Zero sleeps away…
The Toronto Raptors are set to make their NBA Finals debut on Thursday night against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto (9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT on Sportsnet).
Now that the NBA Finals circus has officially landed in Toronto, there is a ton of buzz surrounding the Raptors, who enter Game 1 as slight home favourites and have both fans and media outside of Canada believing they have a chance to shock the basketball world and dethrone the Warriors.
With tip-off on the horizon, here’s a look at what the out-of-market media are saying about the Raptors prior to a historic Game 1.
— First Take (@FirstTake) May 30, 2019
NBA commissioner Adam Silver stopped by ESPN’s studios ahead of Game 1 and talked about the significance of the Raptors reaching the Finals and expanding the league’s global reach.
“Toronto particularly is an incredibly diverse city,” Silver said. “I think it’s very representative of the modern NBA.”
The sub-head explains it all: “Yup, we’re going out on a limb and predicting the Warriors’ dynasty will end. Here’s why.” Tom Ziller and Mike Prada make their case, and the first reason sure is compelling.
Kawhi Leonard is a Warriors killer — or at least the closest thing to one.
Leonard is the one superstar the Warriors haven’t fully solved. He was famously torching them in Game 1 of the 2017 Playoffs before Zaza Pachulia slid under his ankle, but he’s also had other standout moments over the years. You may recall him snatching Stephen Curry’s dignity in a 15-point win near the end of Golden State’s first title season, leading a 29-point beatdown in Kevin Durant’s regular-season debut, and lighting them up for 37 points on 24 shots in his first and only game against the Warriors as a member of the Raptors. It’s a stretch to say he has the Warriors’ number, but save for LeBron James at his absolute peak, Leonard comes closer than any other player.
All of the reasons why have been on full display this post-season. He’s an elite isolation scorer, capable of battering through even the toughest defences to get off the shots he wants. He exudes calm with his demeanor and play style, so he’s perfectly equipped to kill any momentum swings. He makes terrific decisions, so the Warriors can’t break off his misses as easily as other stars. And by the way, he’s a devastating defensive player, equally capable of putting the clamps on a bigger wing (hello, KD) or a quicker guard (hello, Stephen Curry).
No matter his individual production, Kawhi Leonard will not allow the Warriors to impose their will on the game.
We learned yesterday that the majority of NBA fans in the U.S. are rooting for a Raptors upset, and here former Rap and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose takes it one step further and picks Toronto to win the series:
CBS Sports — Raptors-Warriors is a fresh NBA Finals matchup in more ways than one: ‘We don’t really know these guys’
The great James Herbert dives into the Finals matchup and the notion that after a season of significant change neither team is all that familiar with one another.
This is an oddity, however, because there is a near-total absence of useful data about the matchup. It’s not just that Golden State and Toronto only met twice this season; it is that those two meetings are essentially meaningless. Both were before the Raptors traded Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and C.J. Miles for Marc Gasol. Both were before DeMarcus Cousins made his season debut. Key players sat out.
In order to prepare for how the Warriors might defend Leonard, Toronto coach Nick Nurse watched the first game of the 2017 Western Conference Finals. That’s the one in which Leonard scored 26 points in 24 minutes and suffered a season-ending injury with his San Antonio Spurs up by 23. Gasol revisited clips of the Memphis Grizzlies’ second-round series in 2015 because he wanted to see how Golden State guarded him.
Toronto entered the season with a new coach, a new superstar and a reconfigured starting five. Gasol arrived in February and changed the team’s style on both ends. In contrast, the whole league knows how Golden State plays, and the roster has only been tweaked in minor ways. The tricky part, from the Raptors’ perspective, is that they’re not sure who exactly is going to be on the court.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe makes his series prediction — Warriors in seven — and looks at some things working in the Raptors’ favour, beginning with Leonard, and a long-limbed defensive juggernaut poised to take advantage of Golden State’s weaknesses.
Leonard is an almost perfect post-season player. He is shooting 55 percent on long two-pointers in these playoffs. The ability to hit contested, unassisted midrange shots at that rate is the ultimate post-season weapon. It is the skill that makes Durant Golden State’s fail-safe. It is insurance against slumps, and elite defences that take away everything else.
It could allow for Toronto to control tempo the way LeBron’s Cavaliers did in toppling the last Golden State team without Durant. The Raptors and Warriors rank as two of the league’s best fast-breaking teams. Which team finds more of those chaos points — without leaking on the offensive glass, where the Warriors have been hungrier in the playoffs — will play a role determining the championship.
Turnovers lead to those kinds of chaos points, and Golden State’s turnover rate could be a bellwether. Toronto has long arms everywhere; the Warriors have a long history of arrogant, casual gaffes.
The Raptors won the possession game against the Bucks, and they have to again here — against a Warriors team that has ramped up its offensive rebounding. Toronto forces a good number of turnovers, and Golden State is prone to making them.
Just one of USA Today’s five prognosticators, Dan Wolken, selected the Raptors to win the series. Here is his reasoning:
Though it’s much safer to pick the Warriors, especially coming off their tour de force through the Western Conference playoffs, the matchups here don’t seem particularly awful for the Raptors. If Durant doesn’t play or is limited in some way, it becomes much easier for Leonard to cause real problems defensively for Golden State and the collective intelligence of the Raptors will keep them in the series for at least six games. If they can somehow get it to Game 7 in Toronto, that becomes the biggest challenge Golden State has ever faced in this run.
ESPN’s basketball writers make their predictions, and here’s what the two people who picked the Raptors to win had to say.
The Warriors have obvious championship pedigree, and they easily could win this series and get their three-peat. But the uncertainty about Kevin Durant’s return — coupled with the Raptors having home-court advantage, arguably the best player in the series in Kawhi Leonard and the best defensive unit that Golden State has seen during its dynastic run — is enough to tip the scales in Toronto’s direction to say the Raptors will win their first championship. — Tim Bontemps
The Raptors are built to give the Warriors difficulties. They have an outstanding defensive front line that features three Defensive Player of the Year award winners plus a second-place finish spread among three players, none of whom were the best defender on the team this season — that honor went to Pascal Siakam. The Raptors are top-10 in the NBA in 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage, and are also top 10 in fewest 3-pointers and lowest 3-point percentage allowed. They have the positional diversity to play every style from traditional big to small ball, with plus players at every position. — Andre Snellings