How Kawhi changed Raptors franchise history

Recapping the highlights of an unforgettable championship season

Kawhi's contribution to the Raptors is similar to that of legend Vince Carter.
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This June, the Toronto Raptors pulled a 114-110 win over the Golden State Warriors, making history as Canada’s first NBA champions. 
 
After their Game 6 win, thousands of Raptors fans flooded the streets of downtown Toronto—climbing traffic lights, vehicles, and buildings and setting off fireworks—in celebration. The franchise’s 24th season was one to remember, so let’s break down exactly how the team got there.   
 
The Raptors faced their fair share of hard work, disappointment, and determination this season, capturing the hearts and attention of Toronto, Canada, and even the world. All this began last July when Kawhi Leonard was traded from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, the former Raptors shooting guard. This trade marked the beginning of an unforgettable season in which the Raptors overcame countless challenges, with moments serving as markers of 24 seasons of hard work. 
 
Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals vs the 76ers featured not only one of the best moments in the season, but one of the best in Raptors franchise history. The game was tied at 90-90—about to go into overtime—when Kawhi, the Raptors’ small forward, shot the winning basket just as the buzzer went off. The ball bounced around the basket four times before it fell in. Kawhi was hunched over and fans were at the edge of their seats, celebrating as soon as the Raptors were sent to the Eastern Conference Finals. 
 
Game 1 in the NBA finals against the Golden State Warriors was the first home game of the series and the Raptors won 118-109. The first home game sent a clear message to Golden State that the Raptors would protect home court. Throughout the game, Steph Curry led the Warriors with the most points, but Kawhi still dominated defensively, resulting in the Raptors staying ahead throughout the game. 
 
Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors was a huge one for Kawhi, who scored two back-to-back three-pointers, which gave the Raptors the first lead in the game. He came out and scored the two shots, stealing the ball from Draymond Green and leaving the Warriors unable to play defense. This game gave the Raptors a 3-1 lead in the finals, making Kawhi the true MVP once again. 
 
In these historic moments, Kawhi proved time and time again that he deserves the title of NBA Finals MVP, as his performance helped restore Toronto’s hope in its team. Kawhi’s contribution can be compared to that of Vince Carter during his time with the Raptors. 
 
Vince Carter, who played for the Raptors from 1998-2004, was said to have changed the face of Canadian basketball. Carter led the team to many winning games and was known for his dunking skills, earning the title of “Half Man, Half Amazing.” Carter was awarded the All-NBA Team award in the year 2000, given to the best players in the league. Kawhi gave us that consistency and balance that we have been lacking since the historic Carter seasons that created a name for Canadian basketball. 
 
Kawhi has lived up to his nickname “The Klaw,” given to him because of his defense skills, and is the “fun guy” that he called himself in an interview. This iconic interview caught the attention of fans and even New Balance—a company that makes athletic apparel—who sponsored Kawhi and made the phrase a trademark. Kawhi proved his “fun guy” nickname to be true when he celebrated the national championship through the Toronto streets. 
 
Thanks to Kawhi, the Toronto Raptors have had a memorable season, which ended with the championship that was 24 years in the making. We may have started as the underdogs, but years of work paid off. As Raptors global ambassador and rapper Drake once sang, “Started from the bottom, now we’re here.” 
 

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