The Raptors are nearly done making history — now the challenge is repeating it
Game 1 went as well as Toronto could hope - how can they do it again in Game 2?
For now, all of the history is in the past. I mean, obviously. But bear with me.
The Toronto Raptors made their first Finals, and won their first Finals game (118-109 over the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, just to remind you).
Between quarters, the team nodded to its 24-year existence with a parade of ex-players, all welcomed with applause. Game 1 was a celebration of basketball in Toronto and in Canada — rightfully so.
But the time for pageantry is over. The only bit of history left to make is a championship. How can the Raptors repeat their solid Game 1 victory three more times?
After the game, Golden State coach Steve Kerr zeroed in on one major Warriors weakness: transition defence. The Raptors picked their spots to pierce the Golden State defence with quick buckets through hit-ahead passes and run-outs. At the centre of it all was Pascal Siakam, the fastest player on the court. Siakam blitzed up and down, surprising two-time defensive player of the year Draymond Green with his straight-line speed and funky array of finishes.
The Raptors scored 24 fast-break points to the Warriors' 17. That's a huge win against a team that built its dynasty on the backbone of quick strikes. Game 1 didn't feel comfortable until Kyle Lowry's late three-pointer because the Warriors are known for their two-minute offensive outbursts. That the Raptors beat the Warriors at their own game is promising. Siakam may not shoot 83 per cent again, but the fact that he can is a massive development.
(Relatively) Quiet Kawhi
The Warriors sold out to stop Kawhi Leonard. At times this post-season Leonard was the main reason the Raptors were winning. The worm began turning in the conference final as Fred Van Vleet and Kyle Lowry began knocking down shots, but Leonard remained the epicentre of Toronto's success.
WATCH | Raptors run over Warriors for Game 1 win:
It only followed that the Warriors, then, would do everything in their power to turn off Kawhi's faucet. They switched Leonard's defender on pick-and-rolls and doubled him late in the shot clock. But on the biggest stage, Siakam took the reins, Marc Gasol got aggressive, Danny Green found his shot and the load on Leonard's shoulders eased. The Raptors superstar made just five field goals in Game 1. If there's anything non-repeatable about Game 1, it's probably just that. He still scored 23 points and added eight rebounds and five assists, by the way.
Steph & Klay, Dray & 'Dre…
With Kevin Durant ruled out of Game 2, Curry, Thompson, Green and Iguodala remain the Warriors' core. The Splash Bros. were solid in Game 1, but a combined 16-for-35 performance leaves lots of room to improve for two of the greatest shooters ever. Forty-six per cent shooting wasn't enough to carry the short-handed Warriors on a night where Green and Iguodala connected on just five of their 16 shot attempts.
It's a bit startling to see the lack of depth on the Warriors. Ex-Raptors 905er Alfonzo McKinnie was on the court during crunch-time. McKinnie couldn't crack Toronto's rotation last season. Still, Golden State piled on 109 points. An above-average performance by Steph and Klay or a return to form for Dray or 'Dre would change the calculus on the court.
The least repeatable part of Game 1 is Drake's elite trolling. His signed Raptors Dell Curry jersey is tough to beat. His non-scuffle with Green after the game can only exist after a Raptors victory. His subsequent Instagram post was the perfect finish to the three-course meal. The Warriors won't let Drake live in their heads rent-free. They're too good for that.
And so perhaps the most encouraging part of Game 1 was the Raptors' matching poise and intensity. Toronto has plenty of players who've played in plenty of big games, but The Finals is a different beast. Nick Nurse outcoached eight-time NBA champion Steve Kerr. You know the Warriors' bounceback is coming — regardless of a certain rapper.
On offence: Game 1 was ideal for the Raptors: 50 per cent from the field, 40 per cent from three, 84 per cent from the line. A heavy dose of clean looks contributed to the pretty percentages, even with Leonard and Lowry missing 10 "wide-open" shots (as classified by NBA.com) between them. So the Raptors probably won't change a tonne going into Game 2. But they will try to get Leonard going through mismatches. One way to do this is to have Lowry screen for Leonard to force a smaller player (probably Curry) into a one-on-one situation with the Raptors superstar. From there, it's clear out and let Leonard do work.
On defence: Play smartly aggressive, but also play aggressively smart. The Warriors shot 31 free throws in Game 1, including 14 for Curry. Those are automatic. The Raptors did well in forcing 17 turnovers with their aggression, but some smarter decision-making when Curry has the ball rising to the shot would be beneficial. That will limit opportunities from the charity stripe, and creating more transition chances off of the ensuing misses.