Posted on May 29, 2019, by Travis Pulver
When the Toronto Raptors revamped the team by letting go the Coach of the Year and trading away the cornerstone of the franchise, DeMar DeRozan, fans hoped it wouldn’t get the same old result. But they hoped Nick Nurse and Kawhi Leonard could step up and get the Raptors to somewhere the franchise had never been—the NBA Finals.
Now that they are here, is there any reason to think they can actually win it?
Not too many people seem to think they have a shot. Of ESPN’s 21-person panel of experts, only two chose the Raptors to win. If you check out what the blog-o-sphere is saying, and you will not find much support for Toronto.
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As could be expected, the odds opened with the Warriors a heavy favorite at -290 with Toronto at + 240. Some books saw the odds reach into the low -300s for the Warriors. But heading into Game One, the series odds seem to have settled at Warriors -280 and Raptors +235 (via BetOnline.ag as of May 29).
That means there is a 73.68 percent chance that the Warriors are going to win the NBA Finals this year. So, does that mean there isn’t a compelling or good reason to put something on the Raptors? Do they have a chance to win the NBA Finals?
Most would consider the notion crazy because the Warriors have been the team to beat for years. But even without Durant, they appeared to be pretty darn good. With their roster of all-stars, surely, they can handle the Raptors.
That would be true if their all-stars were all consistently playing like all-stars, and if Toronto was just any old team. But prior to the Western Conference Finals, Steph Curry was struggling with his shot. Klay Thompson has had his moments during the playoffs, but he can’t exactly be relied on either.
Now, both are capable of big games and could blow up on any given night, but without Durant providing a consistent 30+ points a night, one of those two (or both) must do it. They might do it, but they also might not.
It was easy for them to do so against Portland, but they also fell behind to the Trail Blazers by 17 points in three of four games. Making shots and staging comebacks is no going to be nearly as easy against the Raptors defense. They are one of the better teams in the league when it comes to defending against the three (31.3 percent allowed in the postseason; 10.6 of 33.9 attempts).
Golden State, on the other hand, was one of the worse against the three allowing teams to hit 13.5 attempts a game (of 37.0) or 36.5 percent.
Toronto’s best chance will require Kevin Durant to be out for the series, which is a distinct possibility. The typical timetable for his calf injury is four to six weeks. As of Game One Thursday night, it will have been four weeks. With the Finals on the line, you would think he might push it a little so he could get back. But he is also going to be thinking about his free agency value. However, if he reinjures his calf and it is something more serious, his free agency value is going to tank.
So, when or if he comes back, he is going to be sure he is 100 percent first.
But without him, the Warriors will have to live and die by the three-pointer. Should that be the case, Toronto can beat that team—as long as the role players don’t go cold offensively.
The Raptors are going to need more offensively than just Kawhi Leonard. They are going to need some combination of Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell putting up decent numbers as well.
Toronto’s detractors keep pointing at the lucky bounces in Game Seven against the 76ers as ‘proof’ the Raptors are lucky to have made it this far. But they had been in control for most of that game and would have just gone to overtime had Leonard missed that shot. So, chances are good they still would have won.
Every team is a little lucky, but Toronto is also pretty good. Don’t be shocked if the give the Warriors more than they can handle in this series.