Could the Raptors shut the door on the Warriors’ dynasty?

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Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) looks up during a stoppage in play during first half basketball action against the Toronto Raptors in Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Oakland, California on Friday, June 7, 2019. (Frank Gunn / CP)

I have seen a dynasty die before my eyes once. That was the 2001 World Series, when the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ Luis Gonzalez walked off the New York Yankees with a Game 7 single off Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees had won three consecutive titles and four out of five. They were leading 2-1 going into the ninth at Chase Field with Rivera on his second inning of work. This was still in the shadows of 9/11, when a grieving country saw New York City and its most iconic franchise in a softer light. This was a World Series well into November that had already featured two extra-inning games and two late-inning comebacks as well as a resounding blowout: 15-2 for the Diamondbacks in Game 6. Yet despite that Game 6 thumping, here were the Yankees where they often were: the ball in Rivera’s hands. A lead. The safest of stories for eastern time zone newspaper writers beavering away on deadline, one eye on the clock, one on the field. Gone. Poof. Over the head of a drawn-in infield, barely on to the damned outfield grass. Diamondbacks win. (I’d later call the Diamondbacks McChampions: good for a quick, guilty bite. Not something you’d want for a steady diet.)

They never did return to the World Series, but what about the Yankees? Tino Martinez? Gone. Paul O’Neill? Gone. Even Scott Brosius. Names and personalities from titles past. Guys who’d been part of baseball’s post-season meal for years. There was something about that loss that felt as if there was a finality that reached farther down the road than simply what was in front of us. That loss sent the Yankees into a World Series drought: failing to make it out of the American League Division Series four times, losing the World Series to the then-Florida Marlins in 2003; and becoming the first team to blow a 3-0 lead in an AL Championship Series loss to the Boston Red Sox in 2004. In 2009, they broke through to win a World Series, but it was almost as if the Bronx was too tired to really tie one on. Plus, who could really feel giddy for a team that included Alex Rodriguez?

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

And so if I might be permitted to get ahead of myself here, I wonder whether or not I’ll feel the same finality Monday night if the Toronto Raptors end our anguish and give us our first crown in a major North American league since Joe Carter touched ‘em all in 1993? The Golden State Warriors have not only been a dominant team, in many ways they have set the standard for the way a franchise should operate and the way players and a coach should conduct themselves while helping redefine the way the game is played. The Yankees didn’t do much redefining, but they were a model of professional behaviour for the most part. They were more aloof than this Warriors group seemed to be, but it was never an uncomfortable experience to walk into their clubhouse. Same with the Warriors.

There is a danger in signalling the end of the Warriors. After all, they did rebound from an NBA Finals loss to win the last two titles. But what happens if Kevin Durant leaves? What other dominoes will fall and who will come in at a time when a new arena in San Francisco promises an even greater revenue stream. (We won’t get into the whole notion that leaving Oakland for the golden city across the Bay will sap their mojo.) Will Golden State still be viewed as the place to go for a title run last call? Or after this post-season, might a free agent or one of the games big personalities be more inclined to check out where Kawhi Leonard ends up?

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I remember thinking when the Yankees lost in 2001 that despite it smacking of the end of something special, I wasn’t too certain who would step in to fill that void other than I knew it wouldn’t be the Diamondbacks. I have a feeling we’ll feel the same way after tonight, should the Raptors win but … ah, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, eh?

NOW TWEET THIS

• This stat blew me away: the Bruins have been around for 95 years and have played in the most Game 7s in NHL history (28), but this is the first one they will host #seventhheaven

• If Leonard hits his average 31 points he will move into the top five for points in a post-season behind Michael Jordan (759 in 1992), LeBron James (748 in 2018), Hakeem Olajuwon (725 in 1995) and Allen Iverson (723 in 2001.) Leonard’s 684 is eighth, Shaquille O’Neal is fifth with 707 points in 2000 #Klawback

• I only tweeted this half-jokingly, but my guess is neither of these NBA finalists go to the White House. But I’ll bet the Raptors take the Larry O’Brien Trophy to the House of Commons or the Governor General’s residence #head’sgone

• Edwin Encarnacion has 20 HRs for the Seattle Mariners, including his 400th career shot Sunday when he passed the 1,200 RBI mark, joining Albert Pujols (2,017), Miguel Cabrera (1,662) and Robinson Cano (1,247) as the only active players over 1,200 #walktheparrot

• The Chicago White Sox’s Lucas Giolito has recorded some kind of turnaround: the AL’s pitcher of the month in May has shaved 3.85 runs off his earned-run average from last season and is second in the AL at 2.28 #matured

• How good is Toronto Blue Jays closer Ken Giles? Since June 28, 2017, he has converted 94.7 per cent of save opportunities (54-for-57,) the best in the game ahead of the Phillies Hector Neris (93.6) and peers such as Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman #100miles

• Blue Jays Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano is ticketed to be a starter in the Florida State League or double-A New Hampshire next season, but don’t be surprised if the process begins with him being lengthened out in the Majors in the late summer or fall #development

• I asked a scout friend to give me his possible landing spots for Marcus Stroman, in light of The New York Post report that Stroman was on the Yankees’ radar. His response: Brewers, Astros, Cardinals, Mets and Padres, in no particular order #stroshow

THE END GAME

Asterisks. We need to talk about asterisks. I guess it’s an understandable by-product of so many people expecting a Warriors win in a series that has turned out to be shy of drama that the ludicrous notion seems to be gaining ground that a Raptors win will somehow be devalued because Kevin Durant hasn’t played. This is daft, of course, because as far as I can tell nobody bothered to attach an asterisk to 2014-2015 when Kyrie Irving suffered a fractured kneecap in the Finals and Kevin Love had his shoulder ripped by Kelly Olynyk. The Warriors won their first of three titles and made their first of five consecutive Finals appearances. No asterisk was attached. Raptors defenders will point out that this team is also hurt. Kyle Lowry will need thumb surgery in the off-season, for starters. But that’s not the point, here. The point is that teams can only deal with what they have in front of them. There is nothing wrong with adding the phrase "without Kevin Durant," when this series is discussed because it does provide context. But that’s all it does.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9-11 and Baseball Central from 11-Noon ET. He also appears frequently on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown

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