NBA Finals 2019: Kawhi Leonard and Best Performances from Warriors vs. Raptors

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2019

Kawhi Leonard throws his arms up in exultation after Toronto's NBA championship victory.
Kawhi Leonard throws his arms up in exultation after Toronto's NBA championship victory.Ben Margot/Associated Press

NBA titles don't come with asterisks, and the Toronto Raptors don't have to explain their victory over the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals.

The Raptors dethroned the Warriors, who had won the title in 2015, '17 and '18. Golden State did not have Kevin Durant for the majority of the series, and when he returned in Game 5 from a calf muscle injury, he suffered a devastating Achilles tear one quarter into the contest.

Later in that game, Klay Thompson tore his ACL after he came down awkwardly following a dunk attempt in the fourth quarter.

So, some may want to minimize the Raptors' achievement because they took advantage of a diminished opponent. That may make some Warriors fans feel better, but it doesn't take away from Toronto's memorable victory.

Kawhi Leonard won the series MVP award, and he was spectacular. Leonard averaged 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game throughout the series, and he was at his best in Game 4 that saw Toronto take a 3-1 lead with a win in Oakland. Leonard scored 36 points and 12 rebounds as he dominated the game in the fourth quarter when the Raptors took a stranglehold on the series.

Fred VanVleet is not a superstar for the Raptors. He is a key role player who comes off the bench to run the Toronto offense, and he went past expectations throughout the playoffs, in general, and the NBA Finals, in particular. VanVleet averaged 14.0 points per game against the Warriors, and he hit a team-best 39.3 percent of his three-point shots during the championship series.

VanVleet was at his best in the final game of the series when he made five of 11 three-points shots and scored 22 points in the contest that gave the Raptors the title.

Pascal Siakam also played a dynamic role for the Raptors in winning the championship. He averaged 19.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in the series, but it was his performance in Game 1 of the series that was notable. He punished the Warriors by scoring 32 points in 40 minutes and coming down with eight well-timed rebounds.

The Warriors may not have been successful, but it wasn't a surprise that Stephen Curry and Thompson both came up with memorable efforts.

Curry had to carry the load for the Warriors as a result of the Durant and Thompson injuries, and he averaged 30.5 points and 6.0 assists per game during the series. Curry had to carry the Warriors on his shoulders in Game 3, because he had neither Durant nor Thompson in the lineup. Curry scored 47 points in that game, connecting on 14 of 31 shots and six of 14 from beyond the arc.

Thompson was unable to play in Game 3 because of an injury, and he came back with 28 points in Game 4, 26 in Game 5 and 30 in Game 6 before suffering his ACL injury.

Thompson made eight of 12 shots from the field and four of six shots from beyond the arc in Game 6 and appeared to be carrying the Warriors to a potential seventh game. That possibility came to an end when his dunk attempt was negated by Toronto's Danny Green and he was injured in the process.

Despite the loss and the injury, Thompson went out by showing the NBA that he was a true Warrior, both in his team affiliation and the way he plays the game on an every-night basis.