In the past decade, the Toronto Raptors have made the playoffs for five straight seasons. However, they’ve failed to make it to the NBA Finals since 2015-2016 because of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Well this year is different.
From James’s departure out of the Eastern Conference, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green came over to the Raptors and the team as a whole had a successful season. Despite Leonard missing 22 games this season, the Raptors finished with a record of 58-24 (seven more wins then last season) and finished second in the East (one spot higher then last season). Players took on higher rolls and dominated the game like Pascal Siakam who’s made himself a contender for the Most Improved Player of the Year. However, the question is, will this improved Raptors team continue to play the way they have been throughout the season in the 2019 NBA Playoffs?
The Raptors can’t look past their first round matchup against the Orlando Magic.
Even though this is the first season the Magic have made the playoffs since being in a six year playoff drought, they gave the Raptors competition during the regular season. The regular season record between the two teams ended up 2-2 in tough battles.
Nikola Vucevic is really a player that no one talks about, but made the 2019 All-Star team as a reserve. Vucevic is averaging a career high in points (21 PPG), rebounds (12 RPG), and assists (3.8 APG). Guys like Evan Fournier and DJ Augustin can shoot pretty well from the outside. Augustin led the league in three point percentage at home games with 49.3 percent. Danny Green and Kyle Lowry will have to be aware of them on the perimeter without giving up too many threes, but with the overall offense and defensive struggle the Raptors bring, they have the advantage to win this series.
Kawhi Leonard: Highlight Machine pic.twitter.com/RPyJmZlgi3
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 4, 2019
Game 1: @ Toronto (Saturday, Apr. 13 – 5:00 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Game 2: @ Toronto (Tuesday, Apr. 16 – 8:00 p.m. EST, TNT)
Game 3: @ Orlando (Friday, Apr. 19 – 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Game 4: @ Orlando (Sunday, Apr. 21 – 7:00 p.m. EST, TNT)
Game 5: @ Toronto (Tuesday, Apr. 23 – TBD)
Game 6: @ Orlando (Thursday, Apr. 25 – TBD)
Game 7: @ Toronto (Saturday, Apr. 27 – TBD)
How can they succeed?
Their success comes from their shooting and defensive consistency. We know Kawhi Leonard is one of the best players in the league and can get hot anytime on the court. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol will be able to guard some bigger players like Nikola Vucevic, Jonathan Isaac, and Aaron Gordon. The Raptors are ranked first in opponent turnover rate in the clutch by forcing 16.4 turnovers within five minutes of the fourth quarter. If they can play intense defense throughout each game, they’re going to make it very difficult for the Magic to score and close out games.
Kyle Lowry has had past struggles in the playoffs. He has to be able to knock it down consistently from the perimeter alongside Danny Green who has the league’s second best three point percentage at 45.6 percent. One of the problems for the Raptors in the playoffs has always come down to inconsistency and if they can fix that, they’ll dominate this series.
Who is their X-factor?
I would have to say Pascal Siakam.
Siakam has been playing an incredible amount of good basketball this regular season and improved in almost every category. His game has advance to the next level by showing how he’s a very physical player. His intense defense can have an offense shook and cause turnovers. Most of the Magic’s offense does not run through transitions, so since Siakam can move up and down the floor well, he’ll be able to get back on defense every time. Shooting the ball well is going to be a huge part of his game this postseason. This season made him more valuable for the playoffs and he’ll need to bring that energy every game.
One positive stat in their favor?
The Raptors were one of two teams to be top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They have been efficient on both sides of the ball all season long which has resulted in their success. To win this game, they must continue to be consistent with the talent they have led by Kawhi Leonard.