Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

EPIC Morning Coffee – Thu, May 30

The moment we've all been waiting for.

The moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Ujiri’s bold vision of Raptors’ potential realized under NBA Finals spotlight –

Getting his message out is an Ujiri specialty, practically his trademark. His mission upon being hired away from Denver prior to the 2013-14 season was not only to build the bones of a winner but to build a foundation that can outlast any particular collection of players or even coaches, maybe even him.

It was less about building a basketball team and more about creating an idea of what an NBA team could mean here. Winning games and shaping minds were equally important.

The Raptors being here, on this stage is just another step in a continuum and it’s impressive:

Create a formal relationship with Drake unlike any connection any franchise has with an entertainment star?

Drake and the Raptors are still going strong.

Host the NBA All-Star game?

Sign him up. Shame about the Polar Vortex; not even Ujiri can fix the weather.

Take his team to Japan for pre-season?

The Raptors are going next October.

Get on stage and curse out another franchise or a future Hall-of-Famer on the eve of a playoff series?

Done that.

The man has a message to get out there about the potential of the franchise, how committed they are to winning, how ready they are to win. The Raptors and the city of Toronto couldn’t ask for a better person to deliver it.

“We just feel like …. we have prepared well to be here. And you go through that grind, it’s very flattering for us as a team, as an organization,” said Ujiri.

“We have been trying to prepare for this moment, to get here and it’s been a grind,” he continued. “We get mocked. People talk about us in different ways, but for us that’s the growth.”

Naturally there were some questions about the one wild card, the biggest domino:

What about Kawhi Leonard, the player who Ujiri moved heaven and earth to bring to Toronto after five years where the existing formula wasn’t working?

Predicting who wins a tight, tense NBA Finals – ESPN


The Raptors have a lot of answers. They have home court. Maybe in getting this far, they shed the mental yips that pockmarked their play at times before the Milwaukee series — the bouts of hot-potato timidity from Lowry and Gasol.

But the pressure of the Finals is new, more intense. Golden State has lived it many times over. The Warriors are ready. Part of them is excited to start on the road. After all these years, they crave new challenges.

The Warriors’ defense has struggled by its standards, and the biggest overarching question is whether Toronto can score enough to keep up; Golden State ranks ninth in points allowed per possession in the playoffs. But the Warriors faced offenses that finished second, third and ninth in the regular season. They locked in against Portland. Losing Durant forced them to dig deeper — to tap back in to the roaring frenzy of their classic defensive performances.

They won’t downshift now. A Durant return seems possible. It is hard to bet against a core that has been through this so many times, and beaten back so many challengers. The Raptors have the goods to take this, or to at least force Golden State to earn it with the rarest of wins: on the road, in Game 7. In fact, let’s go there. My initial feel was Warriors in 6, but let’s speak a classic into existence: Warriors in 7.

Murphy Mailbag: NBA Finals matchups, Raptors and Warriors rotations, unexpected heroes, MOX and more – The Athletic

When the Hamptons 5 is in – who are the Raptors running out there? Or are we sticking with a traditional Big? Siakam at the 5? – Greg C.
What does Toronto’s best small lineup look like? (Assume OG is healthy in this scenario.) – @SportsGuyDude1
What’s your prediction? And thoughts on OG potentially returning? – Alex A.
Think the Raps play Siakam at the 5 at some point this series to switch everything and make the Dubs beat you on the block? – Christian S.

My feelings about this wrinkle changed Wednesday when we found out that OG Anunoby was upgraded to questionable for Game 1. Before that, it seemed like Game 4 was the target. To be clear, throwing in Anunoby against the Warriors in any sized role after weeks on the shelf is a tough ask, and if he figures in the first couple games, it will probably be in spot minutes. The bigger sign about his Game 1 status is that he might be available to contribute actual minutes later in the series.

That’s huge if the Raptors want to play Siakam at centre for big minutes. They can do that a bit without Anunoby, but their small-ball lineups become quite small without him (with three of Lowry, VanVleet, Green and Norman Powell on the floor). Anunoby allows them to go small while maintaining great positional size and leaves fewer mismatches to hunt as the Raptors switch in those lineups. The Warriors will almost surely abandon him in the corners in his first minutes back, but he’s the key to those groups being effective defensively. The regular season sample of Siakam-at-centre was strong in small-ish minutes, and Anunoby was in the majority of them.

Without Anunoby, it’s a little tougher to get there, and it might mean either using Ibaka as the de-facto small centre or trusting the advantages of a bigger lineup and dealing with the costs. One potential wrinkle the Raptors could try against the Hamptons 5 (or any Green-at-centre lineup) would be to put Gasol on Iguodala, keeping two more dynamic defenders for the Curry-Green action. Nothing is straightforward when the Warriors go small, but there are some ways to mix things up that mean you don’t have to be dogmatic about matching small if the bench guards (and/or Danny Green) aren’t having good games. The Draymond-at-centre lineups are also a little less complex without Durant, because they can be lighter on shooting.

Ideally, Anunoby is healthy by the back end of the series and the Raptors can go Lowry-Green-Leonard-Anunoby-Siakam. That might be overly optimistic. If he isn’t, they might prefer trying to maximize their best lineup(s) instead of going too small in response. This is one of the benefits of a flexibly built roster, and that strength will be tested here.

This is the moment that Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors have waited for, and the moment they will live in | The Star

But the Raptors could win and still, in this way, implode. If Kawhi thinks he can win with anybody, if he just misses his home in California more than he can say, then he could conceivably win a championship and still leave. Nobody knows yet. Ujiri was asked about the last time to discussed the future with Kawhi, and the case the Raptors have made for him to stay.

“I said it from day one, we are going to be us,” Ujiri said. “I think Kawhi Leonard is a superstar, and we’re going to treat him like a superstar, but we’re also going to do all the natural things that I think will help us get to that level, to convince Kawhi that this is the place for him. The future conversations I’ve had with Kawhi are about the Golden State Warriors and that’s his mindset. His mindset is what is at hand right now, what’s the job right now. And the job right now is to beat the Golden State Warriors.”

Ujiri talked about keeping Kawhi healthy, which they have done. He talked about the incredible passion of the city, the quality of the coaching, the grit of the team, the incredible moment in Game 7 against Philadelphia when Kawhi beat the 76ers, which everyone will remember forever. And Ujiri talked about the two toughest moments in sports: when you trade someone, or a free agent leaves. He says you have to trust you are prepared for anything.

The Raptors have a chance to win a championship. It is rare, the opponent is formidable, and the window is open for up to seven games. Every one will be a part of history in this city.

And that is all that is guaranteed. Nobody knows.

So all there is to do is enjoy the chance, right now. Kawhi keeps saying, live in this moment. The team follows him, and that’s how they play. That’s all they can do, and it’s all you can do, too. This moment in basketball history starts now.

For the Raptors to Shock the Warriors, Kawhi Has to Play Like LeBron – The Ringer

The biggest change for Kawhi in the ECF was his improvement as a playmaker. His learning curve in that area has been different than most other superstars because he cut his teeth as a role player early in his career. It wasn’t until he took control of the Spurs offense that he really got a chance to explore that aspect of his game, and he seemed to have figured it out by the end of the Bucks series. Leonard averaged 3.3 assists and two turnovers per game in the regular season, and those numbers shot up to nine assists in Game 5 and seven in Game 6. Leonard’s individual brilliance simplified the series for the Raptors: Either Kawhi scored or he created open 3s for his teammates. All Toronto had to do was find a hot shooter. Norman Powell was the hero in games 3 and 4, shooting 7-for-18 from 3, while Fred VanVleet was lights out from 3 (11-for-14) in games 5 and 6.

Kawhi has almost single-handedly carried the Raptors through the first three rounds of the playoffs. They have been a completely different team with him on the floor, going from a net rating of plus-10.3 in 656 minutes with him to minus-12.4 in 170 minutes without him. Toronto doesn’t have anyone else whom it can consistently run offense through. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam, the other Raptors scoring in double digits in the playoffs, have been up and down. Lowry scored 30 in Game 1 against the Bucks, but his lack of size or athleticism gives him little margin for error over the course of a series. He’s had four games with fewer than 10 points in the playoffs. Siakam is a young player still learning how to be a featured option. He’s not a consistent 3-point shooter, which allows defenses to help off of him when he’s playing off the ball.

Kawhi will need to carry his teammates even more against Golden State, which has looked as dominant as ever without Durant over the past five games. He’ll have to channel his inner LeBron, the only player to have derailed this Warriors dynasty, and a player whom Kawhi played to a draw in the Finals five years ago. What LeBron did in the 2016 Finals against the original version of Golden State should be Kawhi’s blueprint. Cleveland put LeBron on Draymond Green so that he could switch the screen between Green and Curry and allow everyone else to stay at home on 3-point shooters. Using LeBron in that role allowed the Cavs to keep an elite defender on Curry, eliminating the open 3s he typically gets in the pick-and-roll, while removing four-on-three opportunities for Green, who is at his best when he can play off the extra defensive attention that Curry draws. LeBron did just enough to bottle up the Warriors on defense so that he could carry the Cavs home on offense. Kawhi will have to do the same for the Raptors.

Ujiri reflects on up and down relationship with Lowry – Video – TSN

Raptors president Masai Ujiri discussed his relationship with Kyle Lowry and admited that they have been through a lot together, and also points to a frank and honest conversation that repaired their relationship.

Not KD, not LeBron: Kawhi Leonard is the best player on the planet – The Undefeated

James is 34 and still incredible, but his best years are almost certainly behind him. Leonard is 27 and ascendant. James hasn’t consistently guarded the other team’s best player for a few seasons now. He just suffered one of the most serious injuries of his career. The man who single-handedly took Cleveland to the 2007 Finals has gray in his beard. James is no longer capable of the solo act Leonard is performing in Toronto.

James and Leonard met twice in the Finals. James’ Miami Heat won in 2013, in seven games, and he took home Finals MVP. In Game 6 of that series, with 19 seconds left and the Spurs about to secure a championship, Leonard missed a free throw that opened the door for Ray Allen’s classic last-second 3-pointer. The Heat won in overtime and secured the title in Game 7.

The following season, the Spurs redeemed themselves by crushing Miami. Leonard was Finals MVP. As the primary defender on James, Leonard held him to 34% shooting from the field and 20% on contested shots. He reduced James’ catches, drives and shot attempts. Miami never got traction in the series and lost in five games.

That matchup was largely forgotten as James returned to Cleveland and began an epic series of championship battles with Golden State. The Spurs retooled after the retirement of Tim Duncan and handed the reins to Leonard. In 2017, Leonard was destroying playoff competition when an ankle injury ended his season. A quadriceps injury the next season ruined his relationship with the Spurs and set in motion the trade to Toronto.

Leonard was 22 during the 2014 Finals, lacking the seasoning that players such as Jordan, Kobe Bryant and James needed to become the best in the world. Now Leonard is back like he never left. It will be hard to measure him against a hobbled Durant in the Finals — if KD plays at all. Will Leonard wear down under the relentless defense of Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green? Can he come close to averaging a Finals triple-double against the Warriors like James did in 2017?

If anyone can, it’s the best player on the planet.

Nick Nurse and the Art of the Head-Coaching Save – The Ringer

It’s a fickle business. Nurse knows that better than most. Prior to his five seasons as an assistant under Casey, he held a lot of what might be considered fringe jobs. He coached the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Iowa Energy in the then-D-League. Before that, he coached the London Towers, Manchester Giants, and Birmingham Bulls of the British Basketball League. Did you know there’s a British Basketball League? I’ve been to England a bunch and I’m not sure the British know there’s a British Basketball League. He also had stops as coach of Telindus Oostende in Belgium and Grand View University in Iowa. And way back in 1990-91 he was the player-coach of the Derby Storm, then known as the Derby Rams, in the BBL.

In advance of that fateful Game 7 against the Sixers in the second round, Nurse was asked about his travels and what it meant to be part of such a massive moment in the best and biggest league in the world. He replied that coaching the Manchester Giants against the Birmingham Bullets for the BBL championship back in 2000 “meant a lot to me in that moment” and he couldn’t imagine Game 7 versus the Sixers meaning any more. Which, come on. That’s ridiculous. Though, in fairness to him, the Manchester Giants Wikipedia page points out that the team won two titles under Nurse, which was the most successful period in franchise history. Hard to argue.

All of that probably helps put things in perspective for Nurse. Even if he was overselling how important his BBL experience was to him, Nurse seems to be enjoying where his unconventional coaching career has led him. At the very least he appears at ease during what ought to be a pretty stressful time. He was photographed sauntering off the team plane in Milwaukee with a guitar slung over his shoulder and a pair of Beats headphones. He’s been on the receiving end of multiple on-court back rubs from Drake. His famous “oh” face became a meme and one of the most memorable moments of the postseason. And perhaps my favorite of all, he’s been wearing—and has also addressed wearing—what has become his signature hat: an all-black cap with his initials “nn” stitched in lowercase on the front. It’s an incredible flex.

Kyle Lowry on playing in his first NBA Finals and facing Steph Curry – The Undefeated

What did it mean to you personally to make the Finals?

I’ve been telling my family I got to get to the Finals. I got to win there. I don’t want people to think this is the end.

I’m sure you wish you could’ve made the Finals with DeRozan. Have you spoken to DeRozan along the way?

I’ve been speaking to him the whole way. One thing about him is that he legit cares about me as his best friend. He has texted everyone he has a relationship with and let them know how happy he is for us.

Do you remember your emotions at the start of the season after the changes were made to the team?

It was strictly business. All business. That’s where my emotions were. I didn’t care about the business other than strictly being a basketball player. I didn’t care about being friends with anybody. I didn’t care about this or that. I just legit cared about coming in here and being the best player I could be because everyone was saying, ‘He is not going to do this. He is not going to do that.’ My job was to prove them wrong.

When did that mentality change?

It was always still going to be a business. But I was like, ‘Look, if you’re going to be here, just buy in and do what you need to do to help the team win.’ And that means a lot. I was bought-in from the [beginning]. But I kind of really shelled off. I was going to come in here and prove a point. People didn’t think I could be the same player that I was.

NBA Finals experts’ predictions for Warriors-Raptors and Finals MVP – ESPN

Raptors in 7
The Warriors have obvious championship pedigree, and they easily could win this series and get their three-peat. But the uncertainty about Kevin Durant’s return — coupled with the Raptors having home-court advantage, arguably the best player in the series in Kawhi Leonard and the best defensive unit that Golden State has seen during its dynastic run — is enough to tip the scales in Toronto’s direction to say the Raptors will win their first championship. — Tim Bontemps

The Raptors are built to give the Warriors difficulties. They have an outstanding defensive front line that features three Defensive Player of the Year award winners plus a second-place finish spread among three players, none of whom were the best defender on the team this season — that honor went to Pascal Siakam. The Raptors are top-10 in the NBA in 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage, and are also top 10 in fewest 3-pointers and lowest 3-point percentage allowed. They have the positional diversity to play every style from traditional big to small ball, with plus players at every position. — Andre Snellings

For Warriors’ Draymond Green and Raptors’ Kyle Lowry, emotion is key in NBA Finals – Los Angeles Times

Lowry and Green aren’t the favorites to end the NBA Finals as the series’ most valuable player. The gaudy stats will likely end up next to the names of Curry, Thompson or Leonard. But Lowry and Green can’t afford to have nights where their energy and emotion are off.

They’re just too important as the emotional leaders for their teams.

“That title means a lot to me. But with that title comes great responsibility because when you are an emotional leader, your team feeds off that,” Green said. “And if you don’t bring that, your team usually lacks in that area. … I have to bring that emotion to the table. That’s my job. That’s the reality of it. But yet it’s something that I enjoy. It’s a role that you don’t get nights off.

“You’re going to have off nights shooting. You’re going to have nights where you turn the ball over. You’re going to even have nights where you don’t get as many rebounds. You don’t get off nights as an emotional leader, and if you do, the ramifications, they’re not good.”

Open Floor NBA podcast: Defining Kawhi Leonard’s legacy |

Golliver: When it happened it seemed like it was going to set up a decade of greatness for Kawhi and San Antonio. That was the story. But you look at the last five years, it has been a long strange journey for Kawhi. Everybody knows about the injury against Golden State and the lost season and all that but before that he got outdueled by Kevin Durant in the playoffs. He actually got benched at times in the fourth quarter of Game 7 against the Clippers and they lose in the first round coming off of a title year, which was a stunning defeat when that happened.

So he’s had some phenomenally efficient postseason games and some really impressive like head-to-head series wins against guys but he’s also had his share of lumps along the way too. He had to very gradually and steadily build himself into that MVP level candidate and once he got there he disappeared off the face of the map for almost two years because he wasn’t able to finish that Western Conference finals and because you know he missed the entire season.

So from a legacy standpoint, if they win the series people are going to call him and probably rightfully so, the best player in basketball. People are going to say he won a title on his own terms—he dethroned a dynasty, he was able to do what LeBron couldn’t do in 2014 and overcome an entire defensive scheme full of Hall of Fame level defenders who are geared around slowing him down. So it’s almost this role reversal he’s got himself into where he’s taking on this LeBron alpha dog role for Toronto after five years ago he was trying to slow LeBron down and being in a much smaller almost niche role for San Antonio. So it’s pretty fascinating from a story standpoint and if he does it, I don’t think the Durant injury honestly will provide much of an asterisk. I still think Golden State deserves to be strongly favorite in this series even without Durant. If Kawhi is able to pull it off, he deserves total credit given all the craziness he’s got in the last five years and how much he’s improved as a player and changed his style of play and his role in impacting games offensively he will deserve all the credit no asterisk whatsoever.

2019 NBA Finals: Pascal Siakam has looked unfazed this postseason — what does that mean for his future? – Raptors HQ

Siakam has remained firmly planted in that role since October, rarely playing as if the pressure was too much for his lean, but sturdy shoulders. By his 14 game of the season, he had just completed a stretch of three consecutive 20-point games, while posting a shooting efficiency (65 percent through 14 games) that Shaquille O’Neal would be proud of. Pascal Siakam — the sprinting ball of energy from past bench mobs — was providing the Raptors with a shockingly steady and dangerous weapon on offense.

However he, like all players, had his bad days. The key difference was these weren’t multiple game slumps. They were the type normally experienced by established scorers — single game blips. After a bad game, Siakam would, more times than not, respond with an absolute killer individual performance. He’s proven to be a dynamite regular season player; a future star with the Toronto Raptors. But the big question still remained following the 82 game stint: could Siakam perform when the pressure was on him?

His first test this postseason was in a player that had his number all season: Jonathan Isaac.

Raptors fans were rightfully worried about this matchup. Siakam averaged fewer than ten points per game against the lengthy Magic defender during the regular season. Siakam had a real challenge ahead of him. Instead, we were treated to some of Pascal’s greatest games of this breakout season. In Game 1, Siakam immediately set the tone of the postseason with (an admittedly less-than-efficient) 24 points on 24 shots. However the statement was bigger — he found a way to score against a dangerous foe and he wouldn’t shy away from the spotlight.

Siakam would go on to average 37.6 minutes and 22.6 points per game in the five games against Orlando, shooting 53 percent from the field and 36 percent from distance. The performance was brilliant, all things considered. Before the Magic series — one in which he played 185 total minutes — Siakam had never broken the thirty minute mark in a playoff game throughout his career. The closest he got was a 27 minute outing in the Game 4 blowout against Cleveland during the 2018 playoffs. Siakam averaged 6.6 points in 17.9 minutes in last season’s 10-game playoff run.

In all, this was unprecedented territory for the young Siakam. He was absolutely unfazed — he simply extended what he was doing in the regular season, as if all the pressure of the playoffs slid off of him like beads of sweat. If there was an ounce of anxiety, he certainly never let it get to him. And for a player so inexperienced, so “green” to the situation, that fact that he’s made only one seriously bone-headed play (when he attempted to trip Sixers centre Joel Embiid) is pretty incredible. Siakam was never benched by the Raptors for bad play in the first three rounds, only foul trouble took him off the floor.

2019 NBA Finals and the Toronto Raptors: Who’s been here before, and who’s done what? – Raptors HQ

Danny Green
Green appeared alongside Leonard in both the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals, and his Finals experience began with a ridiculous hot streak from downtown.

How hot? Try 25-for-38 from distance, a blistering 66%, through the first five games of the 2013 Finals! There’s an outside chance Green would have won Finals MVP that year had the Spurs hung on, but alas, a cold snap (or perhaps regression to the mean) caught up with Danny, as he shot a mere 2-for-11 from three-point range in Games 6 and 7, and the Spurs dropped both to lose to Miami in seven games.

In 2014, Green only attempted 20 three-pointers as the Spurs blew out the Heat, but shot a still-impressive 45% from long-range.

And of course, in both series, Green provided his trademark excellent perimeter defense, checking Dwane Wade for most of both series.

Serge Ibaka
Ibaka’s seven-year absence from the NBA Finals marks the longest streak amongst the four Raptors who’ve been there before. As you’d expect, Ibaka was a much different player with the Thunder in 2012 than he is now. Oklahoma City needed him much more as a defensive force than as a contributor on offense; after all, they had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden for that. Ibaka averaged fewer than seven shots per game against James and the Heat that year, scoring just seven points per game on 42% shooting as the Heat’s scrambling defense made it difficult for him to generate any clean looks.

Still, Ibaka did make his presence felt on D, with a series-high two blocks per game; in perhaps a troubling forebeafance of things to come, though, Ibaka — although he was generally the biggest guy on the floor — only managed to haul in 5.2 rebounds per game.

Raptors’ Lowry: Thumb, treatment affect passing – ESPN

“I haven’t complained about it, I won’t complain about it, I don’t care about it; I’m going to continue to do the things I need to do to make sure I can play at a high level. And that’s it.”

Raptors coach Nick Nurse admitted during the conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks that Lowry was playing through pain.

“Kyle’s hand is not great,” Nurse said last week. “You know, he’s — it’s hurt and it’s sore and it causes him a lot of pain. But he seems to be able to manage it through the game and do what he can do.

“He’s obviously scoring and playing great on top of the other things he always does, and we’re really [seeing] a heck of a lot of toughness and again, the spirit that he just wants to be out there and help his team any way he can.”

Raptors’ Anunoby hopes to return during Finals – ESPN

It appears, based on Anunoby’s comments and activity level increasing, that he could return to the active roster sometime early in this series, though it’s hard to see him getting huge minutes even if he does.

“Just be able to switch on defense, and offensively to be able to shoot and pass,” Anunoby said, when asked what his role would be if he returned.

Still, just having the ability to have another live athletic body at his disposal is something Raptors coach Nick Nurse would gladly take.

“He’s doing better,” Nurse said after Monday’s practice. “He’s on the court. He’s moving around. I think he’s healed. Not quite 100 percent, but healing really well. And I talked to [Toronto’s director of sports science] Alex McKechnie today, and he said it’s probably still about 10 days away from playing.”

That would put Anunoby on pace to play in Game 3 next week in Oakland. After a promising rookie season, Anunoby’s season has been a long series of setbacks and roadblocks, with his appendectomy just being the latest one.

At this point, though, he’ll just take getting a chance to get back on the court, and trying to help the Raptors win their first NBA title.

“Yeah, it’s boring,” Anunoby said of being forced to watch from the sidelines, “but you can’t control it.”

Ujiri: Casey and DeRozan are a part of the Raptors’ journey this season – Video – TSN

Former Toronto Raptor and two-time NBA champion Chris Bosh joined James Duthie to talk about the Raptors’ rise to prominence this season, and how he wishes he could have been a part of a run like this when he played in Toronto.

Cineplex theatres across Canada screening Raptors NBA Finals series for FREE | Daily Hive Toronto

If you aren’t able to get courtside seats to the NBA Finals, don’t fear.

You can watch the big game on the big screen, instead.

Cineplex, in partnership with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), will be offering free screenings in 33 theatres across the country.

The showings start this Thursday, so you can watch and cheer alongside fellow fans as the Raptors face the Golden State Warriors at 9 pm.

Ujiri: Kawhi is ‘best two-way player in the NBA’ – ESPN

“This is what you put yourself in position and our jobs is to try and create that team, try and create the atmosphere for them, the workplace for them to prepare and there’s been a lot of preparation and they have done an incredible job.”

Ujiri also went out of his way to give credit to DeRozan and former Raptors coach Dwane Casey — the two most prominent members of the Raptors, along with Lowry, from the past several years of playoff disappointments. While Toronto has reached this year’s heights after replacing Casey with Nurse and flipping DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick for Leonard and Danny Green, he said the work they put in over the past few years allowed Toronto to reach this point.

“To give Dwane Casey credit, he prepared us for this, too,” Ujiri said. “This is not something that started in one year. I don’t know that a team can just start in one year. So I think, I want to say that Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan are a part of this. They are part of our journey and how far this has come.”

That Toronto is here at all is something that fans wouldn’t have thought possible when Ujiri arrived from the Denver Nuggets in 2013. But after remaining steadfast in his belief that Toronto, despite being outside of the United States, could become a place any NBA player would want to play, Ujiri now hopes the city can witness the Raptors make history over the next few weeks.

“We don’t want to … I don’t know if it’s [be considered an] underdog. We just feel like we have … prepared well to be here,” Ujiri said. “[When] you go through that grind, it’s very flattering for us as a team, as an organization. I know our players would love that, that we get that support.

“But these guys have prepared, to be honest. We have been trying to prepare for this moment, to get here and it’s been a grind. We get mocked. People talk about us in different ways, but for us that’s the growth, that’s the thing, those are the things that we have to go through.

“But I can tell you it’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be crazy here tomorrow [for Game 1]. It’s going to be crazy here on Sunday [for Game 2]. It’s going to be crazy here for a few days because that’s the mentality of our fan base. We know it’s across the world. That’s something special about here. We can reach the world easy from here, from Canada, and we’re happy to be the global team that represents the NBA.”

NBA Finals Preview: Raptors Edition – Yahoo


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NBA Finals Preview: Raptors Edition
Ryan Knaus
RotoworldMay 29, 2019, 3:15 PM
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For the first time in NBA history, a Canadian team will be competing in the NBA Finals. The Raptors claimed that distinction with an impressive comeback in the Eastern Conference Finals, riding Kawhi Leonard’s brilliance and a team-wide effort to erase a 2-0 series deficit with four straight victories vs. Milwaukee. The Raptors’ navigated a double-OT thriller in Game 3 and a daunting road win in Game 5, aided by even-keeled coaching from Nick Nurse, superhuman play from Kawhi, redemptive performances from Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, and much more. It was a stirring, well-earned series victory. Oh, and Drake was there.

The Raptors were at their best in transition (18.1% of their possessions this postseason) and found ways to generate points in the halfcourt, particularly with a high pick-and-roll featuring Kawhi. The key to their success vs. Milwaukee was airtight defense, though, especially vs. MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks had the best record in the NBA this season, leading the league in net rating (+8.6), but they came up short in the games that mattered most. The following stats are a testament to the Raptors’ defensive success:

Bucks’ Playoff Games 1-11

Bucks’ Playoff Games 12-15







True Shooting %



FT Attempts



Rebound %



Assist %



Net Rating






Toronto walled off the paint vs. Giannis all series, but after Game 2 they did a better job preventing transition buckets, limiting free throws and rebounds, and recovering to shooters. No longer were Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova and others allowed to fire at will – they were chased off the 3-point line and forced to create plays. Selfless, savvy ball movement wasn’t the Bucks’ strong suit. In fact, they ranked just 22nd in the league in passes per game this season (284.6).

The Warriors present a different challenge in the Finals – they ranked second in passes per game (320.1) and were easily No. 1 in potential assists (52.5) and points created off assists (72.0). As a curious aside, the Grizzlies made the most passes this season at 329.8 per game, but they generated only 58.8 points off assists – 20th in the league. Not all passes are created equal, and the Warriors make the most of theirs.

Despite facing a well-rested Warriors team appearing in their fifth straight NBA Finals, the Raptors have cause for optimism. They won both games vs. Golden State in the regular season, averaging 122.0 points per game, they have homecourt advantage, and the Warriors enter the series with Kevin Durant (calf) and DeMarcus Cousins (quad) still nursing injuries. Durant is reportedly targeting a return for Game 2 on Sunday, while Cousins said he’s “healthy enough” to appear at some point in the series – he’s currently questionable for Game 1. Andre Iguodala also injured his calf in the Conference finals, but he’s expected to be ready to go on Thursday

The Raptors have some injury-related headwinds themselves, beginning with Kawhi Leonard. He was clearly laboring throughout the Eastern Conference Finals, often walking with a limp, but when it mattered most, he shrugged off the pain to make plays at both ends of the court. Leonard himself was typically stoic, brushing off the injury and saying he was “just going to keep fighting.”

Sure enough, his defense on Giannis was just as important to tipping the series as his scoring. The Raptors didn’t include Kawhi on the injury report and coach Nick Nurse was tight-lipped, but long-time teammate Danny Green pointed to Kawhi’s chronic quad injury. “[The quad injury] was still something that he had to manage throughout [this] year,” Green said after Game 4. “Now he’s playing a ton of minutes and as you see, some of it still lingers, is still coming back … He’s playing through pain. He can’t even celebrate baskets because of how painful it is.”

The good news is that Kawhi got four full days to rest after clinching the series win vs. Milwaukee. The bad news is that it’s obviously a long-term injury that won’t go away after a few days. It’s likely that he’ll once again play through pain while logging massive minutes vs. the Warriors. This lingering injury makes Kevin Durant’s status even more important – it could only benefit Leonard to have a few possessions when he’s not defending an all-world offensive talent. That’s assuming he’s not assigned to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, of course, which he probably will be at times. The Warriors just keep coming at you. But if Leonard can ‘hide’ on Andre Iguodala every so often, or play free safety while defending Draymond Green, it’ll be a bonus for Toronto.

During the regular season, Kawhi only appeared in one game vs. Golden State – he scored 37 points with eight boards, three assists, one steal and one block in 44 minutes. He isn’t going to beat a team like Golden State by himself, of course, which is what makes his selflessness so critical. He’s a willing playmaker who dished out a career-high nine assists in Game 5 vs. the Bucks. He followed that up with seven more dimes in Game 6, and his teammates’ success won’t be lost on Kawhi or the Raptors’ coaching staff – creating easy looks for guys like VanVleet, Powell, Green and Ibaka will be crucial.

The Raptors have another ‘X-factor’ weapon in the form of Pascal Siakam, the frontrunner for Most Improved Player honors. Siakam shot poorly in the ECF, however, averaging 14.5 points on 41.5% field goals and 63.4% free throws, and connected on just 20.7% of his 3-point attempts. He’s just 28.9% from deep in 18 postseason games, too, and will need to be better in the Finals. If he’s bricking most of his triples it has a cascading effect. The Warriors will be able to sag off and prevent him from getting to the paint, where he’s most effective, and misses from deep create long rebounds for the Warriors to run out offensively. They can also cheat off him when he’s spotting up as a catch-and-shoot option, making life more difficult for his Raptors teammates.

A big part of Siakam’s emergence this season involved offensive versatility – he could create plays for himself (16.9 points on 53.1% shooting) and teammates (3.1 assists), and could reliably do damage from downtown (36.9%) and the FT line (78.5%). He’s fully recovered from the right calf contusion he suffered vs. Philly in the second round and will be a menace defensively no matter what – if he can also be a reliable second option offensively, Toronto will be in much better position to upset the reigning champs.

That speaks to Toronto’s biggest hurdle in the Finals, offensively. They navigated the Bucks’ elite defense with Kawhi’s transcendent play and timely contributions from a variety of players – Kyle Lowry’s huge Game 1 couldn’t steal a win, but he was steady at both ends of the court all series. Fred VanVleet caught fire after the emotional lift of his child’s birth, and was particularly devastating as a 3-point shooter. Norman Powell averaged 3.5 points vs. Philly in the second round, but in Games 2-6 vs. the Bucks he averaged 13.6 points on 46.2% shooting – he was a combined 11-of-27 from deep in the series (42.3%). His terrific play made it easier for coach Nick Nurse to keep an eight-man rotation that didn’t include Patrick McCaw, Jeremy Lin or Jodie Meeks. I doubt Lin or Meeks get dusted off in the Finals, but it’s possible we’ll see McCaw earn situational minutes vs. his former team as a defensive specialist.

The ‘other guys’ label can even be applied to Marc Gasol, despite his veteran/former All-Star status. Toronto needs him to produce. He was atrocious in the first few games vs. Milwaukee, getting torched by Brook Lopez while shooting 15% from the field, but he recovered (for the most part) as the series progressed. Gasol is a former Defensive Player of the Year but he’s best suited to post defense, and switching onto Steph Curry and Klay Thompson is a disaster waiting to happen. His role will be clearer if DeMarcus Cousins is active, presenting a more typical center matchup for Gasol. Serge Ibaka also chipped in big minutes when Gasol was struggling or forced out by unfavorable matchups vs. the Bucks – these are the type of team-wide contributions Toronto needs. Lest you think I’m exaggerating their underdog status, Vegas currently has the odds at Toronto +240 and Golden State at -300.

There are more questions for Toronto, of course. Danny Green doesn’t lack for experience, and his defensive versatility will be a subtle key in the series, but can he bounce back after a terrible series vs. Milwaukee (3.5 points on 17.4% shooting)? Will OG Anunoby will be cleared to play after having an appendectomy in mid-April?

2019 NBA Playoffs: Toronto Raptors vs. Golden State Warriors Finals Preview – Raptors HQ

Channeling their inner Thanos, the Warriors were inevitable in the Western Conference Finals. Despite building leads in the first half of all four games, the Trail Blazers simply couldn’t hang with the Warriors down the stretch, giving up massive runs to lose in a sweep.

Let me start with a caveat: the Raptors are too balanced to suffer a similar fate. The Blazers — hampered by poor shooting from the Al-Farouq Aminu / Mo Harkless combination — made it easy for the Warriors to load their defence in the middle, essentially removing Damian Lillard’s creation from the series. Even Meyers Leonard couldn’t dam the flood in the long run.

Given how the Eastern Conference Finals turned out, the Raptors should be able to put enough shooters on the floor to keep the Warriors a bit more honest. The Warriors are also the first opportunity the Raptors have in this playoff run to go centre-less, as Golden State will play stretches with Draymond Green at the five. This allows another shooter like Norman Powell and, later in the series we hope, OG Anunoby to play on the wing.

Still, somehow finding a way to keep the Warriors from going on extended scoring runs will be the key to winning this series. The Cavaliers did it exceptionally well in their 2016 title run, slowing the pace of the Warriors with a 1-5 switching defence and walking the ball up on most possessions. There’s a reason Game 7 of that series was one of the most tense in modern history (though never uglier than 2010 between the Lakers and Celtics). Having the gamebreaking half court player — Kawhi Leonard in this series before Durant returns, LeBron James in 2016 — counts for a lot when the pace slows. The Raptors need to take advantage of his playmaking ability in the half court, while still using fast break opportunities.

As it was in the Milwaukee series, pace will typically be dictated by the team making shots to limit runout opportunities. The Warriors have been demonstrative in this regard, tops in the playoffs in offensive rating (116.4), assist percentage (66.7%), and effective field goal percentage (55.6%). While their pace is middling, they’ve also been the beneficiary of second chance opportunities, leading with an offensive rebound percentage of 30.1. Both Draymond Green and Kevon Looney have averaged over two per game.

This drills down to watching lineups. If the Raptors have the opportunity to go small, it will be imperative on Pascal Siakam to limit Green in the paint. When the Warriors are big with Looney or DeMarcus Cousins at the five, then it’ll be Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka (who has been great against the Warriors this year) with the task.

This is the least suited series for Gasol on the defensive end, and the most tempting for the Raptors to play a wing at the four, so watching how lineups change will be interesting.

Toronto, take a page out of Kawhi’s playbook: It’s time to enjoy it | The Star

The 2019 Raptors, powered by Kawhi Leonard’s superhuman skills and Kyle Lowry’s oh-so-human heart, are making another bid to change that. The NBA final, in Toronto for the first time. How magical has it already been? A four-bounce moment for the ages in The Shot. Coming back from down 2-0 in the conference final — and then down double digits in the third quarter, twice — against the best regular season team and likely MVP. How can you not love this team? How can you not believe in this team?

Well, about belief: the effect of all that local history is to make a fan recoil instinctively from any heightened expectations. You reach a point where the idea of a championship seems only a theoretical concept — more a taunt than a promise. Every silver lining has a dark cloud, the shadow caused by the certainty that ultimately, it doesn’t end well.

And then there are the Golden State Warriors looking to extend a generational dynasty coming up next. Toronto fans were still dancing (peacefully, but ecstatically) in the streets when Vegas oddsmakers basically predicted the Raptors are in for a rout.

Plus you have all these analysts and commentators endlessly speculating about where Leonard will play next season, basically predicting he’s one-and-done in this place. As if the contests to actually decide the championship are a perfunctory formality to look beyond in anticipation of the excitement of free-agent frenzy.

You look ahead, and there it is: your heartbreak fatigue, your hope aversion kicking in. But forget that. Looking ahead and making predictions and setting expectations is what you do in the off-season when there are no games to get your heart pumping and breaking and soaring. These games are what it’s all about.

Which brings us back around to Leonard’s live-in-the-moment wisdom, which his teammates cited as a guiding source of inspiration to the Raptors and makes him, as one ESPN writer said, an unlikely “mindfulness guru.” Put it on a needlepoint and hang it above the backboard. It’s good advice for the players, and for fans, and more broadly for life in general.

This week Kawhi Leonard is a Raptor. This week, his team is playing for the NBA title, beginning right here at home in Toronto. It’s an unfamiliar feeling in these parts. It’s hard to imagine growing tired of it.

What a moment to enjoy. Have fun with it. Love it. Let’s go.

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