A Night To Remember
It was a special night around the association – a historic night that will be remembered for many years to come. What usually is a last opportunity to fight for playoff positioning turned into something far greater on Wednesday night. The Golden State Warriors broke the Chicago Bulls record for best finish to a season, Kobe Bryant bid farewell to the NBA, and on the Toronto front, the Raptors closed out their best regular season in franchise history as they prepare to face the Indiana Pacers in round one of the NBA playoffs.
It is only fair to begin with the best team in NBA history. Led by the ‘Splash Brothers’, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors have literally obliterated their opposition this season, for lack of a better term. Their 73-9 record tops the 1995-96 Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls’ 72-10 record and with the playoffs about to get underway, the Warriors have never been more confident. The team also broke the best road record in a season (also held by the same Bulls squad) so for any team feeling comfortable against them at home come playoff time, good luck! Steve Kerr has found himself on both sides of history, being a player along side Jordan, Scottie Pippen and company in the 1995-96 season and now as the head coach of Warriors.
Steph Curry must be on his way to the first unanimous M.V.P. selection in NBA history. How many seasons have been better? Steph Curry broke his own record for three pointers made in a season with 402. He set the previous record last season at 286 makes. If that does not tell you how unbelievable his season has been, I’ll throw another stat at you. 599-teams in NBA history never reached 400-three pointers as a unit. Curry has done it almost effortless. Take into account the guy barely plays in fourth quarters and he missed three games. We may be running out of words to describe the greatness that is Wardell Stephen Curry II. An M.V.P. in 2014-15 while averaging 23.8 points per game, Curry upped his numbers to 30.1 and had the second best PER in a season only behind the great Wilt Chamberlain. It is hard to believe, but Curry could even be the NBA most improved player.
It’s easy to throw numbers and marvel what Curry has accomplished this season, but something must be said for the players around him. If Curry is the best pure shooter in NBA history, Klay Thompson may be right behind him in second. In a season where he himself dropped 276-three pointers, the ‘Splash Brothers’ are deserving of their name. Do not let the shooting prowess blind you for Thompson may be the best two-way guard in all of basketball, sorry James Harden. Draymond Green may be the grittiest players in the NBA and is the motor that drives this exciting Golden State team.
As for the rest of the club? There is no shortage of talent, from the defensive anchor, Andrew Bogut, to the 2015 NBA Finals M.V.P., Andre Iguodala; the Warriors go 10-12 men deep. This may very well be the Warriors season yet again, but the excitement that they have brought to the NBA, while chasing the Jordan’s Bulls record was nothing short of a pleasure to watch. Greatness is what sports is all about and each and every one of us fans were able to witness it this year in the Golden State Warriors.
Speaking of witnessing greatness, last night the basketball world bid farewell to one of the best ever – Kobe Bryant. Call him Vino, or call him the Black Mamba, he was a champion, a role model, and a legend through and through. On April 13, 2016, we all saw an incredible 20-year career come to an end. An 18-time All-Star, an NBA M.V.P., third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, the 81-point game, the five-time NBA champion. I can sit here forever listing the accolades of Kobe Bean Bryant, but in what has been a disgrace of a season for the Los Angeles Lakers, watching Kobe go out on his own terms, healthy and not passing was spectacular – a storybook ending to a Hollywood tale.
Last night, Kobe went into full ‘Mamba mode’, willing the Lakers on his back one last time, dropping 60 points, albeit on 22/50 shooting. What more can you expect from Bryant? The clutch gene was on full display as in the last 3:30 of the fourth, Kobe brought his team back from a nine-point hole, going 5/5 from the field and 4/4 from the free throw line. The old man still got it. No hall of famer has ever been able to reach 30-points in his career finale. Kobe doubled that and single-handedly brought the Lakers back in front of a sold-out Staples Centre crowd against a tough, defensive-minded Utah Jazz club, still reeling on the heels of elimination earlier in the night.
As a person who grew up watching the game, Kobe Bryant was a player who made me, and I am sure millions of fans, fall in love with the sport of basketball. Watching Kobe go from the number-eight, athletic juggernaut to the number-24, poised, cold-blooded assassin was beauty to behold. Not many athletes have been able to transform over the course of their careers like Bryant, but then again, not many athletes could say they could compare to Bryant’s greatness.
From Magic Johnson, to Lamar Odom, to stars of the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West and of course Jack Nicholson in his usual front-row seat, fans and legends came together to pay respect and watch Kobe’s finale. It was most definitely a fitting end, to one of the greatest careers in professional sports.
Last but not least, some love has to be shown for the hometown team, the Toronto Raptors. Enduring injuries to their starting centre in Jonas Valanciunas and being without the services of their big offseason signing in DeMarre Carroll for the majority of the season, the Toronto Raptors have been able to surpass the 50-win plateau for the first time in their franchise’s history. Finishing at 56-26, 30-games over the .500% mark, the Toronto Raptors are a completely different team and for the first time ever, a major threat in not only the Eastern Conference, but in the entire NBA.
With the fourth best record in the NBA, the Raptors finished their year within a game of the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers. Behind the strong play of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors have cemented themselves among the game’s elite teams. Apart from their starting backcourt, there is much more to be pleased about when looking at the Toronto Raptors. Closing out the season with a 30-point outburst, the rookie Norman Powell has stepped up in a huge way in Carroll’s absence. Behind the steady rim protection of Bismack Biyombo, the constant improvements of Valanciunas, and a team filled with depth led by Cory Joseph, the Raptors are more than ready to face the Indiana Pacers come Saturday.
A season in which the Raptors had the longest win streak in their team history (11), and have won their third straight Atlantic division banner, it is fair to say that Masai Ujiri has built a contender in a city starving for winners. The oft-criticized, Dwane Casey has done a wonderful job with his team and as we move towards the playoffs, it will be fun to watch if the Raptors can finally get over the first round hump and assert themselves as playoff contenders. They have all the components to do it, now it is time to put it all together.
With that, another great NBA regular season comes to a close. Records were broken, goodbyes were said, and game 82 will live on forever as the day Kobe stepped onto the NBA hardwood one last time and as the day the Golden State Warriors shattered the Chicago Bulls record. Not often do we see such an incredible end to a season. More often than not, us fans and players alike are ready for the season to wrap up and for the playoffs to get kicked-off, but this year it was different. We wanted the NBA regular season to keep going. It is truly difficult to let one of the game’s best go, but Kobe has left a lasting legacy on the NBA and his 60-point effort on game 82 will never be forgotten.