The Toronto Raptors made history Thursday night when they beat the Golden State Warriors in a nail-biting Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
We’ve put together a primer on the key on- and off-court moves that put the Raptors in position to win their first championship.
July 11, 2012: Toronto acquires Kyle Lowry in a trade with the Houston Rockets. Now the team’s longest-tenured player by far, Lowry becomes one of the most recognizable Raptors as the team transforms from near-basement-dwellers into perennial playoff contenders.
May 31, 2013: Masai Ujiri, the reigning NBA Executive of the Year, is lured away from the Denver Nuggets to become the Raptors’ fifth general manager. He immediately begins the turnaround effort which directly leads to today’s success, and his efforts get him promoted to team president in 2016.
June 14, 2018: Nick Nurse is named Toronto’s new head coach, replacing Dwayne Casey, who was fired despite leading the Raptors to an NBA-best 59 wins the previous season. Nurse, who had been an assistant coach with the team, had previously enjoyed success as a head coach in the lower-level NBA G League.
July 18, 2018: The Raptors pull off a blockbuster trade, shipping franchise player DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio in exchange for star forward Kawhi Leonard. Toronto also gives up a draft pick and backup centre Jakob Poelti, while receiving versatile three-point threat Danny Green in return, but it is Leonard who steals the headlines. Considered the biggest deal in Raptors history up to that point in time, its impact has only grown as Leonard has led the team to unprecedented heights.
Sept. 29, 2018: Leonard makes his debut in a Raptors uniform, thrilling fans in Vancouver by scoring 12 points in 19 minutes of pre-season action. The performance goes beyond showing that the power forward is as good as advertised – it also provides concrete proof that he is healthy enough to suit up. Leonard had appeared in only nine games in his final season in San Antonio, and none after early January, due to a quadriceps injury.
Oct. 17, 2018: In a sign of things to come, the Raptors kick off their season with a 116-104 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers – the perennial nemeses who had eliminated them during the previous season’s playoffs. Leonard picks up a double-double with 24 points and 12 assists, while Lowry leads all players on the court with 27 points.
Dec. 12, 2018: Toronto completes a season sweep of Golden State with a 113-93 rout in California. Making the performance even more impressive is that the Raptors are playing without Kawhi Leonard, who is scratched due to a sore hip.
Jan. 17, 2019: A milestone and a down-to-the-wire finish make for a memorable night for fans at Scotiabank Arena. Kyle Lowry picks up his 5,000th career assist, and Pascal Siakam sinks a last-second layup to give Toronto a 111-109 win over Phoenix.
Feb. 7, 2019: One of the NBA’s biggest trade deadline deals sees the Raptors send three players including Jonas Valanciunas to Memphis for centre Marc Gasol. Although Gasol is a few years removed from his award-winning days, Ujiri says he expects the veteran to provide the team with championship experience. A few hours later, the Raptors show off their depth as Pascal Siakam scores 33 points and Fred VanVleet 30 – both career highs – in a win over Atlanta.
Feb. 21, 2019: DeRozan gets a standing ovation from Toronto fans as he returns to Scotiabank Arena for the first time since the previous summer’s trade. The Raptors get the last laugh, though, beating San Antonio 120-117.
April 23, 2019: The Raptors polish off the Orlando Magic in five games to advance to the conference semifinals. Orlando had surprised many by winning the first game in the series, but the Raptors roared back with four straight wins including a 115-96 drubbing in Game 5.
May 12, 2019: Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Swish. A nation holds its breath as Leonard’s buzzer-beater attempt makes up its mind on whether it will drop through the hoop. When it does, Raptors fans – many of whom may have been surprised to find themselves watching Game 7 instead of the “Game of Thrones” finale – exhale. The Philadelphia 76ers had pushed Toronto to the limit, but failed to put them away, and the Raptors are off to the Eastern Conference Final.
May 25, 2019: After falling behind 2-0 to the Mllwaukee Bucks, the Raptors once again respond to adversity with four victories in a row. The last of these, a 100-94 win, requires a spectacular comeback of its own, as the Raptors were behind by as many as 15 points at one point. Leonard has a number of highlight-reel plays en route to totals of 27 points and 17 rebounds.
May 30, 2019: Playing in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, the Raptors beat Golden State 118-109. While Leonard has 23 points and Gasol adds 20, Toronto is led by Siakam, who takes control of the game with a 32-point outburst.
June 5, 2019: Leonard scores 30 as the Raptors beat the Warriors 123-109. The wins puts Toronto up 2-1 in the series, and suggests that Ujiri knew what he was doing when he acquired Green along with Leonard. Busting out of an unfortunately timed slump, Green compiles 18 points – all of them on three-point shots. Toronto scores 17 three-pointers in total, tying a record for most by a road team in an NBA Finals game.
June 7, 2019: A 105-92 win puts Toronto one game away from its first championship. Leonard leads the way with an impressive 36-point, 12-rebound performance, while Serge Ibaka scores 20 and Siakam adds 19. The best efforts of Steph Curry and his Golden State teammates are thwarted by a deepening realization that injuries may cost the Warriors the series.