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Freeman Cebu Sports

Heart of a Champion

EVERY POUND COUNTS - Alan G. Choachuy - The Freeman

As coach Rudy Tomjanovich said time and time again, “Never underestimate the heart of a champion!”

Everyone I knew, including me, picked the Golden State Warriors over the Toronto Raptors. Actually, I even picked the Bucks over the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. But I was wrong. Some of my friends lost money because they bet against Toronto and even gave the Raptors plus 1 game. Some even mentioned why not just give the trophy straight to the warriors. But after 6 games, Toronto prove all doubters wrong and won its first ever NBA crown.

The Warriors, on the other hand, can still hold their heads up high even though they failed to win the coveted 3-peat. They can go down in history books as one of the greatest teams ever assembled. Despite being riddled by injuries, they went out fighting and showed true love and passion for basketball. Durant went out with a torn right Achilles tendon and Thompson with a torn ACL on his left knee. The injuries that plagued the Warriors were just too much to handle for the team yet they still fought with their hearts out.

During the Houston series when Durant suffered a calf injury that sideline him for a month, the 'Splash Brothers' in connivance with Draymond Green and the rest of the Golden State gang frimly stood on their ground against all odds. Even the complimentary players helped as they swept the Portland Trail Blazers enroute to their fifth straight trip to the NBA Finals. Showing the true heart of a champion, the Warriors came back from at least 15 points down in Games 2, 3 and 4 to completed a resounding sweep. Much of the credit to the Warriors' success though goes to the training staff, coaches and assistant coaches.To all young ballers who want to be like Steph Curry, they need to understand that everything don't happen overnight. It takes years of discipline. Most of the young players now shoot more 3s and away from the 3 point line, feeling like they are Curry, James Harden or Thompson.

Going back to the Raptors, what are the key factors that made them champs?

The Claw. When Kawhi Leonard was traded to Toronto from San Antonio, a lot of Spurs' fans were doubting Leonard for faking an injury during the 2017 season. That’s why on his first game back in San Antonio, he was booed and played a horrible game. Kawhi simply wants to play basketball and let his game speaks for itself. Kawhi averaged close to 30 points per game in the Finals and gave Toronto a dependable go-to-guy who can make play when the game is on the line. Also, Kyle Lowry finally stepped out of the shadow. Lowry is known always as a great regular season player and would completely disappear when its playoff time. In Game 1 vs Orlando during the first round series opener, Kyle laid a big fat egg. He bounced back though and played an awesome Game 6 of the Finals, scoring Toronto's first 11 points on the way to a team-tying high 26 points.

When Raptors got Marc Gasol via a trade from the Memphis Grizzlies, he may not be an All-Star material but Gasol is a more seasoned patrolman at the shaded lane for the Raptors compared to Jonas Valancunas. Gasol is also a serious threat offensively. He provides the Raptors a formidable frontcourt operator and forms a solid twin towers for Toronto together with the resurgent Serge Ibaka. The rest of the Raptors force powered by Danny Green, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell are equally lethal. Of course, their success is a collective effort of the entire team, from the front office led by former general manager now president Masai Uriji, first time head coach Nick nurse, his assistants and the rest of the training staff.Uriji was responsible for trading fan favorite Demar DeRozan in exchange for Leonard and the rest is history.

This NBA Finals has been very inspiring. It immortalizes Tomjanovic's famous line that one should never underestimate the heart of a champion. And biggest heart of a champion belongs to Kwahi Leonard, who carried the entire nation to their first NBA championship on his broad shoulders. Congratulations, Toronto Raptors! To the Warriors, better luck next time.

RUDY TOMJANOVICH

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