Fred VanVleet’s Game 6 encapsulates depth of Raptors in NBA Finals

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Fred VanVleet outscored Stephen Curry in the closing game of an NBA Finals series. Let that sink in for a moment.

Curry, the face of the Golden State Warriors franchise and an internationally renowned 2-time MVP was out-dueled by an undrafted guard from Wichita State. This is a man who went on a tear in Game 4 after getting almost no sleep the night before thanks to the birth of his son. He was unpredictable, but resilient. VanVleet was exactly what Toronto needed.

VanVleet scored 22 points, going 5-of-11 from 3-point range on Thursday night as the Toronto Raptors beat the Warriors in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. VanVleet stepped up when Toronto needed him most, hitting clutch buckets including a 26-foot step back 3-pointer with 3:46 to go and the game tied, 101-101.

The Raptors never trailed again after that bucket, and VanVleet’s shot was an encapsulation example of why Toronto was able to stop the Warriors dynasty in its tracks. In each game in this series, it was the effort of lesser publicized players in — addition to Kawhi Leonard — that helped them beat Curry and his band of All-Stars. It was the perfect ending to a fairy tale season for Toronto.

A month ago, the Raptors were down by a margin of 2-0 to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Leonard was the only player performing up to the task, and Giannis Antetokounmpo and his No. 1-seeded Bucks looked like they were headed to the NBA Finals to take on the Warriors.

But Nick Nurse got the rest of his team in shape, and the supporting cast in Ontario finally started firing on all cylinders. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, and VanVleet all started having big games. Just about everyone worked themselves out of their funk save for Danny Green.

These Finals were more than about one player. It was about Leonard being the Finals MVP, yes. But the Raptors adapted to Golden State’s defensive plan by finding a way for a new player to contribute more than his value on paper each and every night.

In Game 1 it was Siakam going for 32 points, eight rebounds, and five assists.

In Game 3 it was about Green finally coming alive, scoring 18 points, all on 3-pointers.

In Game 5 it was about Serge Ibaka scoring 20 points in 22 minutes, going 9-of-12 from the field.

In this way, VanVleet’s performance on Thursday night fits perfectly into the story of the NBA Finals for the Raptors.

Leonard solidified himself as one of the best players on the planet, and perhaps reframed how we feel about his debacle with the San Antonio Spurs last season. But with VanVleet coming out hot and shooting well from beyond the arc — really from a Game 3 on — he added detail and texture to the narrative of one of the most interesting championship runs in recent NBA memory.

On Thursday, it took a team in the truest sense to beat a superteam, and that’s exactly what happened. The Toronto Raptors are your 2019 NBA Champions thanks in no small part to Fred VanVleet.