The Toronto Raptors have dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks in convincing fashion, winning 4 games in a row after losing the first two in Milwaukee. The Bucks are a good team: they have an MVP candidate and some great players. However, the Warriors are a challenge that no team in the NBA has managed to solve, bar LeBron James. The Raptors are going to enter the game as underdogs. Most people would put their money on the Warriors this series, and one can't blame them. Say what one will about the Warriors but they have the most complete roster in the NBA and when they are fully clicking they are impossible to stop. However, that is what the Raptors must attempt to do.
The Raptors have been inconsistent on offense until the Milwaukee series, where most of the team collectively stepped up to the challenge and made their open shots. Kawhi Leonard has been most of the offense for the Raptors, While the Raptors have been inconsistent in scoring the basketball, something that has been stellar is their defense. According to NBA.com, the Raptors have had a defensive rating of 102.4, good for 2nd in the league in the Playoffs. If we look at underdog teams in recent memory ('04 Pistons, '11 Mavs and '16 Cavs) all of those teams played phenomenal defense, and shut down the opponents superstar. Defense wins championships and that is what the Raptors will have to bank on.
Could they do it? Given how Toronto has been on the defensive end one cannot understate how much that will define the series. This team has the best defense that the Warriors have faced all year. The whole team is defensive minded, with multiple All-Defensive selections and two former DPOY, Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol. Ibaka is still a solid rim protector. Siakam is as fast as a guard, but can compete with small ball centers. Toronto can mostly switch 1 through 5 against the Warriors, as none of their players are towering titans like Embiid and Giannis. One thing to look out for is Marc Gasol: he creates amazing spacing for the Raptors, no doubt. However he is the exact type of center that GS loves to target in their offense: slow and un-athletic. Toronto has the defensive tools to take on Golden State: it is just a matter of execution from the players themselves and the coaching staff.
While I must favor the Warriors going into the finals, a timeline where the Raptors win in 6-7 games is also visible. As unlikely as odds-makers have it, I could see the Raptors grinding out games solely due to their defense. They slowed down the Bucks in transition and managed to limit Giannis Antetokounmpo's offensive game. The difference between the Bucks and the Warriors is that there is no discernible weakness on the Warriors roster. They fit together well. The only knock on the Warriors is that their supporting role players are growing older. This is Toronto's first time going to a final: they will be playing with effort and intensity since they have got nothing to lose. The Toronto Raptors can do this: they are a defensive unit and they have some of the smartest defenders in the league. The finals matchup is truly going to be a matchup of transcendent offense vs suffocating defense, and it is time to see which outweighs the other.
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