The NBA Finals don’t tip off until Thursday, but needless to say, the Toronto Raptors have never occupied this much airtime or been the subject of this many words across the landscape of NBA media.
In the lead-up to the team’s first ever Finals trip — and the first NBA championship series to be played outside the USA — much of the conversation has predictably focused on Kawhi Leonard and the “will he or won’t he?” question that has followed him and this Raptors team from the day he was traded to Toronto.
But there’s also been a fair bit of chatter about the Raptors’ supporting cast, who showed up in a big way to close out the Milwaukee Bucks in six games, Toronto’s underdog status against Steph Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors and, yes, Courtside Drake.
As we do following each Raptors playoff game, and will be doing each day leading up to Game 1 on Thursday, here’s a look at what the out-of-market media have to say about the Raptors ahead of the 2019 NBA Finals.
Forget the games about to be played, as the vast majority of major American media outlets would leave you to believe since the Raptors booked their ticket to the Finals, the question on everybody’s mind is: Will the Finals convince Kawhi to stay in Toronto? PTI’s Michael Wilson and Tony Kornheiser discuss:
Tom Ziller breaks down the Raps chances against the Warriors, a matchup in which Toronto is considered a heavy underdog.
The Raptors won both regular-season matchups against the Warriors. They won more games (well, game, singular) in the regular season. One of their star players has not been ruled out of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, unlike Golden State’s Kevin Durant. 538 has the Raptors at 55 percent odds of winning the series.
Should the Warriors really be favored to win the championship?
Yes, probably: they have won the previous two and three of the last four, and most of Toronto’s roster doesn’t have this level of experience, other than 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Still, it’s interesting how many factors lean toward Toronto yet Golden State remains rather heavily favored overall. You wonder how much is the Durant ex machine and how much is the Warriors’ seeming inevitability. One hint: the Raptors are now slight favorites in Game 1, which Durant has been ruled out of. The line moved from slight Warriors lean to slight Raptors lean since Saturday night.
Based on where the line is now, the Warriors would be slight favorites without Durant at home. If this plays out all the way, Toronto having home court advantage means they might actually be favored if we all knew Durant wasn’t coming back (which seems like a real possibility).
Are you sitting down? According to FiveThirtyEight‘s “CARMELO” projection model, the Raptors have a 55 per cent chance of winning the Finals.
Is the Raptors’ biggest celebrity fan, in fact, a double agent? And what is Kawhi’s future status? Pablo Torre and Bomani Jones of ESPN’s High Noon discuss:
Of course, we’ve seen plenty of one-man shows in NBA history that have fallen way short of the promised land, but the other Raptors, for the most part, held up their end of the bargain. Kyle Lowry had a fantastic series, collapsing the Bucks defense with dribble penetration, scoring when other non-Kawhi teammates were too afraid to, and winning 50-50 balls. Fred VanVleet, who had struggled for more than three-fourths of the postseason, transformed himself into one of the NBA’s most accurate shooters in the final three games of the series, hitting 14-of-17 from 3. And Toronto got just enough out of Gasol and Pascal Siakam in each of the past four games to make up for their passivity on offense.
It will be much more difficult to maintain against the Warriors, but as long as Toronto gets just enough from the supporting cast, the Raptors will have a lifeline, not only into the Finals, but into the unknowable offseason. However, to skip that far ahead would be to leave the mindspace that Leonard has carved out for Toronto. And no one involved in the franchise, be it professionally or emotionally, is in any position not to follow Kawhi’s lead. The only thing that matters is the next possession, and then the one after that. He’d be the best therapist Raptors fans could ever ask for, if he weren’t also their biggest source of anxiety.
Kawhi is the ultimate difference between the 23 years of managing inferiority complexes prior to this season, and hosting Game 1 of the NBA Finals later this week. On Saturday night, Kawhi changed the perception of a city forever. The Eastern Conference, the future of the Raptors, the claim to being the best player left standing—he seized all of it. And they will be in his possession until further notice.
Stephen A. Smith pours a little cold water on Raps fans and argues that, regardless of his incredible play, Leonard isn’t quite the NBA’s best.
A slew of ESPN’s NBA analysts and reporters weigh in on the Raptors-Warriors matchup in this preview piece. Let’s focus on what they consider keys to the Raptors’ success:
Brian Windhorst: Their supporting players — namely Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet — have to cobble together some consistency. As a group, they have a tendency to be boom-or-bust, and there’s no margin for error against Golden State. The other thing to watch is if they can take advantage of home court and get ahead in the series. That has long been an issue for this franchise.
Kevin Pelton: Whether Danny Green can rediscover his range. Toronto beat Milwaukee despite Green’s shooting 19 percent (6-of-32) from the field while starting all six games, largely because VanVleet replaced him down the stretch. Against the bigger Warriors, playing VanVleet alongside Lowry will be tricky. Green’s size is needed to match up with Golden State’s wings, so the Raptors will have to get some contributions from him on the other end.
Jackie MacMullan: The Raptors need to establish a consistent contributor besides Kawhi in the half court. Will Danny Green ever hit another 3? He hasn’t knocked one down since May 20 (he’s 0-for-8 since), and it has gotten so cringe-worthy that Toronto fans groaned in pained unison with every miss in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. The good news for The North is that VanVleet came around just in time.