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Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Continuing their rapid execution of justice against the reign of terror that the Golden State Warriors have afflicted upon the NBA for the past half-decade, the basketball gods unfortunately chose two-time MVP and paradigm-shifting genius Steph Curry as their latest victim in the Warriors’ 121-110 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.

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AP Photo/Tony Avelar

It all seemed so futile, right up until it didn’t. When the Golden State Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year, well-below-market value contract in the summer of 2018, it was as if the embarrassment of riches had itself become embarrassed. It is nice to have nice things; it is rude to flaunt those nice things so rabidly that the idea of not having any of it becomes offensive.

When Kawhi Leonard, the Board Man, decided it was his time to fell another dynastic squad, however, there was little that Golden State could do about it. Through an unreplicable series of transactions, the Toronto Raptors were able to beat the Warriors at their own game. On Thursday night, in the final NBA game ever at Oracle Arena, the Raptors became the world champions, bringing a title to the homeland of the sport’s inventor.

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Rock’N The City – Ylli Haruni

You’re talking yourself into this, huh? You listened to Drake’s entire discography (again) after the Eastern Conference Finals, and now you think the Raptors could do this thing, the thing only LeBron James and co. have accomplished over the past five years – and even then, only once in four tries. It will take a distinctly 2016 Cavs-esque effort, and perhaps some of the similar circumstances, for the Toronto Raptors to fell the Golden State Warriors.

Finally, after months of three-game road trips, Kia commercials and the proliferation of the phrase “load management,” we have arrived. The NBA Finals begin tonight, pitting two teams on different trajectories in a truly international showdown.

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Perhaps you’ve heard of the Spanish Armada, that enduring example of royalist hubris in which King Philip II of Spain attempted to brandish the world’s greatest navy in 1588 before his ex-sister-in-law, England’s Queen Elizabeth I, in an invasion of her country but wound up embarrassing himself when that navy failed to defeat its opponents as it wound a curious route around the British Isles. England readily disposed of Spain, and a family feud had turned into an international conflict. Habsburgs, amirite?

Except, well, that’s not quite how that went. More central to the collapse of the Spanish navy seems to have been the weather, especially in the Bay of Biscay. It had essentially dilly-dallied its way into misfortune, the Grande y Felicísima Armada[1], and England had been prepared enough to take advantage of a weakened fleet at that time.

What you don’t often hear about is the English counter-Armada of 1589, a more catastrophic defeat for the aggressors. The original Armada, while a shocking defeat and failure for Spain, did not noticeably loosen Philip’s grasp on the Spanish crown, nor did the counter-Armada force Elizabeth into ceding control of the English Channel or her advantageous trade relations with the Netherlands. Eventually, there was a peace treaty, and that was that.

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Jerry Lara/San Antonio Express-News

By now – that is, twenty or so games into the NBA season – we have seen enough of Kawhi Leonard in Toronto to buy into what he is post-injury to the Raptors. With LeBron gone, and the Celtics’ offense sputtering to the shoulder of the Eastern Conference, the Raptors have seized an opportunity to claim their place as the toast of the town. Leonard and Kyle Lowry have jelled in marvelous fashion, despite the latter’s evident dismay at the departure of his running mate and best friend in the course of Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri doing business. So what of Lowry’s erstwhile backcourt partner?

With just under three and a half minutes remaining in a game in which his team was clinging to a one-point lead over the all-galaxy (but notably Steph Curry- and Draymond Green-less) Golden State Warriors, DeMar DeRozan did what he does best: he went and got two points, with the kind of inspiring ease that makes you laugh, grit your teeth and shake your head simultaneously.

In stretching the lead to three, DeRozan jump-started a seven-point run that gave his San Antonio Spurs just enough of a buffer to hold against the two-time defending NBA champions. He added a trio of free throws down the stretch before Patty Mills hit a clinching three-pointer, and San Antonio beat Golden State 104-92. In his fraught discomfort, away from the organization that drafted and fostered him, DeRozan has found something like peace.

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Thomas B. Shea/USA Today Sports

Early returns on the 2018-’19 NBA season have been extremely varied. That’s not to say the basketball itself hasn’t been good; between the paralleled excellence of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis, the ongoing development of LeBron’s Lakers Day Care, DeMar DeRozan embracing San Antonio, Steph Curry firing out of the gate and Klay Thompson one-upping his Splash Brother by nearly quadrupling the number of threes he’d made all season in a single night[1], there has been plenty to see, and not all of it has to do with the Golden State Warriors’ seemingly inevitable death march to their fourth title in five years.

Some of it has been a bit…strange, though. Some things are off, and it isn’t just Markelle Fultz[2]. Defenses are getting to Ben Simmons (or, rather, not getting anywhere near him, except in the paint). The Boston Celtics, who took LeBron to seven games in the East Finals last year and are now re-integrating two All-Stars into their lineup, have returned a maniacal defense but have been unexpectedly dysfunctional on the other end. Oklahoma City stumbled out of the gate. 50-point Derrick Rose? 50-point Derrick Rose. The Sacramento Kings have won four in a row and five of their last six! What is this world coming to?

In the midst of all the madness lie the Houston Rockets, who currently sit at 1-5 with matching bottom-five Offensive and Defensive Ratings. James Harden has looked all the MVP he was a year ago, and Clint Capela has continued to progress into a two-way force, but everything else is amiss. Mike D’Antoni and company have some ’splaining to do.

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