How satisfying was last night’s Game 1 win? The city felt like it was ready to explode all week, and when the moment came, the Toronto Raptors were ready. The Golden State Warriors didn’t go quietly, but Toronto withstood everything the champs had and won their first-ever NBA Finals game.
There’s still a long ways to go, but for now, let’s focus on five things from Game 1.
Ready for the Big Stage
There certainly was a fear that the Raptors might come out tentative or tight; if they had on the “just happy to be here” faces, no one would have been surprised. But right from the beginning, they threw punches, took the counterpunches, played through offensive droughts and Stephen Curry bombs, kept their composure and didn’t let up. If basketball is a game of runs, The Warriors are the ultimate Team of Runs — capable of blitzing you for multiple scores in rapid succession and tuning games around in mere minutes. But the Raptors never let them go on an extended run, which is simply a feat in and of itself.
The fact that they got such great performances from their third-year guys — Pascal Siakam, who was unstoppable at times, and Fred VanVleet, who knocked in a couple key shots and was incredibly effective guarding Curry — is incredible. Siakam has looked tentative at times this postseason, and VanVleet’s long shooting slump was nightmarish, but these guys came through on the biggest stage.
Once again, I think you have to credit Kawhi Leonard’s mindset for this. Calm and cool, always, and the team has taken on that same personality.
The Marc Gasol Game
Put your hand up if you saw that one coming, and then be careful your nose doesn’t grow too long. I don’t think anyone saw Marc Gasol scoring 20 points on 10 shots in Game 1! Gasol finally looked ready to take on a heavier scoring load, readily accepting post passes, making spin moves and dropsteps, and shooting threes (2-for-4). It wasn’t perfect — he passed up an open two-footer to kick a ball out to Danny Green, and hesitated twice before letting fly on one of his made threes — but Golden State wasn’t respecting him as an offensive weapon, and he made them pay.
And on defense, he did everything you could ask, dropping back in the pick-and-roll, but not so far as to give up too many open looks — and he was solid when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson drove at him (although he did end up fouling out). He even managed to collected two steals and a block, and tied Curry up (and won the ensuing jump ball) at one point.
Presumably the Raptors won’t need this every game, but one of the storylines coming in was who else would step up for Toronto — and on this night, it was the Big Boss from Barcelona.
Clean That Glass
Rebounding was a problem for Toronto last night. In back-to-back plays sandwiching the first quarter break, the Raptors gave up offensive rebounds that led to Warriors scores (two Shaun Livingston free throws and then a Quinn Cook three); those are the types of freebies that can come back and bite you against the Warriors, where the margin of error is so thin.
It didn’t in this case, and the Raptors did do a good job of cleaning things up in the second half (two offensive rebounds given up after halftime, compared to seven — which led to 13 second-chance points — in the first half) but they should have a size advantage on the boards, especially with Kevin Durant out.
Rebounding against a team that shoots a lot of threes is tough, especially when you’re switching a lot and your bigs are contesting. But recovering to track down those long boards is critical.
Team of Destiny...?
Did you see that ridiculous banker that dropped in for Fred VanVleet? How in the world did that thing go in?
BET ON THIS pic.twitter.com/MGt0o6DQZX— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 31, 2019
And how about when Pascal Siakam wildly tipped in his own miss with a minute to go?
Thing is, when I see shots like that, there’s a part of me that thinks it’s a sign. Championship teams need crazy bounces and weird plays to go their way. It gives me confidence that maybe, somehow, this could be our year.
What a Time to Be Alive
Regardless of what happens the rest of this series, I don’t think I’ll ever forget just how much Toronto, and the GTA, and all of Canada was buzzing yesterday. Jurassic Park was a madhouse, and seeing all of the extended viewing parties across the country was amazing. 20,000 people in Mississauga! They had to close down streets in Burlington! Amazing stuff.
And the crowd inside the arena was awesome. The place was packed 20 minutes before tip-off, which was great to see, and loud as hell from the anthems on down to the final buzzer. I loved the “Lowry!” chants, the “Freddy!” and “Danny!” chants, and the cheer for the alumni group (featuring Muggsy, MoPete, Oak, JYD, Chris Bosh, T-Mac, Mighty Mouse and even Dell Curry) (uh, and also Isiah Thomas, which... OK, I guess?) was great to see. It’s nice to acknowledge a little bit of history, here, short (and underwhelming) though it may be.
Masai Ujiri said the other day, this is our chance to welcome the world to our city, to our country, to show the world who we are, and I think we should be damn proud of how well we did that this week.
Three wins from an NBA title? How amazing was it to wake up with that feeling this morning? They’ll be the three toughest wins to get in team history, but everything the Raptors have done so far tells that they belong, and that anything is possible.