Well Raptors fans, we have finally made it. After years of heartache, sweeps, “choke artists” labels, Drake curses and LeBronto memes, the 2019 Toronto Raptors are making their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history. If they want to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the Finals, they are going to have to go up against a dynasty team in the Golden State Warriors. Can the Raptors defeat the juggernaut known as the Warriors, or is their experience and roster too much for the Raptors to overcome? I’ll explain to you why I believe the Raptors can de-throne the back to back defending NBA champions, and how they are going to do it.
Some of you may recall that I wrote a Raptors season preview before the first regular season game, which you can read here. Some things were spot on, others…not so much. Saying this, one thing I did get right was the two teams to meet in this year’s NBA Finals. At the beginning of the year, I put down Warriors in 6, and if a healthy Kevin Durant was entering this series with the Warriors, I would probably stick with the same outcome. We obviously know that this is not the case, and this is a massive blow for the Warriors versus this Raptors team, both offensively and defensively. We have seen in these playoffs that the Warriors know how to play well offensively without Durant, and they have gone back to this high tempo exciting style of basketball that made fans first fall in love with the team pre-Durant era. They have made up for it defensively in the postseason because of the matchups they have faced, but they have not faced anybody quite like Kawhi Leonard without Durant on the floor. KD is the ideal candidate to guard Kawhi defensively, so without him, it forces others to take on this tough assignment. He may see doses of Klay Thompson or Draymond Green on him, but that then takes away from their other “normal” assignments and will leave players such as Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Danny Green more open for shots or drives to the hoop. KD is a very underrated defender, and this is where I feel that they will miss him the most. Saying this, they have done really well without Durant on the floor…and I mean REALLY well. A record of 31-1 well to be exact. The Raptors have been defying odds and records all postseason, so it’s time to do the same once again.
It was recently announced that Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins will be active for Game One tonight at Scotiabank Arena. While some may be worried about this addition, I welcome it. JD Bunkis of Sportsnet summarized my thoughts perfectly in this tweet:
I think this benefits the Raptors and allows them to play that comfortable lineup with Gasol starting. This probably cuts back Kevon Looney’s minutes, which I’m all for considering he’s had a decent playoff run. Give me all the Cousin’s minutes please. I’m here for it.
You ready for some stats and numbers to be thrown your way? The big key here for the Raptors in this series is going to be their defence. The Raptors are ranked 2nd amongst NBA teams in the postseason in defensive rating at 102.8. Warriors are 8th at 110.8. The Raptors are also the most improved team defensively from the regular season to the postseason in these playoffs. Toronto is limiting teams to 41.7% shooting, while the Warriors are allowing 44.2% shooting. This is important because the Warriors are #1 in the NBA Playoffs in total field goal percentage at 48.7%. Another reason defense is important is because the Warriors are 3-13 this season when held to 105 points or less. That’s…not very good. It also just so happens that the Raptors are holding opponents on average to 99.6 points per game this postseason. That bodes well for the dinos.
Offensively it’s the same narrative for the Raptors: HIT YOUR OPEN SHOTS, especially the three point opportunities. The Warriors are ranked 14th out of 16 in the playoffs in opponent three point percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 41.9% from beyond the arc. The Raptors are ranked 9th in this category allowing 37.4% of shots to drop from beyond the arc. If the Raptors can get the shooting they have been getting from Lowry, VanVleet, Powell, Leonard, Gasol and more, then it poses a problem for the Warriors and allows other guys to be aggressive driving to the bucket. If Danny Green can get his shot going again (and I believe he will), that’s another wrinkle that the Warriors will have to look to iron out.
If the Raptors continue to do the things they have been doing so far in the postseason, it will really test a Warriors team that is making it’s fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance. As experienced as they are, this is a new team and a new test for this undermanned squad. With KD out, I like the Raptors chances to win this series in 7 games. Matt Devlin summarized this moment perfectly…we’ve been waiting 24 years for this. Now, it’s our time to show the NBA, the United States and the world why Toronto is the best city with the best NBA team in the world.