CONGRATS: #Raptors are #NBA Champs! #KawhiLeonard MVP! [vid]




Even as the Raptors celebrate their first NBA championship in franchise history, there will undoubtedly be naysayers downplaying the win because of the circumstances surrounding the victory.

Golden State star Kevin Durant missed the first four games of the series with a right calf injury and tore his Achilles when he returned for Game 5 after his team fell behind 3-1. And with the Warriors in a solid rhythm and vying to knot things at three games apiece in Game 6 Thursday, Klay Thompson’s left knee buckled as he landed following a dunk attempt; the injury would later be revealed to be a torn ACL.

No one in their right mind would ignore the reality of those brutal injuries, or the effect they had on what could have been an even more competitive series. But focusing too much on those issues arguably takes away from something that became clear about Toronto this season: The Raptors regularly took — and more often than not, capitalized on — calculated risks all year long. Those wise gambles played a key role in their success, both in the finals and leading up to it.

Pay close attention, and you’ll notice that Toronto coach Nick Nurse experiments with several things  just enough to engineer an advantage for his team. He illustrated a willingness to try, more than once, some rare defenses that are seen more often at the middle-school level than in the NBA. The 51-year-old, who had coached almost everywhere before this, found success toward the end of Game 2 when he sent his team out to contain Stephen Curry with a box-and-one after Thompson went down that night. Using that look — and holding Curry scoreless with it in Game 2 — helped the Raptors feel comfortable tightening the screws on Curry with the same defensive scheme in Game 6, after Thompson was forced to exit again.



Beyond that, Nurse opted to tweak his second-half starting lineup in Game 3 to include Fred VanVleet over Danny Green, even though Green had hit three triples in the first half. He stuck with that third-period shift the rest of the series, feeling that VanVleet’s ball-handling and stingy perimeter D on Curry was useful to begin the half.

By now, we all know the first two changes the Raptors made, dating back to last summer. Team president Masai Ujiri jettisoned Dwane Casey, who would go on to win Coach of the Year, to replace him with Nurse, who’d never been an NBA head coach. And the executive would later deal away Toronto’s all-time leading scorer, DeMar DeRozan, sending him to the Spurs to get Kawhi Leonard — a move that seems obvious in hindsight, but also carried at least some risk, given Leonard’s quad issues and his unwillingness to commit to Toronto once his deal was up at the end of this season. (Also noteworthy: the Raps didn’t toss someone like Pascal Siakam, who later blossomed into one of the NBA’s most valuable players from a contract standpoint, into the deal to acquire Kawhi. Again, a highly calculated move.)

Since then, the 27-year-old Leonard has rewarded Ujiri’s gamble by putting himself firmly in the conversation for best player in the world. Kawhi dominated long stretches of the conference semifinal series against the Sixers, then changed the complexion of the conference finals matchup with Milwaukee by taking defensive responsibility for likely league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. He moved on to Antetokounmpo for Games 3-6, and Toronto won all four of those contests to reach the finals. All told, Leonard finished with 732 points throughout the playoffs, the third most ever in one postseason — after LeBron James (748) in 2018 and Michael Jordan (759) in 1992.

There’s also something to be said for the Raptors’ split-second decision-making on the court. They were the NBA’s most efficient team in transition, and they bludgeoned the turnover-prone Warriors with that ability in Game 1 (Golden State claimed to not know what to expect that night, because of how long it had been since they’d played one another). Toronto entered the postseason as the league’s best defense at recovering loose balls, and Kawhi made a living in the series off of traveling great distances to come up with momentum-shifting offensive boards.[source]

SO LONG STORY SHORT..this was Toronto’s YEAR to win…and they DID! CONGRATS!


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