By Mac the Intern
(NHL stats provided by ESPN.com, NBA stats by NBA.com)
This week we saw Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and Game 6 of the NBA Finals. In the end, the St. Louis Blues and the Toronto Raptors both brought home their very first titles in franchise history. Both of them weren’t supposed to win, going in against arguably the top franchises in their respective leagues. Yet, they managed to pull the game out and take home the gold.
While hockey may not be my go-to sport the way it is for Izzo, this post season started absolutely nuts and got me interested. The top seeds were all knocked out in the first round. St. Louis was in dead last in the Western Conference as of January 2nd. So, I decided to dip my pinky toe into this year’s Stanley Cup playoff, and I didn’t regret it.
St. Louis was outshot almost every game of the Finals, but they were efficient with the shots they took. In Game 7, they hit on 2 of their first 4 shots on goal. Game 7 looked similar to Game 5: Boston came out firing shots from everywhere in the first period, then played back on their heels. The Blues took perfect advantage of that. Jordan Binnington, who set the NHL record for most wins by a rookie in the playoffs with 16, did a great job of doing whatever it took to stop shots, and St. Louis’ defensemen ensured that second-chance shots off of rebounds were few and far between. They utilized odd-man rushes to put themselves in the best position to score against Tuuka Rask, arguably one of the more accomplished goalies in the game today. It paid off in spades, with the Blues taking Lord Stanley’s trophy to St. Louis.
Then we had the Toronto Raptors. At the beginning of the series there weren’t many people who gave them half a chance to beat the Warriors. But they did by essentially out “Warrioring” the Warriors. They shot well from everywhere (44.4% from the field), rebounded extremely well (1015 for the postseason, tops of the 16 teams), had the second most assists in the playoffs, and the most steals. They played great defense, especially against Steph Curry, who outside of Game 3 looked frustrated at every turn. And Kawhi Leonard might have played the best post-season basketball we have seen in quite a while. He was a dominant force on both ends of the floor.
Toronto’s greatest strength was how spread out the teams’ scoring was. The last four games had Toronto putting up 4 or more players in double figures. During the deciding Game 6, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam both dropped in 26 points. Fred VanVleet, the last player to make the 15-man roster going into the start of the season dropped in 22, with 15 of those points coming from deep, including two clutch threes going into the last three minutes. They played tough defense down the stretch as well, ensuring that Steph couldn’t properly set his feet and get a good look in the Warriors’ last possession.
This Golden State team lost two of the best players in the NBA during the course of this series, and they still pushed it to 6 games. Draymond Green, like him or not, was a few rebounds away from having three straight NBA Finals games with a triple-double (which he did have in Game 6). Curry still scored, and Andre Igoudala showed up in Game 6 after not performing well in Games 4 and 5. Do I think this is the end of the Warriors strangle hold on the West? Not at all. They have a reinvigorated and rabid fan base, and an owner who has shown he’ll put his money where his mouth is. Players love playing for Steve Kerr. I can see some re-tooling, perhaps making the bench deep enough to be able to at least pick up the slack in case of injuries.
Congratulations to both the Raptors and the Blues for their wins. It’s nice when these championships leave the traditional powers; it really makes you believe it when you tell yourself “Well, there is always next year.”