Tomorrow, the Toronto Raptors will be playing the Golden State Warriors at Scotiabank Arena in a best-of-seven series to decide who wins the NBA Championship.
After the past 24 years of ups and downs (with more downs than ups), Raptors’ fans waited year after year for the team’s first chance to become number one in the world. Countless new faces, rebuilding efforts, unforgettable sponsorship deals, and we’re finally here. This playoff run has no doubt been the most stressful we have ever had and therefore it’s been the most rewarding. But after all the excitement that unfolded in Game 6 vs Milwaukee, it’s time to straighten up and understand we still need four more wins.
Going up against a team that has won four of the last five NBA Championships is the reason you won’t see many people giving Toronto a chance. Then again, going up against Milwaukee also wasn’t in the Raptors’ favour. And then if you consider the Warriors adding Demarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant into their lineup this is one of the best teams ever constructed playing against a team that was created only a few months ago. I have to add that coming into this season, I was one of those people that questioned what the point of a regular season was if the Warriors were just going to win again. But after watching more basketball this season than I ever have, my mindset changed.
After some time (the past two days) trying to debate with myself, my prediction is that the Raptors will become NBA Champions. You could say there’s a bias and there might be, but I’m still going with it. The energy around the city and understanding of the Raptors playing in the Finals is something unparalleled and I think not only will it resonate with the Raptors, but it will have an effect on the Warriors as well. They’ve normally had home-court advantage and although you can say they have all the Finals’ experience, I believe that coming into a country that just had one of its biggest sports moments will impact the game in more ways than one.
I’m looking to see Kawhi take advantage on offence and although it’ll be tough with Klay guarding him, I’m thinking that we’ll see a similar offensive game-plan we saw for the past few games. That being, Kawhi facilitating in the first quarter and letting his teammates shoot the ball before taking over in the second half. However, you can say that this game-plan worked vs Milwaukee as he guarded Giannis and had to work much harder defensively than he will likely work against Draymond. If he’s able to rest on the defensive end and not be forced to switch onto Steph and Klay as often than this strategy will likely change moving forward.
Now, onto the rest of the Raptors. First, Danny Green will be back. Something that was evident these playoffs is the law of averages, and with all of Danny’s experience you know he’s too good for the ball not to go in after all these shots. With Kyle, I’m expecting him to be more aggressive this series, especially if he’s guarded by Steph. He plays much better when he looks to attack and it will definitely open up shots for players like Green and Gasol. I’m expecting Fred, Norm and Ibaka to bring in similar stats they had in Milwaukee, but Fred’s 3-pt% will likely decrease. Someone I am really excited for is OG and although he’s been out of action, his length, defence and ability to stretch the floor is something that can only help the Raptors.
Now, with the analysis behind us, there was something else I wanted to address. I was listening to Nick Nurse and he said that he doesn’t like motivating his team as the “underdogs” in this series and this really stuck with me. Whenever I played sports and we played a team higher than us in the standings, there was the extra motivation that came from being the underdogs and we thrived off that title. And then if you add every other typical sports movie the final part usually involves an “underdog” beating the first-place team in the finals.
But if you think about it from a professionals’ standpoint, their job is to beat whatever team is front of them. Does this mean the Raptors should be more motivated to beat Golden State in a 7-game series than Orlando? Does this mean if they were to lose against Golden State they wouldn’t be disappointed because they weren’t supposed to win in the first place? Now that I think about it, Toronto shouldn’t think of themselves as the underdogs. They need to think of themselves as an equal to Golden State, as another NBA team vying for the same title. They can’t disregard their own success this season when they took a nation to a place it’s never been before. The NBA Finals is a place where two of the best basketball teams in the world compete and the Toronto Raptors is one of them. This mindset might not work for every team, but with all the veterans we have, I think it will resonate better than our mentalities the past few years.
While Thursday night cannot come soon enough, I’m enjoying this five-day break because I know it’s exactly what the Raptors needed. The city hasn’t had this excitement since the Jays in the 90s and everyone on the team can feel it in the air. As soon as the ball is tossed up at 9pm, all of Canada will be watching and it’s incredible that we’re here to witness the Raptors’ greatest season. We thought the past few series were wild, but it will be nothing compared to what we see in these next seven games.
I can’t imagine what emotions we’ll feel when the Raptors win their first championship and I can’t imagine how Toronto and Canada will react. But it’s time to stop imagining and start watching because the Toronto Raptors are four wins away from an NBA Championship.
You can follow Derek on Twitter @dgomes_11 and you can check out more of his content on Medium: https://medium.com/@derekgomes97