what he wanted to do from the moment the ball hit his fingertips. He put his head down and drove to the right side of the floor. He didn’t look to pass—with Klay, blinders can be a good thing—instead stepping back and pulling up from well behind the 3-point line. It was a hard shot and perhaps a bad shot, but it was, more importantly, a Game 6 Klay shot, so naturally, it went in.
Just a few minutes later in the third quarter, Klay got another pass, this one from Steph Curry on a fast break, but as he went up to dunk, Danny Green met him at the rim and Klay landed awkwardly on his left knee. He stayed down and had to be helped to the locker room. Somewhere along the way, a Warriors official let him know that if he didn’t go back out and shoot the free throws, he wouldn’t be able to come back to the game. Without hesitating, Klay turned around, limped back onto the floor and made both free throws to a rousing Oracle ovation before coming out again. It was a movie moment come to real life.
After the game, Thompson’s agent Greg Lawrence said that Klay tore his ACL on the play, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. On the night, he finished with 30 points on 12 shots in 32 minutes, including four 3s. And given that this game came down to the final possession, it’s hard to believe that we wouldn’t be getting ready for a Game 7 on Sunday had Thompson stayed healthy.
Winner: Fred VanVleet and the Raptors’ Shooting
Fred VanVleet has been telling us all along. He wants us to know that his child, his newborn child, isn’t the reason he’s suddenly a flamethrower from deep and a stout defender on the perimeter. We, of course, have been looking at the games, looking at the numbers, and have begged to differ. Becoming a parent is a life-changing thing, we say. I am doing this all by myself, VanVleet replies. After Game 6, I am forced to renege on my stance. VanVleet brought all of the proof to the table and laid out his case with big shot after big shot.
On Thursday, VanVleet was not just a safety valve of a ball handler for the Raptors to rely on, but in the fourth quarter, he pulled up from deep for three crucial 3s. The Raptors as a team shot the hell out of the ball, especially in the first half when they made nine 3s. In the second half, they cooled off, but VanVleet didn’t. The ball kept finding its way to him and he kept finding the net himself. He finished with 22 points in 34 minutes. (Danny Green, who started and played 18 minutes, had zero points.)
VanVleet was a revelation in this series. After Nick Nurse began starting him in the second halves of these games to bother Steph Curry and hit clutch shots left and right, he went from decent rotation player to X factor—and eventually to a crucial part of a Finals-winning team.
“Kawhi can’t take all the shots,” he told Doris Burke in a postgame interview. Fatherhood is wisdom too. Maybe one day Fred Jr. will watch these highlights and say, I did that. I can only assume that even then, Fred Sr. will reply, in a far older, craggly voice: That was all me.
Loser: Steph Curry by Himself
By the end, when Steph came off a screen with the clock ticking down and a chance to send this series to an improbable seventh game, it may as well have been him, all alone on the court, trying to beat five players all by himself. Thompson wasn’t there, Durant wasn’t there, and Curry had to forge a way through the Raptors defense, which was selling out to stop him with a box-and-one. He had to try to manufacture a win while playing with a team that looked nothing like the one that won the title last year. Quinn Cook, Jonas Jerebko, Alfonzo McKinnie, and even DeMarcus Cousins had their moments—Andre Iguodala even put up an atypical 22 points—but it wasn’t enough.
After Klay Thompson exited the game in the 3rd quarter, Stephen Curry scored just 4 points on 1-6 FG (0-4 from 3-point).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 14, 2019
He was outscored by 3 other Warriors during that time (Green, Iguodala, Cousins).
It didn’t help that Green—who had a ridiculous 11-point, 19-rebound, 13-assist triple-double—coughed up the ball eight times. The Warriors as a team had 17 turnovers, which the Raptors took happily and turned into 17 extra points. Even still, Curry had a shot that would have likely gone into Oracle lore on the last night of the old arena. It hit the back of the rim and bounced all the way back toward him. It wasn’t to be.
Curry finished with 21 points on a paltry 6-for-17 shooting. He took 11 3s and made only three of them. It was a bad game by his standards, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. There was just not enough left in the tank—for him, this team, this dynasty—and far too many unfortunate injuries to overcome. Curry has won so much, both individually and with Golden State, and this does nothing to dilute that. But the poetic injustice, if you will, is that Curry sacrificed accolades, honors, and statistics to build this superteam, and by the end there was not much of it left due to Thompson’s and Durant’s injuries. He could have taken a step toward a pantheon-type run of three straight titles, four in five years, plus the title of best shooter in the history of the league; instead he will likely see that missed shot in his dreams for the next year. Who knows what this team will look like this year, and who knows whether Durant will be around? Curry, though, will keep chucking 3s and surprising us. Doubt his or the Warriors’ return to this stage at your own peril.
Winner: Pascal Siakam’s Swag
Pascal Siakim is a damn legend already pic.twitter.com/sUb2NfMqdk— Board Man Gets Paid (@cjzero) June 14, 2019
From fringe rotation player to Most Improved Player candidate to putting up 26 points and 10 rebounds in a Finals-clinching game. I hope he wears the goggles at the parade.
This piece has been updated with additional information after publication.