The Raptors have thrown the first punch in the NBA Finals, beating the Golden State Warriors 118-109. While one would be foolish to assume that this series is over, the way the Raptors came out has given fans a glimmer of hope. The name of the night was Pascal Siakam. Siakam has struggled in the East against lengthy players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid, who had an easier time challenging his shots and post ups. But in the first game of the Finals, Siakam has dominated. In Game 1 Siakam aggressively looked for his shot, going 14-17. Siakam hunted mismatches against guards, and blew by defenders with his speed. This game showed Siakam’s versatility: switchability on the defensive end, long range shooting and the length to finish over smaller defenders.
Siakam led the team in scoring, with 32 points. In addition to his spicy performance on the scoring end, he tallied 8 rebounds and 5 assists. The Warriors seemed to be content with letting Siakam let it fly and he has responded to that by making 2 of 3 shots from 3 point range. Siakam has stepped up as the second scoring option that he was meant to be in the playoffs. It was a pleasure for all Raptors fans, watching a young player bounce back from a rough stretch of games. At the end of the day, this was a quintessential Spicy P game. Let’s hope that this game is a preview of the rest of the finals.
Siakam wasn’t the only contributor to the win. This was a quintessential team basketball game. Kawhi Leonard wasn’t his usual efficient self, going 5-14 from the field, for 23 points. However, on a night where his teammates picked up the slack, he didn’t need to be his dominant self. Marc Gasol also picked up the slack on the scoring end, scoring 20 points. Like Siakam, he exploited his size against Golden State’s smaller guards in the post. Gasol also contributed to the team’s spacing, going 2-3 from behind the arc. Fred Van Vleet (Sr), looked like a 6MOTY candidate again pouring in 15 points off the bench. The question these playoffs was whether Kawhi Leonard has enough help to make the Finals a series. It seems that the Raptors answered that question.
Remember when 'Kawhi needs more help' was a thing?
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 31, 2019
This was a team game not only because the ball moved around, but also because of the defense. The help defense on Steph Curry and Klay Thompson was there, and the Raptors made the right call by leaving Draymond Green on the perimeter. The Raptors defense was suffocating as usual, and it seems that their defense can hit another gear when they play Golden State. DeMarcus Cousins didn’t have a single made field goal this game. The Warriors don’t really have any personnel that could exploit Toronto’s size, and while I don’t want to write Cousins off based on one game post injury, he seems a little slower than usual.
If Toronto’s defense is keeping up then that is all they need to do well in the series. Now, I mentioned that we’d be fools to underestimate the Warriors based on one game. I stick by that. However defense wins. Defensive effort is something that one can control. Danny Green is a prime example: while he didn’t hit many shots before this series, he still played All-NBA caliber defense. Sometimes a team won’t make shots and they must accept that. That sentiment was echoed in last year’s Western Conference Finals, where the Rockets went 0-27 from 3 point range. A statistical anomaly, but it still happens. Offense has more variance than defense, and if defense is your strength then the team has a consistent foundation to win every game.
Toronto has defied the odds to get this far. All of these players have come outside of the lottery, so they know what it’s like to be written off. Let’s see if Toronto can pull of one of basketball’s greatest upsets. That result may or may not happen, but Game 1 was a sign of more good things to come.