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Raptors survive, but injuries cost NBA fans classic Finals

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SportsPulse: What was once thought to be an impossible task is now reality: The Toronto Raptors have won the NBA Championship, dethroning the Warriors.
USA TODAY

OAKLAND, Calif. — There’s going to be a parade through the streets of Toronto, some very deserving professional basketball players are going to get rings and forever in the NBA record book it will say that the Raptors are the champions for the 2018-19 season.

There will be no asterisk attached to this team, nor should there be one. The NBA Finals turned into a war of attrition, and they won it in the sixth game Thursday night at Oracle Arena, 114-110.

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But outside of Canada, where they will rightfully celebrate this as one of the greatest sports moments in a nation’s history, this will be remembered as one of the saddest finals we’ve ever seen. Because of what it could have been. Because of the cost to ligaments and tendons that left us cringing at the pain of too many stars.

The Raptors didn’t win it in Game 6 as much as the Warriors physically fell apart, then fought off just enough of their demons down the stretch to hold onto a game that probably shouldn’t have been so hard.

No Kevin Durant. And then, in a twist that might have decided the whole series, no Klay Thompson after he landed awkwardly on his left knee early in the third quarter.

By the end, it felt like Stephen Curry all alone, fighting one against five. He was almost up to the task, too, for one more night.

Make no mistake, Toronto is the deserving champion. Between the Raptors and what was left of the Warriors by the end of the Finals, they were the better team. And Golden State still made them sweat until the last possible second, long after it should have been over.

In fact, it literally took a Chris Webber-at-Michigan moment — Draymond Green calling a timeout when Golden State didn’t have one with 0.9 seconds left — before the Raptors could exhale and even slightly begin to celebrate.

In the end for Toronto, this has to be as much relief as joy.

But it’s also a little bit sad because there were moments — the first quarter of Game 5 when Durant was drilling threes, the entire first half of Game 6 — when it seemed like this series could have been a true classic. Moments when the basketball was pulsating and beautiful and bringing out the very best of Curry and Thompson.

And if there’d been a Game 7 with Thompson and momentum and the Raptors starting to lose some belief, this was destined to be the coin flip of all coin flips.

Instead, it was like a zombie film where the living found a way to escape without getting bitten.

Credit guard Fred VanVleet, who made massive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to settle the Raptors when they were grinding through some tight possessions. Credit point guard Kyle Lowry, whose 11 points in the first 2:20 of the game got the Raptors off to the start they needed and obviously were necessary by the end.

But when an NBA season ends, we like to be able to draw conclusions about what we just saw. Unfortunately, the only one we’ll have from this Finals series is that the team that didn’t lose two star players to injuries had just enough to get over the finish line.

Canada should celebrate what happened over these last two weeks and celebrate hard. You never know when it’s going to happen again.

But for the rest of us, we can only conclude that injuries robbed us of what might have been one of the most dramatic moments in NBA playoff history.

Could Golden State have actually pulled this off with one more body in tact? Sadly, we’ll never know.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken

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