Since the start of the season, the Milwaukee Bucks, LA Lakers and LA Clippers are the only teams in the NBA are considered as realistic contenders to win it all.
Yes, teams like the Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors are being looked at as tough challengers in the playoffs. However, no one is really expecting any of these teams to beat the three teams mentioned above to beat them in the playoffs.
Then the Raptors reminded the league about how tough they are by outplaying the best team in the West (and some would argue the whole league), the Lakers, in a highly competitive game, 107-92. They also beat the Miami Heat 107-103 today.
Last Saturday, the defending champions showcased great basketball from start to finish. They limited Anthony Davis, who came off from a 34-point explosion against their win over the Clippers, to only 14 points in 2-of-7 shooting – 12 points short from his usual 26.6 points.
Toronto, who are the second best team in defense, forced the Lakers, the league leader in team field goal percentage at 48.1%, to a dismal 35.4% shooting in the field.
The Raptors showed great hustle as well on the boards as they out-rebounded the Lakers, 51-40.
Ball movement and unselfish plays became a huge factor as well for Toronto. While Pascal Siakam only put up 15 points for the game, Kyle Lowry dropped 33 points and 14 rebounds, while OG Anunoby added 23 markers and Fred VanVleet contributed 13 points as well.
The other role players added some crucial buckets as well for the Raptors as Norman Powell and Marc Gasol both scored eight points.
Everyone was left in awe after their performance last Saturday, and even LeBron James had to acknowledge it.
“I think it’s a great team. They won a championship for a reason. It wasn’t just all solely because of Kawhi (Leonard) and obviously you see that. They’ve got the two-headed monsters in Fred (VanVleet) and Kyle (Lowry) that set the tone. Their wings are extremely good in Pascal (Siakam) and OG (Anunoby). They’ve got experience in the frontcourt at the center position in Marc (Gasol) and Serge (Ibaka) and then they’ve got a bunch of complementary guys. That’s why they’ve been the team they’ve been all year.”
Toronto has been flying under the radar all season. Despite being the second best team in the Eastern Conference with a 47-18 record, no one was really looking at them as legitimate contenders to win it all, mostly because a lot of fans think that Leonard gave them their only title last season and that without him, they won’t be able to make it back to the finals.
The Raptors have shown over and over this season that their dog-mentality on defense and tremendous ball movement will always be on point night after night. Not to mention their role players who accepted what they need to do in order to win.
If Toronto are able to bring this type of game and consistency in the playoffs, and if Siakam and Lowry lead by example (especially Lowry), it is hard to count them out of another surprise Finals appearance.
And hey, if you got The King saying they’re for real; you’ve gotta know that the Raptors are indeed a real threat for that Larry O’Brien trophy.
Do you think the Toronto Raptors can go back-to-back? Share your thoughts in the comments below!