Many opinions may have changed following the Toronto Raptors‘ Game 1 loss to the Orlando Magic, but mine certainly has not. I believe the Raptors will go all the way to their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.
The Orlando Magic delivered a dagger in the heart, that being their point guard D.J. Augustin’s three-point shot that put the Magic up 104-101 with three seconds left in the fourth quarter.
That game was nothing less than an upset, but the Raptors did struggle against Orlando in the regular season. The Raptors scraped by with a win in their first contest against the Magic on Nov. 20, defeating them 93-91. In their next matchup, they were blown out 116-87, and then again on Feb. 25, losing 113-98. In their final matchup of the regular season, the Raptors defeated the Magic 121-109, splitting the season series at two games apiece.
The Magic proved to be a tough matchup for this elite Raptors squad, who finished the regular season with a record of 58-24 — good enough to earn them a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference. The Magic, on the other hand, finished in seventh place in the East with a record of 42-40.
There are many reasons for why the Toronto Raptors will go to the NBA Finals. First off, I think the most recent loss was a fluke. That game was neck-and-neck and could have gone either way. The Raptors, without a doubt, have more talent and skill on their roster.
Let’s take Kawhi Leonard, for example. He is one of the best players in the NBA and arguably the best player in the Eastern Conference. Leonard ranked sixth overall in scoring, with 26.6 points per game and he shot a field goal percentage of 49.6. He also averaged 1.8 steals per game, 7.3 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game. The one stat to look at here is his steals per game. Averaging a steal or more per game makes him a major defensive threat.
Leonard is arguably the best defensive player in the league. He was named the defensive player of the year twice: once in 2015 and then again in 2016. Leonard is nicknamed “The Claw,” due to the size of his hands and his ability to strip the ball off opponents. Let’s not forget that both Leonard and Raptors guard Danny Green were NBA champions when playing for the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Leonard was named Finals MVP and many don’t realize the experience these two players add. Since these two guys have already been to the Finals and won, this gives Toronto an advantage, especially in the playoffs.
Let’s not forget the season Pascal Siakam has had — the Raptors power forward had a breakthrough year. He averaged a career high 16.9 points per game and he shot a field goal percentage of 54.9. He also averaged 6.9 rebounds per game, 3.9 assists and 0.9 steals per game.
Another thing to remember is the Raptors have been here before in recent years. The Raptors have been to the playoffs every year for the past six years, including this year. In the 2015-2016, they reached the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. Evidently, they lost that series to the Cavaliers 4-2, and Cleveland went on to win an NBA championship. The Raptors have a playoff experience and depth on their roster that the Magic don’t have.
The Magic haven’t made the playoffs since the 2011-12 season, when they lost their first round series to the Pacers 4-1.
The Raptors know how to win the playoffs. They have won four series in the past three years. In the 2015-16 playoffs they defeated the Indiana Pacers 4-3 in the first round and then beat the Miami Heat 4-3 in the second round. In the 2016-17 playoffs, they defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 4-3 in the first round and in the 2017-18 playoffs, they defeated the Washington Wizards 4-2 in the first round.
The Bucks had a record of 60-22 this season, which was good enough to earn them the first seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks and their superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo are considered the true threat of the Toronto Raptors, but have yet to win a playoff series in the Antetokounmpo era.
Many players on the Raptors roster have immense playoff experience, including Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell, and Fred Vanvleet.
Toronto losing Game 1 will prove costly, as they have lost home court advantage. They have been in this position before, as the Raptors have a record of two wins and 14 losses all-time in Game 1 of a playoff series. The next game of the series will be tomorrow night, Tuesday April 16, at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. It is crucial that the Raptors come away with a win, as they don’t want to head into Game 3 with a 0-2 record. Games 3 and 4 will be held in Orlando, so Toronto must win at least one game or times will be tough.
The Raptors must focus on defending the perimeter, as Orlando as a team shot 48.3 per cent from the three-point line, while the Raptors only shot 33.3 per cent from the three-point.
Kyle Lowry will need to step up both offensively and defensively. The Toronto point guard had no points in Game 1 and was 0-7 in field goals. He also went 0-6 from the three-point line. Lowry did have eight assists in the game, which was one bright spot, but he needed to do a better job defending his man. Orlando point guard D.J. Augustin led the team in scoring with 25 points. He also shot a field goal percentage of 69 per cent and went 4-5 from the three point line. The Raptors also had an uncharacteristic night from the stripe, shooting just 64.3 per cent from the free throw line while Orlando shot 90 per cent from the stripe.
The Raptors’ playoff depth and skill should take them all the way to the finals — but only time will tell.