The Toronto Raptors comfortably own the best record in the NBA at 19-4, and they took another step toward proving their legitimacy as a title contender with a statement win over the mighty Golden State Warriors Thursday at Scotiabank Arena.
Golden State was missing Steph Curry and Draymond Green, but Kevin Durant exploded for 51 points to help the visitors force overtime. Those heroics weren’t enough as Kawhi Leonard and Co. walked away with the victory.
It wasn’t perfect, but the Raptors still managed to show what they’re capable of with the spotlight shining bright and the TNT cameras rolling. Here’s a roundup of what some United States media outlets are saying about Toronto’s triumph.
The Warriors without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are hard to gauge, but any team that can survive Durant and Klay Thompson combining for 74 should feel good putting a feather in its cap afterward.
And when that team knows it has a former Finals MVP on its roster who will put up 37 points on 14-for-24 shooting in a marquee matchup, the team should feel good about its chances in June.
Over the last four seasons, the Warriors went 8-0 against the Raptors in the regular season, and thanks to LeBron James and the Cavaliers, never had to worry about seeing them in the Finals. But with Leonard in Toronto now, Golden State has reason to be concerned.
Raptors have a superstar ready to duel with best in Leonard – ESPN
Too often in the past, the Raptors have bled out. This, after all, is the city that has earned the derisive nickname “LeBronto” in recent years because of the utter domination LeBron James has had over this franchise, sending the Raptors to one humiliating playoff failure after another.
This past summer, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri decided he’d had enough of that. He dismissed Dwane Casey, the winningest coach by a country mile in franchise history, and then traded away DeMar DeRozan, the greatest player in the franchise’s history, to boot.
The Raptors can’t erase years of futility with one win in November, or one trade in July. But in adding Leonard and Green, the Raptors didn’t just add one of the game’s greatest talents and a sound veteran wing defender and shooter, respectively.
They added two players that, no matter the situation, will never be afraid of the moment. And if, over the next several months, they can instill that feeling in their teammates, the Raptors just might be hosting these Warriors again come June.
If there was any lingering doubt concerning whether or not Kawhi was back, it should have gone out the window after tonight’s performance.
The 2014 Finals MVP did not back down from any of the challenges presented by Kevin Durant, attacking on offence and making things as difficult as he could on the defensive end.
It was almost as if Kawhi was in a different gear for a game of this magnitude, as he finished the night with 37 points on 14-for-24 shooting by scoring at all three levels. Leonard was 3-for-6 from beyond the arc, got to his bread-and-butter in the midrange and attacked the basket, going 6-for-6 from the free throw line.
Sure, Kevin Durant scored 51 points, but when Leonard was guarding him, he had to work for each bucket. Thursday night Kawhi looked every bit of the elite two-way player that Toronto traded for, and he will be the team’s go-to guy as the stakes continue to get higher.
Instead of shying away from the moment, Kawhi relished in it, and that can take this Raptors team to new heights.
In overcoming Durant’s gem, Toronto continued to silence those who question its validity as a contender.
What is clear little more than a quarter of the way through the season is that, if Golden State reaches the NBA Finals again, it won’t face Cleveland for the fifth consecutive year. Thanks to the addition of Leonard (37 points, eight rebounds), the Raptors appear to have the best shot at meeting the Warriors at the sport’s summit.
Though only so much can be gleaned from a late-November matchup that Green and Curry watched from the bench, the Raptors appear as capable as any team the Warriors have seen in the past two-plus seasons.
The Raptors entered this season hoping that new blood could help exorcise old demons. Thursday night obviously won’t answer any playoff questions in Toronto, but it was a start. Curry’s absence meant that anything the Raptors did in that game would come with an asterisk, and in that case, going to the brink and thriving in overtime was probably more encouraging than a blowout would’ve been.
More than anything, Warriors-Raptors was a reminder that the NBA has never been better than it is right now. There has never been this much talent all over the league, the style is wide-open, highlights are readily available all over the world, and every few days there’s a new performance that will baffle anyone who’s paying attention…