Raptors secure NBA title with a game to spare
THE Toronto Raptors have survived a torrid final battle to knock out the champion Golden State Warriors and claim the first NBA title in the franchise's history.
The Warriors, seeking their third straight championship and fourth in five years, did not relinquish the crown easily and persevered despite sharpshooter Klay Thompson becoming their latest player to suffer a serious leg injury.
Steph Curry almost stole the game for the Warriors with a late three-point attempt, but Golden State's talisman could not hit the target.
The Raptors held on for a 114-110 victory on Thursday (local time) inside the Warriors' emotion-charged Oracle Arena in Oakland to claim the NBA Finals series 4-2.
"I wanted to make history here," said Raptors' star and now two-time NBA MVP Kawhi Leonard, who contributed 22 points.
The Raptors' forward Pascal Siakam and point guard Kyle Lowry both tallied 26 points and guard Fred VanVleet was potent from long range, including five three-pointers in his 22-point haul.
Founded in 1995, the Raptors have repeatedly showed promise but always failed to reach the finals until this season, when the team added All-Stars Leonard and Marc Gasol via trades.
They also claimed the title by doing the unexpected - defeating the Warriors three times in the finals series at Oracle Arena.
"They played unselfishly and they played defence," said Toronto's head coach Nick Nurse, a journeyman who coached in Europe, England and the NBA G League before getting his NBA break this season.
The injury-ravaged Warriors were on a roller-coaster of emotion after losing their superstar Kevin Durant in game five to a ruptured Achilles and knowing Thursday's game would be their last at Oracle Arena, the NBA's oldest venue.
Golden State's horror injury run continued in the third quarter when Thompson tore his left anterior cruciate ligament after being fouled by Danny Green on a fast-break dunk attempt.
Thompson, who was already battling a hamstring strain, headed to the locker room but heroically returned to shoot two free throws.
He had been red hot, sinking four three-pointers, and top-scored for the Warriors with 28 points despite his early exit.
"It's just brutal," said Warriors' coach Steve Kerr, who watched key players Thompson, Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevon Looney suffer serious injuries during the play-offs.
The Warriors had fallen behind 1-3 in the series but made a stunning comeback in game five and appeared set to pull off another escape and force a game-seven decider in Toronto on Sunday until Curry was astray with a potentially game-winning three-pointer.
The future of the Warriors' dynasty is now in the balance with Durant expected to miss next season with the Achilles injury and, as a prized free agent, possibly not returning.
Thompson, another free agent, also faces a long recovery.
Australian centre Andrew Bogut, who played a little less than two minutes on Thursday, is heading back to the NBL, while Warriors' stalwarts Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston may opt to retire.