One can wholly admit the previous post in this series — recounting each and every playoff loss for the 2018-19 Raptors — is a miserable experience. Writing it was necessary work considering the mandate we’ve given ourselves here, but that doesn’t make it any less painful to relive all those memories. The Raptors lost some games in their most successful postseason run of all time (as every team does), and we just had to carry on — if for no other reason than to get to the wins.
And what sweet wins there were in 2019. To really appreciate Toronto’s many playoff victories, we must remember here the reverse of the Anna Karenina principle. It states that all happy families are alike but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. In ranking the Raptors’ 2019 playoff wins, we must remember that every bum-ass loss is alike, but every awesome win is awesome in its own way. That’s the mantra.
In that spirit, let’s get to Part 2 of the ranking of Toronto’s 2019 playoff games. Today’s list: the so-called easy wins.
The Dutiful Wins
16. Game 4 vs. Orlando Magic - Toronto wins 107-85
Summary: Let’s open this ranking with an honest admission: I don’t remember this game at all. The Raptors’ series against the Magic was only memorable for a couple of reasons (which we’ll get to), and blowing out an obviously inferior team on the road is not one of them. Kawhi Leonard sandblasted every player Orlando tried to defend him with; Marc Gasol continue to make Nikola Vucevic’s life miserable; and only Aaron Gordon did much damage for the Magic. That is not a good place to be if you’re Orlando.
Why Here: See above. By this point it was clear Game 1 of this series was a strange anomaly and that the Magic had no chance to win. The only suspense was whether or not Toronto would finally win a series in fewer than six games.
15. Game 2 vs. Orlando Magic - Toronto wins 111-82
Summary: This was the first moment when Toronto realized it was really cool to have Kawhi Leonard on the team in the playoffs. In Game 2, Kawhi absolutely obliterated the Magic, going for 37 points on 15-of-22 shooting while looking supremely untroubled throughout. The Raptors steamrolled Orlando from there — again, only Gordon managed to put points on the board, a best-case scenario for the Raps — and everyone in Toronto got a chance to calm down. This was a different team.
Why Here: Toronto really did need reassurance after dropping the opening game of this series. That Kawhi was awesome and everything else got back to normal — including Kyle Lowry shooting 8-of-13 and D.J. Augustin falling off a cliff — was a salve for the rattled psyche of Raptors fans. Game 2 wasn’t much of an actual game, but it still felt good to see.
14. Game 3 vs. Orlando Magic - Toronto wins 98-93
Summary: This contest turned out to be rather instructive given Kawhi’s later exhausted legs. For Game 3 in Orlando, Leonard was bouncing back from illness and looked it. He shot just 5-of-19 from the field for 16 points, which meant the rest of the Raptors had to step up and carry the load. And guess what? While it was a closer game and the outcome was predicated on a handful of plays down the stretch, the Raptors did indeed step up.
Pascal Siakam had his first massive game of the playoffs with 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting. Meanwhile, there was Lowry doing his Lowry thing, diving in to get a huge clutch offensive rebound in the dying seconds to secure the win for Toronto. Not even former Raptor Terrence Ross going off for 24 points could matter by then.
Why Here: I suppose this one gets the nod as the second-most satisfying win of the Magic series because it was actually a tight, competitive game. Also, as alluded to, it suggested the Raptors as a team could rise up and get a win even if Kawhi was struggling from the field. Useful information, that.
13. Game 5 vs. Orlando Magic - Toronto wins 115-96
Summary: My favourite memory of this game happened before it even began. In the pre-game scrum with Magic coach Steve Clifford, the Orlando sports media were already asking how he’d look back on this season and what lessons he hoped to impart on his young team. This as if the season for the Magic was already over. Clifford was professional about it, but I had to laugh. The season definitely was over for the Magic, especially after the Raptors came out and once again ran roughshod Orlando. In the process, Kawhi shot 8-of-11, including 5-of-5 from three, for 27 points while just jogging around out there. The Magic were hopeless in trying to stop him. The only real lesson here: Kawhi is too good.
Why Here: For the first time in franchise history, the Raptors got an easy playoff series win. Unlike literally every other time (against the Knicks, Pacers, Heat, Bucks, and Wizards), Toronto wasn’t collectively fed through an emotional woodchipper. Yes, the Game 1 loss was dumb, but the Raptors calmly took care of business the rest of the way. They were the better team and acted like it. This shouldn’t have matter that much, but hoo boy, it did.
The Free-Wheeling Wins
12. Game 5 vs. Philadelphia 76ers - Toronto wins 125-89
Summary: Emboldened by their gutsy win in Game 4 (you better believe we’ll get to that), the Raptors came out in Game 5 and just blew the doors off Philly for a night. The Sixers had absolutely (and inexplicably) no answer for anything Toronto threw at them. Every Raptors starter scored in double figures, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons combined for 13 turnovers, and even Jeremy Lin and Eric Moreland got to put points on the board for Toronto. It was just that kind of night. What a party.
Why Here: Because it contained two of the most intense games in Raptors history (Games 4 and 7), it’s easy to forget how straight-up weird their series against the 76ers really was. Both teams blew out the other twice, both teams took turns looking completely invincible, and both teams still had a good chance to win. And this is before even mentioning the bizarre subplot of Embiid’s health — which was undone at turns by some common enough knee soreness and, uh, mud-butt. Anyway, after the emotional wringer of the three games that preceded it, Game 5 was a release (for exactly two days).
11. Game 1 vs. Philadelphia 76ers - Toronto wins 108-95
Summary: While Game 5 came as an immense relief, Game 1 against Philly offered a sort of vindication. After pummeling poor Orlando for a week, it was fair to ask at that point if Toronto was for real. They needed a test — and the Sixers, with their mega size and top-flight talent, were exactly that. Seeing the Raptors come out and hang 39 points on them in the first quarter, in front of a truly raucous Scotiabank crowd and with both Kawhi and Siakam running wild, was gratifying. That pair would go on to combine for an eye-popping 74 points (including 45 from Kawhi!) while blitzing the Sixers at every turn. We didn’t know yet what we were in for with Philly, making this game into something of a celebration too.
Why Here: Where to start? The Raptors won a Game 1 at home — always a nice feeling, if only to balance the historical ledger a little bit — and they did so by playing to their strengths. Yes, it was probably foolish for Toronto to count on Kawhi and Siakam shooting a combined 28-of-38 every time out, but we were all ready to believe anything. The general feeling coming out of Game 1 was simple to summarize: the Raptors had aced the test put before them and were ready to deal the mighty Sixers a killing blow. (What a nice world that was for a couple of days.)
10. Game 4 vs. Milwaukee Bucks - Toronto wins 120-102
Summary: By this point in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Raptors had been through hell with the Bucks. They had blown Game 1, gotten annhilated in Game 2, and survived double-overtime with a one-legged Kawhi and major foul trouble to win Game 3 (more on that later, obviously). What they needed above all else was a dang break. In that, Game 4 was their salvation. Toronto put the hurt on Milwaukee throughout, and while they got their usual steady production from Lowry and Kawhi, the story of the game was actually elsewhere.
First, there was a booming 17 points from Marc Gasol (left for dead after Game 2’s disaster). And then, off the bench for Toronto was 18 points from Bucks killer extraordinaire Norman Powell, a big time 17-and-13 double-double from Serge Ibaka, and the blossoming offensive explosion of Fred VanVleet, who had 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting. It was all coming together for Toronto — even with Siakam’s struggles — as they tied the series up 2-2 against Milwaukee, and just kept rolling.
Why Here: After everything that happened in the Philly series, there was bound to be an emotional letdown from the Raptors against the Bucks. On paper, Milwaukee was the better team. They had the league MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, they were longer and more athletic, and they had homecourt advantage. Their 2-0 stranglehold on the series felt impossible for the Raptors to surmount. Especially after everything they’d had to do just to survive against the Sixers.
That Toronto managed to tie it up — and quite easily in Game 4 — was a flex point in the series, just not the flex point. The major turns were still to come with increasing fervour across Games 5 and 6 (to say nothing of the preceding war in Game 3). Nevertheless, the Game 4 win reset the mood to that point. It was a whole new series now. And maybe, just maybe, Toronto could win the thing.
With that, we arrive at the end of Part 2 of our ranking of every 2019 Raptors playoff game. The losses are on the books, and this wraps up every “easy” win Toronto was able to secure.
On Wednesday we’ll get to the truly intense experiences of Toronto’s playoff run. And then on Friday, the grand finale: the biggest and best three wins of their championship run.