It was the biggest night in Canadian basketball history — one that Toronto Raptors fans at home and abroad will likely never forget.
On Thursday, 24 years since the team first entered the league, the Raps took home their first NBA title.
Game 6 of the finals against the Golden State Warriors was a wild ride, with 16 lead changes and a nail-biter finish.
In the end, the Raptors prevailed 114-110 over a formidable rival and set Canada’s biggest city alight with jubilation.
Here are some of the top highlights from a night of unparalleled excitement for many basketball fans.
Lowry sets the tone
Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry came out of the gate firing on all cylinders.
No current Raptor has been with the team longer, and Lowry’s hunger for his first NBA championship was clear from the first buzzer.
He put up the Raps’ first 11 points in just over two minutes, silencing the Golden State Warriors fans packed into Oracle Arena. Some fans commented on Twitter that it seemed as though Lowry was seeking redemption for a missed three-point shot in the final second of Game 5, when the Raptors lost by a single point.
Lowry put up 26 points by the end of Game 6, 21 of them in the first half.
VanVleet seals the deal
No other Raptor was more clutch through Game 6 than point guard Fred VanVleet. The six-foot Illinois native capped off a stunning post-season run with a 22-point performance on Thursday, including a string of three-pointers in the latter half of the fourth quarter.
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VanVleet’s night was so memorable that even Warriors superstar Stephen Curry gave him props in post-game interviews.
“He’s a gamer,” Curry told reporters.
“He hit some big shots. Not just in the face of pressure, he hit a lot of daggers [and] never seemed to panic when the ball was in his hands. And even tonight he hit like three of them that kept the momentum on their side.”
‘The Claw’ is crowned finals MVP
It took Kawhi Leonard just one season to become a Raptors icon. And on Thursday, Leonard earned his second career NBA Finals MVP title, joining a very select group of players that have earned the honour with two different teams.
Among the best two-way players in the game today, the famously calm and collected Leonard averaged 28.5 points per game in the finals series and helped his squad keep their cool through a nerve-racking run. He scored 732 points over the playoffs, the third-most points in a single post-season in NBA history.
But now the man known as The Claw for his Sasquatch-sized hands has a decision to make. It’s possible he could leave the Raptors behind for another team and more money. One good sign moving forward: his sister Meisha Slayton told CBC News before Game 6 that he “loves Toronto.”
Superfan finally gets his title
Nav Bhatia is, arguably, the biggest Raptors fan on the planet. The Mississauga, Ont., man known simply as “Superfan” hasn’t missed a Raptors home game since the team’s inception in 1995. He’s so well known in the Greater Toronto Area that an officer once gave him a police escort to a game so he wouldn’t be late and break his attendance streak.
With the team’s recent success, Bhatia’s fandom has made him a minor celebrity in his own right, appearing on show’s like Good Morning America as an unofficial Raptors hype man.
He’s seen the Raps through thick and thin and never seems to lose his enthusiasm for the game of basketball.
This was his message to Canadians from Oakland, Calif., after last night’s game:
‘We manifested this’
He’s undoubtedly the Raptors’ most controversial fan. Love him or hate him, Drake has become an ambassador for the team and the city.
While some of his sideline antics during the playoffs drew fire from opposing squads and their supporters, many fans in Toronto feed off his energy and seemingly genuine love for the Raps.
After Game 6, Drake called the Raptors’ win “poetic.”
“We will this into existence, we manifested this,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”
‘The 6ix’ goes wild
Sports fans in Toronto are always looking for something — anything — to celebrate. And last night, the Raptors delivered big time.
Thousands were packed into Jurassic Park, the outdoor viewing space at Scotiabank Arena, for the game, weathering cold rain throughout the day just to get a decent spot in front of the towering big-screen TV.
After the final buzzer, Toronto’s downtown core played host to a sprawling party of exuberant fans that eventually made its way to Yonge and Dundas Square. Some people dangled from light posts, waving We the North flags and chanting “Let’s go Raptors!”.
The festivities raged on through the night.
This Raptors team has electrified the city and, during post-game locker room celebrations in Oakland, some players took the opportunity to reflect on what the support has meant to them: