How am I supposed to sleep after everything that just transpired? Just as I did after the last two instant classic NBA Finals in 2016 and 2013, I had to dust off the old blogging skills to write out my feelings on the complicated, exhilarating six-game war of attrition that just concluded.
Here are 16 moments I’ll never forget from the 2019 NBA Finals:
- Kawhi Leonard’s 2019 playoff run immediately enters the pantheon of postseason rampages with the likes 2016 LeBron, 2003 Duncan, 2000 Shaq, 1995 Hakeem, etc. But, the run it most reminded me of was Dirk in 2011. A singular star surrounded by a cadre of savvy vets (although the Raptors were deeper AND younger) willing his group to victory against a super team. Becoming the third player to win a Finals MVP with two teams is a huge deal. LeBron and Kareem – that’s rarefied air.
- This Toronto team is now a testament to not always blowing it up. Or are they? It’s a complicated question. Yes, Kyle Lowry was always there and several of the bench guys hung around, but DeMar DeRozan, Dwane Casey, and company are no longer around. By simultaneously staying good/not bottoming out AND stockpiling assets (a tough balance), the Raptors laid the foundation for a championship team, thanks in large part to Masai Ujiri’s GOAT-level team building skills. The trades for Kawhi and Gasol, the smart draft picks, the roster’s top-notch depth – those moves led to this moment. The group famously had no lottery picks. But most other championship-level teams have multiple high draft picks. Are the Raptors an outlier or could other teams copy this plan?
- KD coming back from injury, despite every incentive in the world not to, to try and help his team to a three-peat, and suffering a devastating achilles injury. He was playing out of his mind in the game up to the injury, just like he had been the best player in the playoffs prior to the calf injury against the Rockets. This is another one of the murky situations from this series – with people questioning the Warriors training staff for letting KD play and his teammates and the organization and the media for potentially pressuring him into coming back
3b. Unfortunately his impending free agency also casted a shadow over all of this (and the entire Warriors season). It still feels weird to talk about, but several franchises were likely affected due to that injury. KD and AD were set to be the first two dominos to fall for what is expected to be a wild, league-altering summer. Who knows what this means for Golden State, Los Angeles (both of them), Boston, New Orleans, New York, Toronto, Brooklyn, and potentially more teams.
3c. Kawhi’s impeding free agency also floated over the Raptors all season like the Ghost of Bargnani’s past. He would quite literally be making an unprecedented move if he were to leave this summer.
- Klay, in full Game Six glory, conquering worlds right up until he tore his ACL. Another heartbreaking moment for Golden State. But watching him walk back out of the tunnel to take those free throws induced legit goosebumps.
- Steph, with the chance to finally earn his long sought-after Finals MVP (which, for some reason, people think he needs to cement his legacy), coming agonizingly close. He certainly had the numbers for it had the Warriors won. It was tough to watch him despondent off in the far corner as Klay lay writhing on the ground, knowing their chances of three-peating just dwindled rapidly.
- Has there ever been a more brutal ending to a dynasty (if this one is indeed over)? Usually dynastic teams go down fighting, break down because of wear and tear, or implode internally. The Warriors went down fighting while also losing two in-their-prime players, not rundown veterans. I will say, despite potential huge personnel losses for next year, I’m not ready to count these guys out just yet.
- Draymond with another low-key unbelievable elimination game that will be lost to history. Game 7 in 2016 and now this. Love him or hate him, he’s always war ready.
- Kyle Lowry, silencing his countless doubters by combining all star level scoring and playmaking with classic Kyle stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score. Lowry and Draymond (and Iggy) are some of the most notable “litmus test guys” which means someone’s opinion of their game says a lot about what they value in a player. KLOE.
- My son, Fred VanVleet, coming through in the most back-breaking, Manu-esque moments again and again and again. I’ve been a fan of VanVleet since his freshman year at Wichita State (Shockers got robbed!), so I was so proud of his post-baby performance. The inevitable Drake song is going to go so hard.
- While we’re on the subject of being proud of my basketball family: my father, Marc Gasol, won a title. And even if his numbers were never eye-popping, his defense and passing unlocked the most dangerous version of this Raptors team. Grind n Grind FOREVER. TEARS.
- Speaking of long-due vets, Serge Ibaka has been through some absolute battles and I’m so glad to see him earn a ring. He saved the Raptors in the Philly series.
- The “Is Andre Iguodala a Hall of Famer” debate reached peak volume after his ice cold dagger in game two. I don’t know if he’ll get in or not, but it’s a fascinating case. All I know for sure is that he has been indispensable to this Warriors run.
- The Box-and-One and the Two-Three Zone being broken out in the NBA FINALS. Truly wild.
- Every teams needs an over-involved hometown celeb running amok on the sidelines. I thought Drake was a fun aside in the playoffs, sue me.
- Danny Green, after the slump of all postseason slumps, turning into a supernova during the beginning of the Finals. Green will go down in NBA lore thanks to a number of killer performances on the biggest stage throughout his career.
- Even with the devastating injuries, impending free agencies, and an obnoxious part-owner’s court-side behavior, the high-level basketball in this series kept forcing its way to the forefront of discussion. As it should be. Is it October yet?