As we head into Orlando, all of the media sites have a few favourites. Some pick one of the two juggernauts in L.A, led by former Raptor Kawhi Leonard and Raptor Killer Lebron James. Others see the regular season domination of the Bucks and assume that it’s a wrap. I’m not going to necessarily disagree that those teams can win the title. All of those teams have a regular/finals MVP playing for their roster, and it would be foolish to discount the ability of superstars. The Raptors don’t have one of those right now. However, despite that I am still going to say that the Raptors have potential for an upset. It’s not gonna be easy: but it could happen. There are a few factors that play into the Raptors making the finals.
In my opinion, there are two players in the Eastern Conference (who are participating in the restart) that need to be heavily gameplanned for by any team. Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. While it is hard to say that the Raptors have solved Joel Embiid, Marc Gasol and others ruthlessly double teamed him in the 7-game series the moment he reached the post, and dared him to shoot jumpers beyond the arc. All in all, this tactic yielded positive results, holding Joel Embiid to 17.6 PPG on 37.6% FG%. This video is from this year’s Raptors, showing how they can still stop Embiid.
On top of having a history of defending Embiid there is another factor that helps the Raptors should this series ever happen.The Sixers have lost their best player from last year’s series, Jimmy Butler. Essentially, the Sixers aren’t the issue. The bigger problem in the East is Giannis Antetokounmpo. I am going to say this: there is no one in the league that can consistently guard Giannis one on one when he gets to the rim. However, the Raptors have the pieces for the team defence required to slow him down. Kawhi isn’t here anymore: but the process highlighted in this video could be replicated to a similar but lesser effect with this year’s personnel.
There are going to be 3 players who are key to stopping Giannis inside. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam. If they can replicate a similar defense (with adjustments) against Giannis with this year’s personnel then that will bode well for their title chances. Marc Gasol was a DPOY, and Serge Ibaka was in consideration for that same award. Siakam has length, speed and athleticism and is key to slowing Giannis down from the perimeter, and leading him into the “wall” created by Gasol and Ibaka. Essentially, if they can gameplan for Giannis similarly to last year then they always have a chance for the upset in that series.
In the Finals, they will face someone from the West. Who it is we cannot be certain: the West is a bloodbath, especially with the play-in tournament. The Lakers and Clippers are the biggest problem of them all in the playoffs: they have superstars and role players who are proven in the playoffs. The Raptors don’t quite have a superstar (unless Siakam goes UltraPlus mode). If the Raptors will make the finals they may have to face one of the L.A teams. While they have the defense to stand with those teams as contenders, sometimes their offense is found lacking, and they can’t just assume that Siakam can carry the load like Kawhi could. But if they do reach the finals, in the words of a wise man named Kevin Garnett: “Anything is possible”.