A Repeat in the North?
Which team has been the best throughout the playoffs so far? The Miami Heat are a good choice. They swept the Indiana Pacers in the first round. What about the Boston Celtics. They also swept their series against the Philadelphia 76ers. The correct answer however, is the Toronto Raptors. Like the Heat and Celtics, the Raptors swept their first round opponent. Toronto appeared to be the most dominant though, winning their four games against the Brooklyn Nets by an average of 21 points. All but one of their games was a rout. The series wasn’t close from the beginning, and included 24 point, 25 point, and 28 point wins by the Raptors. It’s clear that Toronto appears to be the most dangerous team thus far.
One series shouldn’t be overreacted to though. Toronto still has work to do if they want to repeat as champions. They do however, have the makings of a championship team. Many people didn’t feel that way during the season though. Teams like the Bucks, Lakers, Clippers, and even Celtics were considered title front-runners over the Raptors, despite Toronto finishing with the second best record in the NBA. The Raptors also had the necessary stats during the regular season to be taken serious. Toronto was a defensive powerhouse. They allowed the fewest points per game, and the lowest three-point percentage. They also allowed the second-lowest field goal percentage, while averaging the second most steals per game. The Raptors also weren’t slouches on offense. They finished in the top half in points per game (13th), and had the fifth-best three-point percentage.
The majority of these stats have continued into the playoffs as well. Their defense has stayed stout, as they allow the fourth-fewest points per game, the second-lowest field goal percentage, and the third-lowest three-point percentage throughout the playoffs. Toronto’s offense on the other hand, has taken a major leap. They’re averaging the most points per game, and are tied for the best three-point percentage.
Two main arguments could be made to suggest why Toronto won’t make it back to the Finals. First, people may discount their first round performance because it was against the undermanned Nets. It’s not Toronto’s fault they faced the Nets. They won the series like they should, and appeared dominant in doing so. The number one seeds in each conference on the other hand lost a game to the eight seed. Therefore a sweep, even against Brooklyn, shouldn’t have an asterisk by it. The second argument is Toronto doesn’t have a star. After Kawhi Leonard left in free agency, many didn’t believe the Raptors could compete at the same level. Well they’re proving everyone wrong. While they may not have a “superstar” on their team, they do have plenty of talent. Pascal Siakam was an All-Star starter. Kyle Lowry was also selected for the All-Star team. Fred VanVleet is a rising star, and showed his talent during last year’s Finals.
Toronto has proven this season they don’t need a superstar to be successful. They play team basketball, and have great chemistry. When some teams struggled regaining their chemistry in the seeding games, Toronto was moving right along, finishing with a 7–1 record. The Raptors have also shown their unselfishness throughout the playoffs. They’re averaging the most assists per game thus far. Toronto doesn’t put it on one player to beat you. One night it could be Siakam, while the next game it could be Lowry or VanVleet. The biggest thing is no one on the team is complaining if it’s not their night, even though multiple players could score 30 if they wanted to. The chemistry for the Raptors is what makes them so dangerous.
Toronto however, is about to face their biggest challenge in making it back to the Finals.
No not the Milwaukee Bucks, but rather the Boston Celtics. Boston appeared dominant in their sweep of the 76ers. Jayson Tatum is a star. Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker provide some serious talent as well. The Celtics also won the season series against Toronto 3–1. A ton shouldn’t be put into that however, considering the 76ers won the season series against the Celtics. This matchup is going to be a fight, and most likely will last seven games. The absence of Gordon Hayward for the Celtics however, gives Toronto the upper hand in my opinion.
If Toronto makes it past Boston, the opponent most likely waiting for them will be the Milwaukee Bucks. Many may wonder how the team with the best record in the NBA wouldn’t be the toughest matchup for the Raptors. Well Toronto proved during last year’s playoffs, that they have the answer on stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo. During their 4–2 series win last year over Milwaukee, Toronto held Giannis to 22.7 points on 44.8% shooting. Compare that to his stats this year of 29.5 points on 55.3% shooting and you’ll see the drop off. The Raptors know how to play defense, especially on Giannis. Even without Kawhi Leonard, the same philosophy of clogging the lane and making Giannis shoot should be effective. If it is Raptors vs. Bucks for a trip to the NBA Finals, I fully expect Toronto to advance.
Then anyone has a chance at the title. We saw Toronto do it last year. Who’s to say it can’t happen again.