The first NBA game was in Toronto.

And now the NBA finals are headed there.


The NBA finals are set after the Toronto Raptors won the Eastern Conference championship Saturday night and earned the right to play the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors. For the Raptors, it will be the first time on this stage; for the Warriors, it will be an 11th trip to the finals and fifth straight as they look for a fourth title in the last five seasons.

Game 1 is Thursday night in Toronto, which will become the first city outside the U.S. to host to a finals game — a milestone that comes about 73 years after Toronto was the site of the first game in NBA history.

The Raptors weren’t around then: Toronto’s first NBA team was called the Huskies, who went 22-38 in their only season. The Raptors have been around since 1995, and in their 24th season will finally play for a ring.

“They’re the champions,” Kawhi Leonard of the Raptors said of the Warriors. “We’ve got to go in, have the mental focus, enjoy the moment and take the challenge.”

While it’s the first finals trip for the franchise, many Raptors have been there. Leonard and Danny Green got there with San Antonio in 2013 and 2014, with Leonard winning MVP of the series against Miami five years ago. Serge Ibaka was with Oklahoma City for its appearance in 2012 and Raptors reserve Patrick McCaw was part of the Warriors for their title runs the past two seasons.

“We’re not satisfied,” said the Raptors’ pesident, Masai Ujiri. “We want to win the championship.”

For the Warriors, this has almost become an annual rite.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston have been part of each of these five runs to the finals. Kevin Durant is going to his third straight and fourth overall; if he wins finals MVP – unlikely at this point because he isn’t expected to play in Game 1, and it’s unknown if he’ll appear in the series at all because of a calf injury – he would join Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal as the only players to win it in three straight seasons.

By the time Game 1 rolls around, the Warriors will have been off for 10 days. They scrimmaged Saturday to break up the monotony.

“I think we try and be smart with it,” Iguodala said. “We’ve got a few guys just trying to get back from injury, and it’s given us some time to get that rest and take advantage of it.”

Warriors Coach Steve Kerr has a chance at his ninth championship. He won five as a player, has three as a coach and is going to the finals for the 10th time in his last 13 seasons in either of those roles.

“It’s not like we’ve come to expect it, but we’re veterans of this experience and this run, and our guys know how to finish games,” Kerr said. “They know how to win playoff series, and so there’s a sense of confidence going into every round. There’s still a sense of joy and accomplishment getting to the finals. It’s so hard to do.”

For Leonard, it will be the first trip to the finals since he was MVP of the series in 2014.

And it only continues to prove that his first year in Toronto was a success.

Traded to the Raptors last summer by San Antonio — DeMar DeRozan was the big piece the Spurs got — Leonard, his health and whether he would fit in in Toronto was one of the major storylines entering this season.

Asked and answered. Leonard has averaged 31.2 points and 8.8 rebounds in the playoffs, had a 27-point, 17-rebound, seven-assist effort Saturday night in the win over Milwaukee that clinched the East, and had perhaps the biggest moment of this postseason when his buzzer-beater hit the rim four times before dropping to beat Philadelphia in Game 7 of the second round.

“He’s been great,” Kerr said. “Not surprising, though. He’s got his finals MVP a few years ago. One of the best players in the league, so he’s been great.”

Game 2 is in Toronto next Sunday, followed by Games 3 and 4 on the Warriors’ court June 5 and June 7.

Either Game 4 or Game 6 – on June 13, if it goes that far – will be the final time the Warriors call that building home. They’re leaving Oakland after this season for the new Chase Center in San Francisco.

The Raptors swept the season series, though there are plenty of reasons not to make too big a deal out of that. For starters, the teams haven’t played since Dec. 12. And neither team was at full strength in either game — Durant scored 51 in a 131-128 loss at Toronto but the Warriors didn’t have Curry, Cousins or Green; the Raptors won by 20 in Oakland even without Leonard two weeks later.

Regardless it can now be said: Toronto and the Bay lay claim to the NBA’s two best teams this season.

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