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Time is Running Out of Time (Game 6 Recap), by Rudy Ralph Martinez

Last night, we witnessed the end of an era.

It ended not with a Mark Breen “Bang!” or an Eliot-esque whimper, but a litany of injuries and the crowning of a new best two-way player in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard.

With just over two minutes left in the third quarter of Thursday night’s Game Six, the Warriors up three, Klay Thompson was fouled by Danny Green on a dunk attempt and came down awkwardly on his left knee. Mere seconds removed from writhing on the floor in pain, Klay was half-way to the locker room when he returned to a thunderous applause, Willis Reed-style, to shoot two free throws, saving him from automatic disqualification.[1] He reportedly told Steve Kerr he only needed two minutes of rest before being able to return. However, he’d soon leave Oracle Arena in crutches and a boot, as the NBA world later found out Thompson suffered an ACL tear in his left knee. At the time of his injury, Thompson was scorching the Raptors to the tune of 30 points on 8-12 shooting, including four three-pointers.

While the Warriors maintained a lead going into the fourth quarter and had a chance to win in it on their last possession with the ball in Stephen Curry’s hands, Thompson’s injury was the universe’s absurdist, almost Vonnegut-esque way, of saying it was over. It is over and it’s okay, for every dynasty ends, heroes eventually die, and horoscopes often lie, and it is those complicated and emotional endings, drenched in tragedy, poetry, and allure, which endure the test of time.

They fought, these “fucking giants” fought, but one can only take so many devastating blows.

The Toronto Raptors capped off one of the more improbable championship runs in NBA history with a 114-110 victory over the befallen Golden State Warriors, dashing their hopes for a three-peat and propelling them towards a summer of uncertainty. Leonard, who was named NBA Finals MVP almost unanimously (Hubie Brown gave a well-deserved first-place vote to reserve guard Fred VanVleet), completed a Jordan-esque post-season with 22 points, finishing third all-time in total points scored in a single playoff run. Who’s in front of him? Well, Michael Jordan and LeBron James, of course.

Leonard becomes the first player in NBA history to win Finals MVP in both conferences, as he took the award home in 2014 after his San Antonio Spurs ousted LeBron James’ Miami Heat in five games. He is also one of three players to win the award with two different teams, joining elite company in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers) and LeBron James (Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers). This man hasn’t even played his 500th NBA game yet and doesn’t turn 28 until the end of the month. Let that sink in for 24 seconds.

We don’t know if Leonard is going to be wearing a Raptors uniform next season. The Los Angeles Clippers and the New York Knicks have expressed a strong interest in signing him to a max contract, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up with the former, pitting him in a battle against LeBron for supremacy at the Staples Center. But, even if Leonard decides to take his cold-blooded talents elsewhere tomorrow, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri looks brilliant today. Ujiri traded beloved All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs last summer to take a gamble on Kawhi Leonard, who was coming off an injury and heading into the last year of his contract. The Raptors paced Leonard throughout the course of the season, as he only played in 60 regular season games (the Raptors were an impressive 17-5 without Leonard). That rest proved all-important, as it allowed him to average 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds a game on nearly 50% shooting over 24 postseason games. Ujiri also traded for veteran center Marc Gasol at the trade deadline, anchoring an already potent frontcourt. The former Defensive Player of the Year provided enormous contributions to the Raptors during the Finals, collecting timely rebounds and draining open threes.

No one on the Raptors was a lottery pick and they aren’t a “superteam,” as only Leonard and the indispensable Kyle Lowry made the NBA All-Star team this year. Ujiri’s team architecture could well usher in a new era of the NBA, one centered more on defense and versatility than simply overwhelming opposing teams with talent. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as this offseason could produce a new superteam or two. For now, let us bid farewell to the Golden State Warriors and congratulate Canada, Kawhi Leonard, and your 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors.

[1] If a player cannot shoot his own free throws and another player takes them, he is automatically disqualified.

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