It is not a matter of trying to project as a certain type of person or player in order to impress.
“That’s not how I look at it. Obviously you want to be a role model,” Siakam told a pair of reporters, including The Athletic, on Tuesday. “You want to be somebody people look at and be somebody kids can be inspired by. At the same time, it’s just about me living my life and doing what I do. I’m not really thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a role model for these kids.’ I just want to be myself. And if me being myself helps people get to this level, that’s great.”
The good news: Being himself is precisely how Siakam got here in the first place, to where he can be guarded by ace defenders Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and likely Draymond Green in successive series. His story of getting noticed back home at a camp run by NBAer Luke Mbah a Moute is well know, but once he got to the United States, there was still the matter of getting noticed at the highest level of the game.
Siakam put up decent enough numbers during his freshman season at New Mexico State to get himself noticed by a few teams, and blew up in his second playing season, averaging 20.3 points and 11.6 rebounds.
1. How will the Raptors defend Stephen Curry?
It is the single biggest question facing any team that takes on the Warriors. As J. Kyle Mann detailed earlier this postseason, Curry distorts defenses differently than any player before him. You can’t really stop Steph when he’s locked into a groove; all you can do is hope to limit the fallout.
The Raptors did that effectively back in December, holding Curry to 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting en route to an impressive 20-point blowout win despite Leonard’s missing the contest. With Kawhi out of the lineup, Toronto coach Nick Nurse opted to start a two-point-guard lineup, with sixth man Fred VanVleet joining Kyle Lowry in the backcourt. VanVleet drew the bulk of the Curry assignment, and he performed well; Steph scored just four points on 1-for-6 shooting in 39 total possessions with VanVleet guarding him, according to NBA.com’s defensive matchup data.
VanVleet sought to make up for his 3-inch height disadvantage by applying pressure on Curry whenever and wherever possible—picking him up full-court, chasing him all over the floor, navigating off-ball screens, and doing his level best to deny the sharpshooting Warriors point guard any airspace to rise and fire. Even so, though, a rewatch reveals that Steph did get a few clean looks that he normally knocks down; he just missed them. Maybe it was just an off night. But maybe the misses came thanks to an overall body of defensive work that left him struggling to find his rhythm.
Curry’s sure as hell not struggling with that as he enters this series. He’s coming off a dominant run in the Western Conference finals sweep of the Blazers. The Raptors’ chances of toppling the two-time-defending champs start with the most improved defensive team in the playoffs’ finding a way to derail the sport’s deadliest shooter. One possible answer: Take a page out of the Spurs’ book.
For years, Gregg Popovich’s teams have tried to curb Curry by having his man pick him up high on the floor and work to force him left, away from his dominant right hand. They’ve had the defender guarding Curry’s screener play up, too, to take away the cushion that would invite an open pull-up 3. The goal: push Curry inside the arc, and into a contested midrange shot. (If this sounds familiar, it might be because you watched the Bucks and later the Jazz run a similar scheme on James Harden this season.)
For the past 24 years, we’ve known Toronto’s NBA basketball team as the “Raptors.” Yes, it is a name that really doesn’t fit the area, but we’ve gotten used to it.
However, back in 1994, when the city was just awarded an NBA franchise, Toronto’s new NBA team could have been named something entirely different.
Central to this short story is Gil Meslin, an urban planner from Toronto who also happens to be a Raptors fan.
Now that the Raptors are in the NBA Finals for the first time in team history, Meslin decided to explore the team’s origins, and to do that, he turned to the Toronto Star, the city’s major daily paper.
He came across a “Name the Team” contest in the Star in April of that year, in which 10 lucky winners would receive a $500 in gift certificates to The Bay (now Hudson’s Bay), a Canadian department store chain.
Now, it isn’t unusual for new professional franchises to hold “Name that Team” contests, but this one seemed so legendary, that were openly wondering how this was kept out of the spotlight for so many years.
He was a teammate of Lowry’s and an assistant coach when Gasol’s career with the Memphis Grizzlies began and the Portland native is pumped up for the prospects.
“Surreal,” Stoudamire said in a telephone conversation after Toronto clinched the first Eastern Conference title on the weekend. “I bet it was crazy there. I’m happy for the Day 1s, the people who believed in that situation when there was nothing to believe in.”
Stoudamire played 200 games over 2 1/2 seasons in Toronto, dealing with the mess of an expansion roster of castoffs and suspects that it was. He played tough and he played hard and he was by far the best player on the team.
He was the 1995-96 NBA rookie of the year and averaged 19.6 points and 8.8 assists per game in those 200 games before being dealt to the Portland Trail Blazers in the first of a handful of seismic moves the franchise has made over the years.
It didn’t end well but it seldom does. His mentor and friend, Isiah Thomas, the team president who made Stoudamire an unlikely and against-the-grain No. 7 pick in the 1995 draft, had fled the franchise about four months before Stoudamire got out of town and there were legitimate concerns about the long-term viability of the team. As it turned out, Stoudamire mildly regretted his desire to leave but he ended up on an outstanding Blazers team that almost won the West one season and he’d play 13 years in the league.
Well, it was a Friday night. We just got off a big game at home. … I was sitting at a Cactus Cantina with my father and all my coaches having a dinner with our families like we usually did on a Friday night, and I got a phone call halfway through our meal and it was his mother letting us know that Kawhi’s father had just been murdered.
The next day we had a extremely big game against Dominguez High School, one of the best teams in the nation. And this is in Kawhi’s junior year.
I called Kawhi in the morning and said, “I fully anticipate and expect that you’re probably not going to be there tonight. We’re going be there supporting you as much as we can give you in this situation.”
Lo and behold, he showed up and he played in the game.
I think that was his first way of really dealing with it.
— Zara A (@thisiszee_) May 28, 2019
Gotta hand it to Pistons Twitter.
Despite the dire prediction from Matt Friedman, a former journalist now running a local media relations firm, there wasn’t feedback from the fan base questioning the competency of the Detroit Pistons coach after the Toronto Raptors advanced to the NBA Finals to face the Golden State Warriors just one season after firing Casey.
After dropping the first two games of Eastern Conference finals, Casey’s former team won four straight games to advance to Game 1 on Thursday night (9, ABC).
With such a dramatic reversal of fortunes, I expected my Twitter mentions to fill up with takes on how Raptors president Masai Ujiri was correct in moving on from Casey last May after leading the team to a 59-23 record and the conference’s top seed – only to crater against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third straight season.
In today’s Big Story podcast, you’ve seen him sitting (OK, standing) courtside if you’ve ever watched a Toronto Raptors game. If you’ve followed the team during its historic run to the NBA Finals, you’ve probably heard pieces of Nav Bhatia’s story. He’s a Day One fan, a proud Torontonian, a legendary car salesman, and a Sikh immigrant to Canada at a time when the country wasn’t as multicultural and proud as it would later become.
Last week, a racist Tweet from a Milwaukee Bucks fan thrust Bhatia into the spotlight in the middle of the Western Conference Finals, and he responded the way he always has, with pride and kindness. As the basketball world arrives in Toronto for the game’s biggest event, everyone who’s spent time with Bhatia is sharing their stories. But today he shares his, in full, with us. If you’ve ever heard the cliche that sports can bring people together — just know it’s not a cliche to Nav.
He was there under David Blatt when Golden State won it all in six games against the Cavs in 2015, and again a year later when — during Ty Lue’s debut season as head coach — Handy’s post-Game 2 speech to the team was credited with providing a spark as Cleveland pulled off that historic comeback from a 3-1 deficit. He was there in 2017 and 2018, too, when Kevin Durant joined the fray and the Warriors won eight of nine games in all (a five-game series followed by a sweep). And he’ll be there on Thursday, when Game 1 tips off in Toronto in this series that will serve as a final goodbye to the Warriors’ storied Oakland era (they move to the Chase Center in San Francisco next season).
But the Golden State tie-ins don’t end there for Handy. If not for Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown, who added Handy to his Lakers staff in 2011 and brought him to Cleveland when he became head coach for a second time there in 2013, he might never have made the jump to the NBA.
Long before Handy became one of the league’s most respected player development coaches, he was a retired player who started a basketball training business in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Walnut Creek. His playing career had been an enjoyable journey on its own, from going undrafted as a combo guard out of the University of Hawaii to an international run that took him from Israel to France, Italy, Germany, England (that’s where he first met Nurse while playing under him for the Manchester Giants of the British Basketball League) and Australia.
It was 2003, and Handy had decided to become a coach. The private path was going quite well back then, as Handy worked with clients ranging from high schoolers to international prospects and NBA types (he has cited Tony Delk, Eddie House, Shawn Marion and Penny Hardaway in the past). But word tends to spread when you’re good at your chosen craft, and so it was here as well.
Alfonzo McKinnie’s winding basketball journey to this unlikely stage is a credit to so many humans. Among the most notable: his mother, Elisa Bryant, who raised him, Randy Brown, the former Bulls assistant who cracked open the NBA door and, most of all, himself, the dude who kicked it open with all that work.
But his most recent break — his biggest professional break — was delivered by a man he doesn’t know but who this week may get an in-person thank you note. Patrick McCaw placed a trampoline under McKinnie. McKinnie used it to bounce right into an NBA Finals rotation role.
“Yeah, him not coming back was probably the best thing for my career,” McKinnie told The Athletic this week.
This is an NBA version of “Trading Places,” a 1983 comedy come to life on basketball’s tallest mountaintop.
“Crazy how it’s played out,” McKinnie said. “Unique. I’m not sure I’ve heard a story like it.”
Let’s rewind 12 months. McCaw is on the Warriors. He gets 11 minutes in the Finals. The year prior, he got 34, making some crucial plays, as a rookie, in the closeout Game 5 over the Cavaliers.
Being a bandwagon sports fan often gets a bad rap, as if watching sports requires years of misery as an entry fee. But what, exactly, is wrong with getting spontaneously excited about something new and expanding your horizons a little?
That’s the situation many Canadians find themselves in when it comes to the Toronto Raptors.
The country’s lone NBA team is playing for a championship for the first time and it’s got people tuning in. Since many of them are only recent basketball converts, there’s a fair amount of catching up to do.
Fret not: this handy guide will transform any bandwagoner into a bona fide superfan just in time for Game 1 in Toronto on Thursday. Barring that, it’ll at least make any novice sound knowledgeable ahead of the team’s showdown with the Golden State Warriors.
Seven years ago, the idea that the Warriors and Raptors would face off for the NBA championship seemed downright laughable. But it was in May of 2012 that Golden State and Toronto went head-to-head in a game of chance that had a drastic impact on the Warriors’ ongoing dynasty.
2012 was the last time the Warriors failed to make the playoffs, as they finished the lockout-shortened season with a record of 23-43 — tied with the Raptors for the seventh-worst record in the league. Golden State lost 17 of its final 20 games, and 10 of its final 11, in a tanking effort that would prove to be just barely enough.
The Warriors’ first-round pick in the 2012 draft was top-seven protected and would be sent to Utah if it had fallen outside the first seven selections. With Golden State and Toronto possessing identical 23-43 records, a coin toss was held to determine which team would be slotted seventh going into the lottery drawing, and which would be eighth.
The Warriors won the coin toss, and ultimately kept their first-round pick. The rest is history.
In the six-plus seasons since, the Warriors have qualified for the playoffs seven times, made five consecutive NBA Finals, won three championships, and currently sit four victories away from attaining their fourth — and third in a row.
If that coin lands the other way, there’s a strong chance Draymond Green — who was acquired in that same 2012 draft — never ends up in a Warriors uniform.
“It helps, in terms of knowing how great they are as an offensive team,” Ibaka said. “Sometimes it’s tough when you don’t know, and you just go out there and play with the flow of the game. [Then] they are going to beat you so bad.
“The fact we already know how great they are — not good, great — that helps. That helps us to be prepared mentally, and then watch tape to try to figure out what to do.”
It’s one thing to try to figure out what to do on tape. It’s something else entirely to go out on the court and do it. Even when Golden State is playing at less than its best — like it did for large stretches of the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers — the Warriors still can ramp up their intensity level in an instant and go on a double-digit run in what seems like a blink of an eye.
It is that ability to overwhelm an opponent that makes them so difficult to stop. Well, that and a collection of superstars, from Stephen Curry to Klay Thompson to Draymond Green, being on the court at the same time — even as another, Kevin Durant, waits in reserve as he continues to recover from a calf strain.
According to Gasol, stopping the Warriors will come down to patience and adjustments.
“They do a great job with their positioning on the floor, their passing, their counteractions, the second, third counter.” Gasol said, “They see the scheme and they have a counter for that scheme. It’s a multiple-effort game.
Toronto is the new kid on the block when it comes to reaching the NBA Finals, but Toronto isn’t a small-market team. Forbes has valued the Raptors as the 11th most valuable NBA franchise at $1.7 billion.
The city is the envy of the world for its low crime rate and high standards of living. As the financial and media hub of the country, Toronto is home to world-class universities and hospitals, wonderful museums and a thriving downtown scene with abundant restaurants and live theatre.
But, yes, winter gets cold. Canadians hear that a lot.
People in Toronto desperately want to be regarded as big league and that’s why it’s still a sore point that the Montreal Expos and Vancouver Grizzlies left the country, while the NFL has turned up its nose to Canada.
This feeling of wanting America’s approval has been building ever since the Blue Jays came to town in 1977. Yes, it was home to the Maple Leafs, but this acceptance by Major League Baseball seemed to be a validation. Then the Raptors came to town in 1996 and Canadians swelled with pride.
Sometimes, it might have seemed as if the former NBA G-League head coach was having fun playing mad scientist once finally the head coach of an NBA team. But that trialling gave the Raptors a comfort with reacting quickly and calmly in the playoffs.
“As a player, you get so used to routine and being stuck in, ‘Well, this is what we do and we’re gonna do it at a high level and we don’t care what other teams do.’ Nick has changed that, where we were adaptable throughout the year and we struggled sometimes because of it,” VanVleet said. “We tried a lot of different things, and some of them didn’t mesh or make sense. But now, at this point in the season, we’re able to do a lot of different things and we’ve been through the adversities and proved ourselves.”
The Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks each posed very different challenges.
First the Raptors had to stifle Orlando’s all-star big man Nikola Vucevic, hot-shooting Terrence Ross and beat head coach Steve Clifford’s pack-the-paint defence.
The company that owns the Toronto Raptors is auctioning off a pair of tickets to Game 1 of the NBA Finals to support an employee whose son was the victim of a hit and run over the weekend.
Four-year-old Radiul Chowdhury was walking Sunday with one of his parents in Toronto’s east end when he ended up on the roadway and was struck by a motorcycle.
Toronto police have said the motorcyclist briefly stopped and let a female passenger off the bike, but then drove off and the passenger fled the area on foot.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) confirmed Tuesday that Ruhul Chowdhury works for the company and that his son remains in critical condition at The Hospital for Sick Children.
“In addition to MLSE providing support and assistance to the family, all funds raised from the auction will be directly donated to the family to alleviate any additional financial burden so that Radiul’s family can be by his side,” the company’s website says.
A 31-year-old man, whose name has not been released by police, was arrested Monday and is facing charges of leaving an accident scene causing bodily harm, driving with an improper licence and operating a vehicle without insurance.
Skip Bayless, the former EPSN talking head, now makes his living arguing hot takes for Fox Sports on Skip and Shannon: Undisputed. Bayless is known for picking on players and venting his full-throated criticism at them, with NBA superstar LeBron James being one of his favourite targets. Now Kawhi Leonard is fully in this sights.
During this playoff run, Bayless has relentlessly berated the Raptors’ star forward because he feels he faked his quad injury last year in San Antonio and quit on that team — which led to his trade to Toronto — and even went so far as to say he got lucky with his incredible series-clinching shot versus Philly.
Bayless refused to used Leonard’s name, and refers to him only as “No. 2.” After the Raps clinched, Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum tweeted at Bayless: “Give it a rest skip. Get some sleep man. Klaw is a monster. Get that hate out your heart,” and Bayless responded with a six-minute video screed about how he was the biggest Leonard fan and still can’t get over his betrayal.
Canadians, if this is your first taste of Bayless, trust us when we say you can just skip him.
Like Goliath with his armour and javelin, the Warriors are armed to the teeth with star power who have proven they know how to get the job done, having won three of the last four NBA championships and this being the fifth straight trip to the Finals.
The Raptors on the other hand, despite this six-season run of success that’s culminated in this championship series appearance, have been known as more of a gimmicky afterthought with an extremely meme-able mascot for the better part of the last 24 years.
There’s just no way the franchise from Canada is going to somehow upset the Golden Dynasty.
But to quote the Muhammad Ali, “Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.”
So taking away all the historical biases that are at play coming into this series and dealing specifically with the facts, a pathway to a Raptors victory can be found.
Here’s a look at how Toronto can shock the world and sling a dinosaur-sized stone into the collective foreheads of the mighty Warriors to win its first-ever NBA championship.
Three-point sharpshooter Stephen Curry attempts to lead the injury-hit Warriors to their third consecutive NBA title, a feat last achieved by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002, and Golden State could become the first team to win four crowns in five seasons since the 1969 Boston Celtics.
“Four more wins defines your season and brings you a championship,” Curry said. “We have to stay locked in.”
Blocking their path is a Raptors team powered by Kawhi Leonard, obtained in a trade with San Antonio last July. He has sparked a squad that was ousted by Cleveland in the playoffs each of the past three years, creating a breakthrough campaign.
“They are the champions. We’ve got to go in with mental focus and accept the challenge,” Leonard said. “We’re in the finals and we’re not done yet.”
Golden State’s five consecutive NBA Finals appearances is the second-best run in history trailing only Boston’s epic run from 1957-66.
“It hasn’t been done for a reason. It’s really difficult,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“I can’t say enough about the competitive drive of these players and the culture they have built. This group has a fiber about them. When guys go down, they find a way to play harder and win. The experience of having won titles helps you come through.”
The Warriors have proven that during the NBA playoffs since forward Kevin Durant went down with a right calf injury three weeks ago. Center DeMarcus Cousins is also sidelined with a torn right quadriceps muscle suffered in the first round of the playoffs.
“This was not a slam dunk in the early days. A lot of people didn’t think we would be here today,“ Bitove says. The licensing fee for an NBA franchise at the time was USD $125 million, and buying the land to the old Canada Post building next to Union Station was going to cost $40 million more. Many at the time were skeptical.
Phil Evershed, now Bitove’s business partner at PointNorth Capital, used to work as a lender at CIBC and remembers when Bitove came to the bank asking for money to help finance the Raptors.
“People forget how risky it was to put an NBA team into Canada. There was a big franchise fee to pay and for banks and lenders, this was a big deal and a lot of risk,“ says Evershed. “Everyone thought John Bitove was crazy to put it down there. People thought no outdoor parking, it’s going to cause significant congestion.
“And look what happened. It turned out to be the best place the city could ever imagine.”
Here’s where the impending Kevin Durant decision comes in. With an aging core and limited financial flexibility, the Warriors were poised to offer McCaw a chance to be their backup of the future. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are both openly discussing retirement. Nick Young, who McCaw was unable to outplay for a higher position on the depth chart, is out the of league. I don’t have the specifics, but it’s safe to assume the Warriors had offered something bigger than the current one year, minimum contract that McCaw finds himself playing under.
And it wasn’t for role — McCaw has managed to score just two points in the entire 2019 playoffs while mostly riding the bench for the Raptors. Are there regrets? Who’s to say – though I did find it interesting that Spears notes that McCaw and his agents at the time of his split from Golden State “no longer represents McCaw.” The intentionally vague passive voice used seems to make it intentionally unclear who did the leaving there — McCaw on another whim or representation getting frustrated at a client making bad choices.
And so it could conceivably go with Durant. The Warriors can offer him more money, a better chance at championships, and a core that believes in him and understands what makes him tick… And none of that may matter.
Like McCaw, maybe he just needs something different, even if it’s not an objectively better situation. Personally, I don’t think he’s going anywhere, but by all reliable accounts Durant’s decision hasn’t yet been made. In the end though, this is an intensely personal decision, and one that doesn’t always have to make sense.
During the playoffs, the Raptors have scored a subpar 0.89 points per possession when Leonard was trapped, per Synergy Sports. But Toronto presents challenges that Golden State hasn’t faced this postseason. Most obvious: Leonard. He is a bulky forward with massive hands who can control the ball and get where he wants, even when pressured. Portland and Houston weren’t helped by the fact it had screeners who were non-playmaking threats like Enes Kanter, Clint Capela, and P.J. Tucker. The Raptors do have playmaking threats.
Gasol is one of the game’s best passing centers, and he’s shot 3s at 36.2 percent since 2016-17. If Leonard or Lowry get trapped, Gasol is a release valve who can be relied on to make the proper play. He can pop for 3s, roll and score, or distribute from anywhere on the floor. Serge Ibaka is a knockdown midrange shooter who can also roll to the rim. Smaller players like Lowry, Green, and Fred VanVleet have also been used as on-ball screeners. Pascal Siakam looks spooked shooting 3s, but he remains a threat off the dribble. Even if the Warriors don’t start off the series blitzing or trapping Leonard or Lowry, you can bet they will at some point. When that time comes, Kawhi needs to be ready.
Passing has long been Kawhi’s lone bugaboo. At times this season, it looked like the Raptors ran two different offenses: Kawhi Iso Ball, and Nurse’s movement-based scheme. Lately, those contrasting styles have fused better than they have all season. Leonard racked up a career-high nine assists in Game 5 and then seven more in Game 6. These numbers are pumped by VanVleet and Norman Powell remembering how to score, but their production could be aided by adjustments happening off the ball. Toronto’s shooters have been relocating like they do in the clip below, which creates easier passing lanes for Leonard, who’s making quicker reads.
1. 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 postseason. He’s an elite isolation scorer, capable of battering through even the toughest defenses 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. —Mike Prada
+24.1: Sportsnet NBA Editor Dave Zarum covered a litany of incredible Kawhi stats last week, but here’s one more: To this point in the playoffs, the Raptors are 24.1 points better per 100 possessions better when the Klaw is on the floor than when he’s off of it.
That’s a huge number, and worth mentioning on its own. But it’s also eerily reminiscent of LeBron James’s first title run with the Heat in 2012, when the team was 24.3 points better with LeBron on the floor than with him off of it.
More eerie (or, you know, merely coincidental) similarities between this Raptors team and that Heat one:
• When Kawhi is on the court in these playoffs, the Raptors are 10.7 points better per 100 possessions than their opponents. When LeBron was on the court during the 2012 playoffs the Heat were 10.9 points better than their opponents.
• The 2012 Heat needed 18 games (series of five, six and seven games) to get to the Finals. The 2019 Raptors? They needed 18 games (series of five, seven and six games).
• Kevin Durant was waiting for both of them once they reached the finals, though it’s still unclear when he’ll play against the Raptors.
To sum up, I’m not saying Kawhi is LeBron and these Raptors are the 2012 Heat. The statsare.
13-year NBA veteran Quentin Richardson thinks that the scene outside Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena after the Raptors’ Game 6 win was epic and great for the NBA. But will a finals berth be enough to keep the star forward next season? Richardson gives his
Kawhi in the Finals
So, how does Leonard’s performance project into the next round?
Well, Kawhi played the Warriors just once this season. It was an odd game, with the Warriors playing without Steph Curry and Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant putting on a show to keep the Warriors close before Toronto stole the narrow victory. This was one of those early season games where the Raptors overplayed their bench units, letting the Warriors stay in the game, even forcing overtime, in spite of Ibaka and Danny Green (who both played mostly with the starting group) having point differentials of +16.
Of course, the Raptors would play the Warriors again two weeks later, with the Warriors fielding a full lineup and the Raptors resting Kawhi. Toronto won that one by 20, dominating from start to finish. Hard to draw a lot of lessons from either game — especially given the changes to the roster since then.
For what it is worth, Kawhi did have one of his more extravagant individual showings of the regular season against the Warriors. He posted 37 points, eight rebounds, and three assists with only one turnover in 44 minutes, while shooting 58 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three.
Before that, the last time Kawhi had played the Warriors was Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, in which he got injured. He missed all nine games (between the regular season and playoffs) the Spurs played the Warriors in 2017-18 due to his injury.
As a refresher, here is what Kawhi had been accomplishing in that all-too-brief outing in the Western Conference Finals before getting hurt. He played 24 minutes, and put up 26 points, eight rebounds, three assists, with only one turnover, and was a +21 on the night. The Warriors managed only a 89 ORTG while he was on the court, and ended with a 115 ORTG on the night. The Spurs would fall apart after his injury, managing to lose that game by two and going on to get swept by the Warriors. That is the last time Kawhi Leonard and Steph Curry met in a game. Sadly, the NBA’s matchup data does not go back that far to see who Kawhi was guarding, but with the success he’s found in key matchups so far, I expect Nick Nurse will find a use for him.
In that playoff run, Kawhi had been averaging a PIE of +20. In this playoff run, he is averaging a PIE of +20. There is every sign Kawhi is capable of putting up the same sort of performance. And if he does, well, who knows?