Raptors News

Pre-game news and notes: Enjoy this while it’s here

It’s been bizarre watching the NBA media circus descend on Toronto. Watching both teams practice at media day, the journalists and reporters filled the stands. At least, the lower bowl. NBA personalities past and present have filled the city, and Toronto is on show at the moment. The organization is acutely aware of the situation, so much so that the first words spoken to media were an unprompted welcoming from Masai Ujiri.

“Just wanted to say welcome to Toronto,” said Ujiri to assembled media. “It’s really an exciting time for us and the city, and I think it’s such a blessing to have the opportunity for our team, our city, country, to play in the NBA Finals.”

The franchise isn’t taking the opportunity for granted. Toronto is happy to be here, but this has been the goal all year long. The consistent message has been about getting to this stage, and then being unsatisfied with only an appearance. The number of times that players and staff used the word “winning” in their message to media were as numerous as the fans at Jurassic Park. They’ve been building to this moment all year.

It’s not just media descending on Toronto. Also here are the Golden State Warriors. They are a dynasty, one of the greatest teams in NBA history, in search of their third consecutive NBA Championship. They’ve already irrevocably altered NBA history by adding Kevin Durant to an already-great squad. But the Raptors are getting the Warriors without Durant, at least for this first game. You build championship contenders in hope of taking advantage of heavy favourites who aren’t at their peak; because of injury, the Warriors are slightly vulnerable. The Raps need game one, playing at home, against a Dubs team without Durant.

But until tip-off, the focus is and should be on the city itself.

“The city’s excited, and the fanbase, and the whole country really,” said Nick Nurse before the game. “This is a big city, and it’s the first time, and the first time always makes it seem like there’s a little more energy.”

Even the Warriors are talking up Toronto.

“Back in ’02, I lived here for a couple years, went to school out here,” said Steph Curry on media day. My wife grew up in Markham, right down the street. So a lot of family history, and that side of the family still lives here. I look forward to coming back here every regular season, and now to be in the NBA Finals it’s something I’ve even been looking forward to if they ever made it. So it’s here and I’m going to enjoy it.”

The city is infatuated with this team, and it’s impossible to go anywhere without seeing jerseys and hearing basketball talk. This is a significant moment. Don’t forget to enjoy it yourselves.

Content Guide

Raptors Republic has a ton of content so far, which is why I haven’t overloaded you with preview stuff in these pre-game words. We’ve already done that! If you’re looking for xs and os, tear-jerkers, or pods, we’ve got all that and more.

Toronto Injury Updates

OG Anunoby (appendectomy) has been going through practice, but he will not be available. The plan for now is to make him available for Sunday.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin

SG: Danny Green, Patrick McCaw, Jodie Meeks

SF: Kawhi Leonard, Norman Powell, Malcolm Miller

PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby

C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Eric Moreland

Golden State Injury Updates

Kevin Durant (calf) is out. He was unavailable on media day due to the injury. Andre Iguodala (calf) is playing, but he’s returning from an absence. DeMarcus Cousins (quad) is pain-free and healthy, and he’s been practicing. The Warriors are skeptical about where to play him for his first game in weeks in the NBA Finals – a place where he has never been – but he will be available and ready to go. Steve Kerr says a plan is in place, but he obviously declined to share it with media.

On a side note, Kerr is not divulging his starting center. Looney is really only used as a placeholder here, because I have no idea who Kerr will start. I expect Looney will play the most minutes, though.

PG: Steph Curry, Quinn Cook

SG: Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston

SF: Andre Iguodala, Alfonzo McKinnie

PF: Draymond Green, Jonas Jerebko

C: Kevon Looney, DeMarcus Cousins, Andrew Bogut, Jordan Bell

Rotation Notes

  • After being the best lineup in the playoffs over the first two rounds, the Raptors’ starters fell off significantly against Milwaukee. Lowry-Green-Leonard-Siakam-Gasol still have the second-highest total plus-minus, at +77, but they were outscored by 17 against the Bucks. They do have a fire defensive net rating of 99.7, which rose to 107.4 against the Bucks. The defense fell off because the Raptors were unable to score, letting Milwaukee get out in transition.
    • The Warriors are also wont to start out slow, especially when they start their third- or fourth-best center for a ceremonial two or three minutes stretch.
    • Green’s shooting is significant. He is down to 31.4 percent from deep in the playoffs, and he cratered to 17.4 percent against the Bucks. He’s been here before, in a couple different ways. He’s had cold streaks, and he’s been to the finals. There’s probably no player I’d be less concerned about going through a cold streak; he knows how to bounce back. His defense has generally remained stout, and it will be at its most important in this series. Toronto has no one to take his minutes, so Green will be comfortable in not losing his spot in the rotation. All of these are positive signs.
  • The second most-used Raptors’ lineup of the playoffs has been Lowry-VanVleet-Powell-Leonard-Ibaka. It’s gone +23 in 49 minutes, and it had a great series against the Bucks. VanVleet and Powell are probably not the best 1-2, as neither is an elite initiator, but alongside Lowry that problem is greatly diminished. VanVleet and Powell have both been elite off-ball movers and shooters, and they thrive alongside Lowry. VanVleet, especially, has shot 48 percent from deep with Lowry on the floor during the playoffs versus 29 percent when Lowry’s not playing.
    • This lineup has shot great all over the floor, and Leonard is maybe at his best as a power forward. He’s unguardable at any moment, but he’s been especially phenomenal as a power forward during this playoff run. His effective field goal percentage has been 58.7 percent without Siakam on the floor versus 46.7 percent when the two play together, per pbpstats.
      • Another way to put it, when Leonard plays the power forward spot, per Cleaning the Glass, the Raptors have outscored opponents during the playoffs by 18.2 points per 100 possessions.
    • Golden State isn’t as big as Philadelphia or Milwaukee, so there’s no reason why this lineup can’t continue to thrive.
    • The version of this lineup with Siakam in for Leonard will get some minutes, but it’s been far less successful. Siakam can do plenty on the offensive end, but he’s not enough of a dominant initiating option yet to carry four connecting pieces around him.
  • There are plenty of other lineup variations, but the most trustworthy ones have generally all been four starters combined with one bench player. VanVleet can replace any of Lowry, Green, Leonard, or Siakam, and the Raptors remain solid. The same is true of Powell. Ibaka can replace Gasol or Siakam (if the Raptors want to go double-center, which has worked so far in the playoffs, to the tune of +11 in 105 minutes). The Raptors have been at their best, actually, with four starters on the floor and one bench player. Per pbpstats, the Raps have had a net rating of +10.1 with four starters on the floor versus +9.4 with all five. Of course, they’d be happy to take either of those numbers in the finals.
  • Nurse says he may extend his rotation in game one to get a feel for the series. That’s Patrick McCaw’s music.

Assorted

  • New shirts! They pay homage to the Raptors’ history, which is very cool.
  • Here’s Draymond Green talking about the difficulty in just dropping Cousins into the finals when he hasn’t played in so long and doesn’t have a lot of playoff experience:
    • “He doesn’t have much playoff experience. And then you get dropped in the NBA Finals. It’s kind of like some kid who grew up in the suburbs going to private school and then one day you just got dropped in the hood and was told to survive. You got to figure that out. It’s very similar to that.
  • “I would assume that Kawhi on Draymond Green becomes a matchup that we use at some point,” said Nurse before the game.
    • This makes sense, because Leonard can switch the dreaded Curry-Green pick-and-roll and wreak havoc guarding Curry. Nurse was really just alluding to how much the team switches, so he wasn’t tipping his hand on the gameplan early. But it will be interesting to see how Toronto decides to employ Leonard. Green is absolutely an option.
  • Refs in this one are James Capers, Jason Phillips, and John Goble.

The Line

  • The Toronto Raptors are favoured in game one of an NBA Finals home game. This is blowing my mind. The line is Toronto -1, with an over-under of 213.5.

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