5 Things the Toronto Raptors Need to Do to Win the NBA Championship
Defying expectations, the Toronto Raptors, headlined by superstar Kawhi Leonard turned around an 0-2 series deficit against the Milwaukee Bucks and won 4 straight games to book their ticket to the Championship. Toronto fans rejoiced as their team would play for the coveted title for the first time in franchise history. However, to do so they will have to get past the legendary dynasty that is the Golden State Warriors. Golden State has won three of past four titles under coach Steve Kerr and are eyeballing their fourth championship. Does Toronto have any chance against the Dubs? Sure, they do, but they will need a lot of grit and determination to make this an interesting series. Here are 5 things I think the Raptors need to do to cap a marvelous season.
1. Gasol Needs to Dominate
If there has been one area of concern for Golden State over the past few years- it has been the Center position. With Steph Curry and Klay Thompson patrolling the three-point line and the likes of Draymond Green and Kevin Durant making life difficult in other areas of the court, the Center position has been a black hole of subpar players. This year, the Dubs signed DeMarcus Cousins to try and stabilize the spot, but he is currently nursing an injury he sustained in their opening playoff series against the Clippers. If there is one positional matchup that Toronto has a clear advantage in- it’s at Center.
Marc Gasol is more talented and versatile player than anyone the Warriors can field. With Cousins questionable for Game 1, the Warriors’ current options are Jordan Bell, Andrew Bogut and Kevon Looney, none of which should intimidate Gasol in the slightest. Marc has had to play defensively for the first few playoff rounds against the likes of Joel Embiid and Brook Lopez, but now comes the opportunity to make a significant difference offensively. For Toronto to have a chance, Gasol needs to take absolute control of this matchup and dominate the offensive glass. Even if Cousins returns, he wouldn’t have played in over a month and his rust should allow Gasol to continue to wreck havoc in the paint and with his superior playmaking.
The one area of concern is if the Warriors go small and try to play Draymond Green at the Center spot. That would most likely cause Nick Nurse to match and play either Pascal Siakam or Serge Ibaka to counter. However, I would like to encourage Nick to press the issue and play Gasol more frequently to force the Warriors into playing their less experienced big men. We’ll have to see how the chess game works out.
2. The Raptors Need to Make the Easy Shots
This sounds like a no-brainer, so why am I making this a point of focus? One of my biggest qualms with the first few rounds is the number of open shots that Toronto has missed, especially from three-point range. Against a team like Golden State there is little, if no margin for error and you need to take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to you. According to NBA.com the Raptors were the third worst team at making open three-pointers this post-season (defenders standing between 4-6 feet away) with a measly 29.1% success rate. In contrast, the Warriors made 38% of these shots which is second-best among postseason teams. To give themselves a fighting chance, Toronto cannot pass up open looks for deep and they must capitalize at a much better rate than they have been.
I’m specifically looking at Danny Green and the big men- Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka. All three of them have less than a 30% three-point percentage which won’t be enough against a dynamic offensive team like the Dubs. If Danny Green can even make close to 40% of his three-point attempts (his career average is 42.4%), he will be effective enough to keep on the court. This provides dividends even beyond the shooting game, as Danny’s defense would be a huge asset against a similar-sized guard in Klay Thompson.
3. The Raptors Need to Play with Mental Fortitude
Speaking of making open shots, one of the most underrated attributes in the NBA is mental toughness. It can be incredibly disheartening to give up deep three-pointers on back-to-back positions and then be subject to a thunderous block. Without a doubt, there will be moments in this series where the Raptors will find themselves getting dominated. These moments can often lead to missed open threes and unnecessary fouls. Toronto showed incredible mental fortitude against Milwaukee in Game 6 while rallying from a 15-point deficit, but Golden State won’t be so forgiving. Toronto cannot let that large of a lead open again and they will need to play in the moment and focus on each possession as if it were their last.
Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol have both consistently found themselves in foul trouble with Lowry leading both teams with 3.8 fouls per game. Their ability to maintain their composure and play with intelligence will be critical to hanging tight with the juggernaut that is Golden State. With OG Anunoby still making his way back from an appendectomy, the Raptors don’t have a lot of available effective bench players and as such keeping everyone away from foul trouble will be key. Kawhi Leonard, Lowry and Gasol must bring that veteran leadership and poise to keep everyone’s head in the game and mind on the prize.
4. The Raptors’ Bench Needs to Play Aggressive
With Boogie Cousins and Durant out with injuries, the Warriors’ depth will be severely tested. Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell and Andre Iguodala are now playing starting roles which leaves only a few viable options for them off the bench.
Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet will need to come roaring off the bench every time they are on the court and bring energy and spunk. The Warriors will be forced into playing Andre Iguodala and potentially one of their centers in the starting lineup which leaves the rest of their bench pretty thin at just Shaun Livingston, Quinn Cook and Alfonzo McKinnie. You might recognize the names of Livingston and Bell, but overall their bench is nothing to write home about. Each of the Raptors’ backups has come through at critical points during the Philadelphia and Milwaukee series and I would bet that Nick Nurse will turn to each of them at major moments during this finals campaign. Every time the Warriors’ backup unit is on the floor the Raptors need to attack them with vigour because that will be their best opportunity to match the Warriors’ offensive output from the likes of Splash Brothers and the feisty Draymond Green.
5. Siakam and Ibaka Need to Make Draymond Uncomfortable
Speaking of, Draymond has a history of foul trouble and currently leads the Warriors with 3.7 fouls per game during the playoffs. Draymond is notorious for technical fouls and as the only effective Warriors frontcourt player at the moment, so one could say he is critical to their chances of a fourth championship.
With Pascal Siakam’s long wingspan and Serge Ibaka’s penchant for blocks, the two Raptors power forwards match up well against the Warrior ’ big man. If they can irritate him to the point of a technical foul or two, or even just render him less effective it would go a long way toward the Raptors’ chances of victory. For one, it would take away an aspect of Warriors’ dynamic multi-faceted offense. In addition, it might prevent the Warriors from utilizing Draymond as a single center and force them to keep another big man on the court. If the Warriors do go small, chances are that Nick Nurse will find less of an opportunity to play Marc Gasol, but if Draymond is limited by this duo then there may be more of an opportunity to exploit the Raptors’ biggest matchup advantage.
There’s not much more to say, and so much more to watch. Every basketball fan will be glued to their televisions tonight as Game 1 tips off at 9:00 pm EST. If you like this post make sure to leave a like or a comment at the bottom. If you have an objection or hot take of your own I would love to hear it as well, so don’t be shy! If you haven’t had a chance yet, check out “The Hot Take Network Presents: The NBA Finals”, which will have a recap of each team’s postseason run and provide you with series predictions from our HTN staff. If you’re on the lookout for more hot takes and the like, make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram @hottakesnetwork.