When the NBA Finals tip-off tomorrow night, perhaps the starkest contrast between these two teams is their Finals pedigree. This is the Raptors’ first-ever Finals appearance, of course, while it’s fifth straight NBA Finals for the Golden State Warriors, who also won the title in 1975 (and made five previous appearances as the San Francisco Warriors and the Philadelphia Warriors).
But on the individual level, the Raptors aren’t all Finals novices! Again, they can’t reach anywhere near the collective experience that the current group of Warriors has, but this Raptors team has three rotation players who’ve been there before — including a certain Fun Guy who’s been playing pretty well these days.
So let’s take a look at what these Raptors have done in their Finals appearances, and then, just for fun, let’s also take a quick trip down memory lane and see how former Raptors have done in the NBA Finals.
Any discussion of the Raptors’ Finals experience has to start with Kawhi Leonard, the man who famously gave us this LeBron James stinkface in the 2013 Finals:
Kawhi and the Spurs would go on to lose that series in seven games, following an iconic moment featuring a certain former Raptor (we’ll get to him); Leonard — just 21 years old and in only his second NBA season — averaged a 14-11 double-double that series, and perhaps more importantly, held (term used loosely) James to 25 points and 11 boards on 45/35/80 shooting splits.
It was in 2014, of course, that Leonard really made his name, averaging 17 and 6 on 61/58/78 shooting splits while pestering James throughout. James still put up impressive numbers — even better than in 2013 — but San Antonio’s dominance (a five-game win in which the Spurs’ average margin of victory was 18 points) and Kawhi’s all-around play made him a fairly easy choice for Finals MVP.
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.
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.
You’d be forgiven for missing McCaw’s name on this list of Raptors with Finals experience, as he’s been away from the team for personal reasons, and doesn’t have much of a spot in the rotation right now regardless. But, McCaw appeared in both of the last two Finals with the Warriors, and has as many championship rings as the rest of the team combined!
Of course, McCaw’s role on those two Warriors title teams was that of a very young bench player; he played only 45 total minutes in nine Finals games. There’s a good chance he plays even fewer minutes this year; his most valuable contribution may be that of a spy — perhaps he has some inside info to share from inside the Warriors huddle?
Past Raptors in the Finals
So that covers your current Raptors with Finals experience. But did you know that Raptors rosters have featured more than dozen players who had either been to the Finals before becoming Raptors, or went on to the Finals after their time in Toronto? The list includes Matt Bonner, Mark Jackson, Charles Oakley, Cory Joseph, Jason Kapono, Leandro Barbosa and more, but here are the guys who saw the most success on the biggest stage:
Chris Bosh: The most successful Raptor in the Finals (unless you want to count Hakeem Olajuwon, which we most emphatically do not), Bosh made four appearances with James, Wade and the Heat in four years, averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds per game on 46% shooting. Bosh, though, will always be remembered for hauling in the critical offensive rebound and passing out to Ray Allen for the game-tying, and series-turning, three-pointer in Game 6 against the Spurs in 2013:
Shawn Marion: Marion’s time in Toronto is mostly forgotten now, a mere 27 games between his run with Steve Nash on the Seven-Seconds-or-Less Suns and his title with Dallas in 2011. That Mavericks Championship remains as improbable today as it did then, when a team of veterans featuring Marion, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki dismantled the Big Three Heat. Marion put pressure on James all series and managed to contribute 13 points and 8 boards.
Chauncey Billups: Billups had the shortest Raptors career of anyone on this list, appearing in 26 games (one fewer than Marion!) as a rookie after being shipped over from the Boston Celtics. He then made stops in Denver and Minnesota before hooking up with the Detroit Pistons, leading them to back-to-back Finals in 2004 and 2005, winning the title (and Finals MVP) in 2004.
Jalen Rose: Before he was donning black drawers and getting pumped for 81 by Kobe Bryant, our guy Jalen appeared in the 2000 Finals with the Indiana Pacers... and he was prolific! Rose averaged 23 ppg in the six-game loss to the Lakers, on 47/50/83 shooting splits. It’s the best Rose ever played in a postseason series, so he definitely elevated his play when it mattered most... unfortunately, there wasn’t much stopping those 2000 Lakers.
Which Raptor has saved his best work for the biggest stage? We all expect Kawhi Leonard to continue his brilliant play, and hopefully Danny Green will rediscover his shooting stroke as well. How will Kyle Lowry do, this close to the ultimate goal? Will Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell continue to find success? We’ll find out, starting tomorrow.