Blessed be our big-time friends at SB Nation’s main vertical who had the wherewithal to enumerate how exactly the Raptors would win their NBA Finals series against the Golden State Warriors. That’s right, through six well-argued points, Mike Prada and Tom Ziller, praise be upon them, give us in Toronto a surfeit of reasons to believe in the Raptors’ chances against a juggernaut.
I think you’ll forgive me, however, if I suggest the Warriors are likely still favoured. As Prada and Ziller explain, there are things working in Toronto’s favour — home court advantage, the absence of Kevin Durant for at least one game, Kawhi Leonard being terrifyingly good — but the Warriors have won three of the last four titles, and that didn’t happen by accident.
Still, the series hasn’t started yet! There are a plethora of potential outcomes that could happen. In that spirit, let’s try to emotionally and mentally prepare for what’s coming in the NBA Finals — a win, a loss, elation, devastation, it’s all in play.
Blowout Sweep, Warriors Win
Probability: Less than 10 percent
This outcome recalls to mind a random television appearance from Seth Rogen on Jimmy Kimmel Live! In this sit-down, Rogen mentions meeting Megan Fox for the first time before the show during a different appearance, he and his friends hanging out with the actress, joking and such, and generally just getting along and being cool.
Then Rogen takes the stage, followed by Fox. As she approaches her seat, giving a hug and kiss to Kimmel, Rogen assumes he’ll be next in line for some kind of kiss on the cheek. Instead, Fox just gives him a smile and arm touch before settling into her seat. In the background, Rogen can be seen nodding to himself as if to say “ah yes, of course that’s what happened.” (Note: Yes, it’s likely Fox was nervous — this was her first talk show appearance — and, naturally, she owed Rogen exactly nothing. But it’s still a funny story, and Rogen’s thought process back in 2009 makes sense. I doubt he feels this way now.)
My point here is this: if the Warriors manage to blow the doors off the Raptors and annihilate them in a brutal four game blowout sweep, despite us talking ourselves into any kind of possibility, we will all be Seth Rogen — nodding, mumbling to ourselves, and coldly thinking: of course.
Competitive Sweep, Warriors Win
Probability: 20 percent
It’s commonplace now, so commonplace we’ve become inured to it, but it is kind of wild to consider this fact: the Raptors have made it to six straight postseasons. That’s a run of sustained excellence that many teams cannot claim. What’s more, for a team that has gone through some considerable playoff droughts in their short run of existence, it is incredible to remember how good the Raptors are now.
Nevertheless, there is a shadow cast over that record. That shade comes in the form of three painful sweeps — and one gentleman’s gentleman’s sweep — over the past five years. We don’t like to remember it here in Toronto, but the Raptors did indeed lose to the Wizards in the first round in 2015, and, of course, the Cavaliers in 2017 and 2018, in four abject games. The 2016 series against the Cavs was not a sweep, and we did get to see a pair of home wins, but it also wasn’t particularly competitive either. In all, there’s a pall cast over most of Toronto’s recent postseason success.
So, if the Warriors were to put the clamps on the Raptors in four games, despite Toronto’s very best efforts — a 112-109 loss, a heartbreaker at the buzzer, etc. — I suspect most of us would fall into some sort of PTSD-induced trance; all of those old wounds and all of that past pain suddenly coming to the surface. Not great.
Competitive Series, Warriors Win
Probability: 60 percent
In all honesty, if we polled citizens of Toronto and basketball fans in general, most would be fine with this outcome. Yes, most of America is rooting against the Warriors, but everyone just wants to see a fun, competitive series. The last gasp of LeBron’s Cavaliers teams couldn’t provide that — but they also had to grapple with Durant, who will miss at least one game of this series against the Raptors.
In his epic preview on ESPN, noted basketball mind Zach Lowe eased his way into a Warriors in 7 prediction if only because he too was hoping for a real show. Now, I’m not advocating for the Raptors to lose, or for a “just happy to be here” sentiment. Far from it. My main emotional concern is this: I want the Raptors to comport themselves well, to play up to their potential — and to not embarrass themselves. If they lose in six or seven games against the superior onslaught of the Warriors, so be it.
Competitive Series, Raptors Win
Probability: 20 percent
Now we’re really talking. After squeaking by the Sixers on a last second four-bouncer of a jump shot from Kawhi Leonard, and then following that up with four games in a row against the Bucks (three of which were close), the Raptors fanbase has been collectively losing its mind for some time now. We knew these playoffs wouldn’t be easy, not with those aforementioned teams looming (to say nothing of the Warriors); but we also knew the Raptors had it in them to compete, and to win. That said, there’s been a lot of celebration so far.
In this moment, on this day, it’s easy to talk ourselves into the Raptors pulling it out. The last time Kawhi played the Warriors in the postseason he single-handedly had them on the ropes. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry has never been more fired up, Pascal Siakam loves to play with pace, Danny Green is due, Fred VanVleet can’t miss, and Toronto’s defense has been ferocious. Golden State once claimed the “We Believe” moniker, and with good reason. But perhaps Toronto can ride that same wave to victory. Ka-Why not, after all.
Blowout/Competitive Sweep, Raptors Win
Probability: Less than 10 percent (Sadly)
I’m lumping the Blowout/Competitive Sweep category together for the Raptors because, well, it feels exceedingly unlikely. In fact, even a less than 10 percent chance feels generous. The Warriors are far too good, with way too much individual talent, and just the most unbelievable track record over the past four seasons to ever lose anything in a sweep, no matter how close.
That said, Toronto’s reaction would be absolute bedlam. There would be no arrests in the aftermath — we’re good like that — but still, it is not a stretch to believe half the city would take to the streets. Outside of the MLS title and a Grey Cup win, Toronto has not seen a major championship victory at this level recently. To win an NBA title running away? Well, you saw what happened when the Raptors made the Finals. Prepare for mania.