Prior to last year’s round one game one victory over the Washington Wizards, the Toronto Raptors franchise had a 0-9 record in first round Game 1s. This outcome created a narrative that said to always to bet against the Raptors in Game 1 — even if they are the higher seed.
The lack of playoff success didn’t stop just in Game 1s. Who the Raptors are in the regular season and who they are in the playoffs over the last five seasons has been drastically different. For Masai Ujiri, it spelled out the need for change following the second-round sweep at the hands of LeBron and Cleveland in 2018.
Out went Dwane Casey, DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl, and eventually Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles and Delon Wright were gone too. In came Nick Nurse, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green — with the later additions of Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin.
To put that into perspective, the 2017-18 Raptors had zero players with a championship ring. Serge Ibaka was the lone player with any Finals experience, having played five games for the Thunder in 2012. Last year’s Raptors roster had a combined 327 playoff games played heading into that game one versus the Wizards, almost 50 percent of that was between DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Ibaka.
This year, Leonard, Green and Patrick McCaw have a combined four NBA rings between the three of them, adding much needed Finals experience. Of course, McCaw didn’t play a major role with the Warriors these last couple years, but still: he was there. Overall, the Raptors have a combined 543 playoff games played — 55 percent of that is between Ibaka, Green, and Leonard. But Lowry, Gasol have also played over 50 playoff games.
Regular season versus playoffs has been the cause for concern in Raptor-land as people have spent this season (specifically the last few days) convincing the NBA world that this year will be different. Using culture, experience, game-play/style, versatility and statistics to try and explain why it’ll (once again) be different.
So here we are. Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Playoffs. No more explanations on why or how this post-season will be different. It’s time for the Raptors to show it on the court.
Their first round opponent is the inexperienced Orlando Magic, who gave the Raptors some tough games during the regular season, with a 2-2 split during the year. Mind you, in the two losses for the Raptors they were either without Lowry or Leonard. Nonetheless, throw the regular season out the window. It’s playoff basketball and the Raptors are looking to change the narrative about the team for good.
Here are your details for this evening’s game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 5:00 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Orlando – D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic
Toronto – OG Anunoby (appendix – OUT), Patrick McCaw (thumb – OUT)
Orlando – Markelle Fultz (shoulder – OUT), Mo Bamba (leg – OUT), Timofey Mozgov (finger – OUT)
Need For a Good Start
Raptors haven’t played a meaningful game in quite sometime. This, compared to the Magic who have battled for their playoff spot right down to Game 82 of the season. Toronto clinched a playoff spot on March 9th, and locked into the second seed on April 1st with a win over this very Magic team. Furthermore, the Raptors season ended this past Tuesday, so they’ve had plenty of rest time.
All that being taken into consideration, it’s important for the Raptors to get off to a good start. This is not just because they’ve been known to get off to poor starts in the playoffs, but because they need to establish themselves early. It’s important to get Leonard and Siakam the ball in scoring areas, get Green open shots, Ibaka has to be active and has to feel involved, and Lowry will do his part to involve everyone.
Forget the noise in the background with the negativity around the past, the Raptors just need to show up early and establish their game.
The Ross Revenge Series
This had to be brought up ahead of Game 1, even though it has already been discussed quite a bit. It was February 2017 when the Raptors traded Terrence Ross to the Magic for Ibaka. And now, two years down the road, Ross has an opportunity to stun his former team in the playoffs. Ross has averaged 12 points in six games versus his former team — but he did have a 28-point game versus the Raptors this season. In the final four games of the season, Ross averaged 27.3 points.
Both the Raptors and Magic have something to playoff, every team does come playoffs. Ross, however, has a chip on his shoulder after having been dealt from Toronto. The Raptors have enough perimeter defense to slow his scoring down, but we all saw Ross drop 51 before. The Raptors need to be careful.
Get it Done
It’s cliché to say that it’s important to win Game 1 of a playoff series on your home court, but let’s stick with it. Most people have the Raptors winning this series in four or five games, which is a fair prediction. Winning Game 1 on your court puts you in a good position to get that done.
It’s also important for the Raptors avoid the headlines and questions following this game, if they either lose or the Magic play out a close game. In their most recent matchup versus the Magic, the Raptors won 121-109 on their own home court. Everyone was healthy, except for OG Anunoby and McCaw. The Magic had a 36-point first quarter before the Raptors turned it around. It’s important for the Raptors to avoid any of that this time and establish their presence in the playoffs early.
It’s Game 1. It’s the NBA playoffs. It’s go time.