Last Word On Basketball

The Toronto Raptors Legacy: Seven-Year Playoff Run Analysis Part Two

Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball during the Toronto Raptors vs Portland Trail Blazers NBA regular season game at Scotiabank Arena on March 1, 2019, in Toronto, Canada (Toronto Raptors win 119-117) (Photo by Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The last few years of this playoff run and the Toronto Raptors legacy had highs and lows. This was seen in the 2017-18 NBA season. Then this article will dive into the offseason in 2018, where the Raptors made some notable changes, which resulted in the pressure of high expectations in the 2018-19 NBA season.

Toronto Raptors Legacy: Playoffs Success

2017-18 NBA season

Toronto Raptors Regular Season

This season was supposed to be the year the Raptors got over the hump against the Cavaliers. They had a franchise-high 59 wins that year. Dwane Casey won Coach of the Year and made his first-ever appearance in the NBA All-Star Game appearance as a head coach.

Once again, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry made the NBA All-Star Game. The Raptors were also second in offensive rating and fifth in defensive rating that season. They were the only team that year to finish in the top five in offensive and defensive rating. Lastly, this was the first and only time in franchise history that the Raptors finished first in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto Raptors – Playoffs

The Raptors were able to exorcise their demons of the 2015 NBA playoffs in the first round by defeating the Washington Wizards in six games. Now it was time to exorcise those demons of 2016 and 2017 against fourth-place Cleveland in the second round.

Unfortunately, this series did not have a happy ending. They let game one slip away and lost the game by one point in Toronto. This would be the closest game in the series for Toronto. The Raptors would lose three more games, including two blowouts in the NBA playoffs. DeRozan had trouble scoring in the last two games of the series. James led in points in all four games of the series and also led in rebounds in the close-out game against Toronto.

What made it worse was that Cleveland’s playoff series with Boston and Indiana went to seven games. So Toronto could not take solace that they had trouble beating James. Something needed to change and Masai Ujiri knew that. Dwane Casey was fired a few weeks after being eliminated from the playoffs. Then in the off-season, Uijiri traded fan-favourite DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard.

2018-19 NBA Season – The Year Toronto Won it All

The Toronto Raptors’ Road to the Finals

There was a lot of pressure this season. The Raptors were fifth in both offensive and defensive rating. They also had the second-best record in the NBA with 56 wins, only behind the Milwaukee Bucks.

However, what was most important was the NBA playoffs. That was a reason why Jonas Valanciunas was traded to acquire Marc Gasol midway through the 2018-19 NBA season. Do the Raptors have what it takes to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy?

They first played the Orlando Magic in the NBA playoffs. Thanks to D.J. Augustin, the Magic won game one against the Raptors. Toronto though responded by winning the next four games and winning the series 4-1. They would then have a classic seven-game series against the 76ers.

Marc Gasol played extraordinary defence on Joel Embiid, but still had trouble generating offence. It was a very tight seven-game series that ended with a Kawhi Leonard series-ending shot. Probably it was the most famous shot in NBA history. A shot many people may not see again for a long time in the NBA.

The Raptors faced adversity again when they faced the first-seeded Bucks. They went behind 2-0 against Milwaukee and needed a spark to their offence. They also needed to defend Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both Leonard and Gasol played big roles in limiting Antetokounmpo’s offence from game three to six. Also, Fred VanVleet started to play extremely well offensively and defensively. Something he would continue against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

NBA Finals

It is strange that of all the four playoff series, the series the Raptors never trailed in was the 2019 NBA Finals. Yes, Kevin Durant was injured, but Toronto still had to face three NBA All-Stars in Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and in most of the series play against Klay Thompson. The Raptors won the first game thanks to Pascal Siakam. The Warriors would win game two, but then the Raptors would win games three and four to take a commanding 3-1 lead.

Game five was when Toronto could have closed the game. Unfortunately, for Toronto, Durant had returned to the NBA playoffs. Durant played really well but got injured early in the first quarter. It was unfortunate, but injuries are part of the game. The Raptors had a 97-103 lead with 3:15 left in the fourth quarter. However, the Warriors went on a 9-0 run, including a game-winning three by Curry. His three clinched a comeback win for Golden State as they won 106-105 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

It was a devastating loss for Toronto. They would need to respond in game six at Oracle Arena in Oakland. The Raptors did exactly that. Thanks to a strong start from Kyle Lowry and a great performance from Fred VanVleet, Toronto clinched their first-ever NBA Championship in the last-ever NBA game in the Oracle Arena.

The Toronto Raptors Won the Larry O’Brien Trophy

The Raptors would continue this success in the 2019-20 NBA season. Siakam made his first-ever appearance in the NBA All-Star Game and their backup was point guard Lowry. They also had Nick Nurse make his first-ever NBA All-Star appearance as head coach of the Raptors (he was in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game as an assistant coach). Nurse joined Casey as one of only two Toronto head coaches to coach the NBA All-Star Game.

They also finished with the second-best record in the NBA. Unfortunately, they would not follow this up in the NBA playoffs. Siakam, their star player did not play well and the Raptors lost to the Celtics in seven games. It is a what-if as Siakam was playing well before the season was suspended because of COVID-19.

Toronto Raptors Legacy including a Larry O’Brien Trophy

The Raptors only made the playoffs five times before 2013. They also only got past the first round once before 2013. If many players playing today are playing because of the Vince Carter effect, expect a lot more Canadian NBA players to come from this seven-year playoff run.

Current Raptors president Masai Ujiri gave credit to DeRozan and Casey for the 2019 NBA championship. Even though neither player won in 2019, they and other players like Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, and Terrence Ross, played a big role in their success in their playoff run.

Also, credit should also be given to former Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo. While Ujiri played a bigger role in Toronto’s NBA Championship run, Colangelo also played a big role. He was the one who brought both DeRozan and Lowry to Toronto.

The former making the Leonard trade possible and the latter for getting the best player in franchise history. All of this added up to solidifying the Raptors legacy, which also won the Atlantic Division six times in their seven-year playoff run.

The Raptors legacy is still to be written though, as likely many Canadians watching the Raptors at that time could very well become NBA players. Also, with the growth of the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL), expect even more Canadians to play in the NBA in the short and long-term future.


Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images

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