By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD – Fred VanVleet gave credit to the Golden State Warriors for being the best in the business after his Toronto Raptors defeated them 114-110 to win the NBA title Thursday.
He also dedicated the win to his hometown of Rockford, which includes the thousands who packed City Market pavilion to witness the feat.
“Rockford, Rockford, this is for you, baby!” VanVleet said after his postgame interview with ESPN’s Doris Burke.
Thursday’s victory came on the road, which means the Raptors will return home with Canada’s first major championship since 1993, the year the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series and the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the Stanley Cup.
VanVleet was again a big factor in Game 6, scoring 22 points off the bench. The third-year man hit five 3-pointers, including one that put the Raptors up 104-101 with 3:48 left to play, a basket that helped slow a surging Golden State down the stretch.
Steph Curry, who, without Kevin Durant, was left to carry the Warriors in the Finals, scored 21. The prolific shooter had a chance to force a Game 7 in the waning seconds but missed a desperation three that led to a called timeout Golden State didn’t have. The technical foul gave Kawhi Leonard a free throw with 0.9 seconds to play and Toronto the 112-110 lead. Leonard was fouled on the inbound play, leading to two more free throws.
“They’ve been the best for a long time,” VanVleet said. “So, it took a lot of effort on our part– a lot of focus, a lot of resilience. They don’t give you anything. You’ve got to go out there and take it. And we were able to maintain.”
As for his clutch shooting in the fourth quarter, VanVleet credited his offseason training, a regimen that’s earned him the trust of his teammates.
“They were doubling Kawhi,” he said. “And I was able to step up and make some big shots.”
VanVleet did more than make some big shots. The undrafted guard who helped put Wichita State back on the NCCA map proved he belongs on the big stage by keeping Curry in check. While Curry averaged 30.5 points per game in the series, they didn’t come easy or result in the NBA Finals prowess he enjoyed while winning the last two championships.
“He scored 1,000 points in this series it felt like,” VanVleet said. “I just wanted to make it tough on him and try to earn some respect there–battle, scratch, claw, foul–do what I gotta do to help our team win. We have a ton of respect for those guys but we (were) going for them. We wanted to take them down, and we were able to do that.”
VanVleet finished the NBA Finals with 14 points per game, including 16 3-pointers. He shot 45.5 percent from the field, 39.3 percent from beyond the arc.