We knew the Raptors had a chance to win it all. We also knew it never quite works out that way for Toronto. That’s what was so striking about The Shot, and the 0-2 comeback, and “fuck that, let’s go get ‘em both” in the Finals. (And what was so familiar about dropping that first Game 1 at home.) We all knew the Raptors had a chance to win the 2019 championship — we just had to believe it.
With TSN’s nightly airing of every game from Toronto’s title run, now is as good a time as any to rank each and every contest from the Raptors’ magical playoffs. (For the record, tonight they’re broadcasting Game 3 against the Sixers, so there’s still plenty to enjoy.) That’s four series across three months, with 24 games in all, representing the absolute peak in Raptors basketball. To paraphrase: it was quite the time to be alive.
For the ranking, I’ve supplied a helpful and self-explanatory metric to justify my decision-making in these matters. Now, let’s open it up with the least enjoyable Raptors playoff game from 2019 and then head on... to the very top. First up: the losses.
The Dumb Losses
24. Game 1 vs. Orlando Magic - Raptors lose 104-101
Summary: This game is definitely, one hundred percent, the least enjoyable one of the Raptors’ 2019 playoff experience, harkening as it does to all of Toronto’s other NBA playoff experiences. To lead off, Kyle Lowry inexplicably missed all of his shots (0-for-7!), turning yet another news cycle into a referrendum on whether he can get it done in the post-season.
To make matters worse: somehow two former Defensive Players of the Year (Marc Gasol and Kawhi Leonard) miscommunicated on a switch to allow D.J. Augustin — former Raptor and long time Toronto killer — to hit the game winning shot. Just cosmically cruel.
Why Here: Watching this tweet go viral — for the exact wrong reasons — brought much pain to my soul.
but im sure dj augustin will save them https://t.co/jxWoBHAsyb— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) April 13, 2019
23. Game 2 vs. Philadelphia 76ers - Raptors lose 94-89
Summary: After the high of Game 1 in this series (more on that later), and the Raptors running on a five-game winning streak, it felt like the team was invincible. Which made Game 2 against the Sixers a thoroughly frustrating affair, even with Toronto’s late near-comeback. While it was heartening to see the Raptors’ main trio — Kawhi, Lowry, and Pascal Siakam — playing well enough to keep Toronto in it, the Raps got next to nothing from anyone else on the team.
Meanwhile, coach Nick Nurse hadn’t gone to matching Marc Gasol’s minutes exactly with Joel Embiid yet, so there were some roller-coaster stretches out there for Toronto (even while it was Jimmy Butler doing most of the damage). Also, somehow James Ennis and Greg Monroe had a combined 23 points in this one, which is absurd.
Why Here: With the game on the line, Lowry really did try to nutmeg Tobias Harris down 3 with under 20 seconds left, kicking off a mad scramble of a sequence that found the ball in the hands of Danny Green, usually a lights-out clutch shooter. He missed. That’s just the kind of game it was.
22. Game 3 vs. Philadelphia 76ers - Raptors lose 116-95
Summary: After the fiasco that was Game 2, the last thing Raptors fans wanted to see was Embiid — to this point mostly quiet in the series and dealing with all sorts of different ailments (mud butt?) — lighting it up. But that’s what he did. Embiid went off for 33 points, ten rebounds, five blocks, three assists, and one dramatic airplane move in the mega win for Philly. The Raptors, meanwhile, looked hopelessly out-sized and way too slow. Only Kawhi seemed to be able to match the ferocious turn the series had taken. This was a collection of Toronto’s worst fears realized all at once.
Why Here: This gets the the go-ahead over Game 2 of the series because it was also something of a turning point. Nurse and the Raptors slowly started changing their strategy, and while the series still had to go seven games — as we all well know — this contest was the wake-up call: the Sixers were not going to go as quietly as Game 1 suggested.
The Unforunate Losses
21. Game 1 vs. Milwaukee Bucks - Raptors lose 108-100
Summary: Now I know what you’re thinking: this wasn’t a blowout! The Raptors played well enough for at least half this game! It was just an outlier! These are all true statements, but in real time, Game 1 in Milwaukee was... extremely painful. We were coming off the high of The Shot, of course, but we were also watching an all-time playoff performance from Lowry, who seemed determined to win the game by himself. That Toronto wasted his 30-point, 8-assist outing, despite controlling the game at the outset before allowing the Bucks to march back into it, will never not be angering to think about.
Why Here: The leading scorer for the Bucks in Game 1? None other than Brook Lopez. Milwaukee’s big man hit four 3s while slow-roasting the Raptors. It was around this time we started wondering if Gasol was still alive (and were convinced Danny Green was a corpse). Just tough times all around.
20. Game 2 vs. Milwaukee Bucks - Raptors lose 125-103
Summary: This was a beatdown, there’s no other way to put it. The Raptors were worked from the start and looked helplessly overmatched throughout. Kawhi did his part, and we got to see the faintest glimmer of Bucks killer Norman Powell, but the rest of the team? Oof. Siakam no-showed, Gasol looked ready for a beach in Spain, and Fred VanVleet was still waiting on news about his soon-to-be-born son.
Why Here: This ranks ahead of the Game 1 debacle because we can’t even be mad about it. The Raptors getting blown out in Game 2 felt inevitable. I remember watching this game just thinking, yes, of course. Nothing to see here. Let’s just get back to Toronto.
19. Game 6 vs. Philadelphia 76ers - Raptors lose 112-101
Summary: The final score here is deceptively close, suggesting the Raptors almost had a chance to win. They didn’t. After the high of Game 4, and their blowout win in Game 5, the Raptors blew it in Game 6, once again getting crushed under the thumb of those massive Sixers lineups. Let’s just chalk this one up to Ben Simmons finally playing a good game in the series. Everybody gets one.
Why Here: The Raptors were in for the fight of their lives against the Sixers, so having the chance to end the series in six games was significant (especially given how dire the situation was after Game 3). But we all knew it wouldn’t be easy. This loss just set the table for one of the more heroic Raptors games of all time — and, of course, the Shot. Hard to be too disappointed about all that.
The Learning Losses
18. Game 5 vs. Golden State Warriors - Raptors lose 106-105
Summary: The Raptors were one win away from winning the title, and had a chance to do it on their home floor — which would have sent Toronto into absolute rapture mood. Naturally, it was too good to be true. Three things stand out here: first, the brief moment when Raptors fans cheered after Kevin Durant got hurt; second, the needless timeout by Nurse with just over three minutes to go that allowed the Warriors to settle down and retake the lead; and third, the Lowry buzzer-beater that wasn’t. We still think about that last one from time to time.
Why Here: Watching Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, only the two deadliest shooters in the league (and perhaps ever), light it up down the stretch was terrifying. The Warriors were almost never out of any game. For the Raptors to beat these guys they’d have to be at their absolute best for 48 minutes. They let up in Game 5 and learned an important lesson.
17. Game 2 vs. Golden State Warriors - Raptors lose 109-104
Summary: We arrive at the best worst game of Toronto’s playoff run. Keep in mind here: the Raptors were up 1-0 on the Warriors in the NBA Finals, a phrase that still feels surreal to type out even all these months later. They also managed to duel valiantly with the Warriors for the entire first half of Game 2 before a third quarter explosion — Golden State’s speciality — put the Raps behind until the final buzzer. We could be heartened by Kawhi’s continued excellence and appreciate VanVleet’s wholesale reinvention, but we also had to wonder if Lowry and Siakam (to say nothing of Serge Ibaka) would return to form. All told, things could have been worse.
Why Here: The bottom line here is simple. It was exceedingly unlikely that the Raptors would have an easy time against a team in its fifth straight NBA Final. That the Raptors were playing from a position of power — up 1-0, homecourt advantage, healthy — was encouraging, but we all knew the Warriors were not going to get swept. This Toronto loss just made it a series.
That takes us through all of Toronto’s losses for the 2019 post-season. Did I get the ranking right? Sound off in the comments — and prepare.
Next week we’ll get to the good stuff: the Raptors’ wins.