NBA Finals 2019: 3 reasons why Toronto Raptors will win their maiden NBA Championship

Milwaukee Bucks v Toronto Raptors - Game Six
Milwaukee Bucks v Toronto Raptors - Game Six

The Toronto Raptors have finally made it to the NBA Finals for the first time in their 24-year history. It hasn’t been easy but they have taken incremental steps in the past 6 seasons culminating in what will be a historic moment for the franchise and their fans starting Thursday night in Toronto.

It took trading away one of the teams best players in DeMar DeRozan for one of the games current greats, in Kawhi Leonard. It was a risky deal that may only last until these 2019 NBA playoffs are done. It also meant sacrificing some team depth when Raptors management swapped three players for Marc Gasol’s experience and passing game.

Now, after 3 years of repeated rejection by the LeBron led Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors are the Eastern Conference Champions in the NBA and hold home court advantage against the reigning champions Golden State Warriors. Here are three reasons the Raptors will win their first ever NBA Championship:


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Intense Defensive Identity

Milwaukee Bucks v Toronto Raptors - Game Four
Milwaukee Bucks v Toronto Raptors - Game Four

If nothing else, the 2019 NBA playoff run by the Toronto Raptors is remarkable due to their defensive play. They are tough to play against, intense and stingy when defending. It starts with Kawhi Leonard their superstar who is not only the teams best offensive star but also is their best defender. Leonard is averaging 1.6 steals in 18 playoff games, so far and 8.8 rebounds per game.

He also spent most of the Eastern Conference Finals as the primary defender on Giannis Antetokounmpo that denied the Greek Freak many opportunities to get all the way to the basket.

In fact, from game 4 of the ECF, Leonard clamped down defensively on Antetokounmpo. On 141 possession in which Antetokounmpo was defended by Leonard, he held Milwaukee to 0.87 points per possession. When any other Raptor guarded Antetokounmpo in 172 other possessions the Bucks scored 1.19 points per possession. Leonard is a lockdown defender.

It’s not just Leonard alone. The Raptors are tied for 4th in these playoffs averaging 8 steals per game. Furthermore, they have 102.4drtg per 100 possessions. This includes series victories over Orlando, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. In those three series wins, the Raptors have allowed their opponents to score 100 points only 7 times in 18 games.

Against the Milwaukee Bucks in game 3 of the ECF, Toronto won by 6 points, for a 2-1 series lead. In that contest, they shot just 39.2% from the field but held Milwaukee to 37.3%. Championships are won on defence and the Raptors are a great defensive team.

Kawhi Leonard

Milwaukee Bucks v Toronto Raptors - Game Six
Milwaukee Bucks v Toronto Raptors - Game Six

During the regular season, the conversation about who was the league's MVP centred around Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and James Harden of the Houston Rockets. However, while that may be the fact for the regular season, Kawhi Leonard is making a case for himself in these 2019 NBA playoffs.

Should the Raptors win the title, Leonard is likely the main reason and the Finals MVP. His play has been absolutely amazing through these 18 games so far. After missing 22 games this past regular season due to load management to ensure he would be healthy for the 2019 NBA playoffs, Leonard has been almost superhuman in leading the Toronto Raptors to the 2019 NBA Finals.

In the Raptors' 18 playoff games, Leonard has been averaging over 38 minutes per game, 31.2ppg, 8.8rpg, 3.8apg, and 1.6spg. He has been a standout player at both ends of the floor delivering consistent offensive production at one end of the court and lockdown defence at the other.

Leonard is a quality of player never before seen in Toronto. He has won an NBA championship and Finals MVP before with the Spurs and now he has elevated the Raptors to a place they have never been before.

Health

Durant is struggling with a calf injury
Durant is struggling with a calf injury

In comparing the health of the Toronto Raptors to the Golden State Warriors, the Raptors hold a decided edge. Superstar Kevin Durant is expected to travel with the Warriors to Toronto but there is doubt he will play in the series due to a calf injury suffered in the 2nd round versus Houston.

Andre Iguodala who was bothered by a calf issue in the WCF against Portland is likely to play. The Warriors may also need to make minutes available for center DeMarcus Cousins in the Finals.

While the Warriors are getting back some of their players there is no telling in what shape they will be in or how much they can contribute. This puts pressure on head coach Steve Kerr to find production from other role players and to lean heavier on Curry, Thompson, and Green for leadership and points.

The Toronto Raptors have only been without O.G. Anunoby who has missed the entire playoffs due to an appendectomy surgery in which he picked up an infection during the procedure. He has been practising with the team and could be reinserted to the rotation.

The only other real issues for the Raptors are a leg problem that has seen Leonard limping during games against the Milwaukee Bucks and a thumb problem for Kyle Lowry. However, both players were major contributors in the game 6 ECF series-clinching victory over the Bucks and will have 4 days to rest before the Finals begin.

During the Regular season, the Raptors were 17-5 without Kawhi Leonard and played a number of games without all-star Kyle Lowry. The Raptors won 58 games this year. The Raptors may, in fact, might be less reliant on their star power to win games than the defending champions, the Warriors.

Thursday night provides a great opportunity for the Toronto Raptors. Their roster has never been better constructed to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy than it is right now. Kawhi Leonard could win his second NBA Championship, his second Finals MVP, and the Raptors could be NBA Champions. That potential dream could be a reality starting Thursday, May 30th, 2019 at the Scotia Bank Arena in Toronto.

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Edited by Debjyoti Samanta
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