Intuition is a personal trait that some can master in to foreseeing things before they happen, while others use their intuitive emotion only when its absolutely needed. It’s an underrated emotion that can produce a substantial amount of energy thats pretty hard to counter once it begins to roll. The Raptors dominating the Warriors this series is the intuition and game 1 was the first instalment of this journey. Toronto hosted the defending NBA champion, Golden State Warriors on Thursday in what would be the club’s first time playing & hosting a final in the city.
The build-up prior to the game was incredible. As hungover as Toronto fans were from the gruelling Bucks series, the moment the Warriors touched down in the city, it was war time. The shift in energy was quite clear as fans bombarded the hotel that the Golden State players are temporarily residing in, screaming their predictions and shooting flares all night long. The streets are packed everyday and the fans have quickly let the Warriors know one simple fact, we are NOT Cleveland. Every day, minute and second of this journey will be cherished and made special. Make fun of us all you want, but remember that we either beat your team, beat the team that beat your team or about to beat the team that destroyed your team. So you can call us “soft Canadians”, but don’t leave out the fact that we’ve more than likely embarrassed your team on more than one occasion.
Game 1 was straight out of a movie. Fans lined up at Jurassic Park from 6am to watch a 9pm basketball game. Multiple media outlets were beginning their coverage from as early as 8am and the celebrities and former Raptors came out to watch. A$AP Ferg, Future The Prince, Kardinal, JYD, Chris Bosh and many more were all in attendance for the game in support of the North. Drake was dressed in an old Raptors Dell Curry jersey just for trolling purposes and placed a sweat band around his Curry and Durant tattoos. Like I said, this is war. However when the ball tipped, it felt like any other game. The Raptors produced in the first half but limited efforts from Leonard and Lowry stifled their potential lead and forced others to be the stars of the show.
As Golden State focused on the overused and overrated narrative of stopping Leonard will therefore stop the entire team, The Raptors were ready. All week, I heard a real overconfidence in the Warriors players and staff’s voices as they described the series. Signifying the critical importance of Leonard allowed our staff to identify Golden State’s potential defensive plan and prepare others accordingly. The Warriors insisted if we beat them, it’ll be because of our others and boy, did the others step up when needed.
Upon the Warriors attempting to make this an “easy” series by locking up Leonard, it was the likes of Siakam, VanVleet, Gasol and Ibaka who punched back. Marc Gasol who was deemed by 99% of pundits and experts as a “non-impact” player this series, had a phenomenal 20 points and 7 rebounds. VanVleet who probably wasn’t even on the Warriors scouting report dropped 15 points with some spectacular 3’s. However there was one story of the night. A story that continues to add one incredible chapter after another and is still very far from finished. That would be the story of Paskal Siakam. The African-born star dropped 32 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists in his first NBA Finals contest. The long and athletic forward sliced through the defence time after another during fast breaks and half-court sets. His focus, discipline and work ethic on the court is unbelievable considering he picked up a basketball for the first time in his mid-late teenage years.
Kawhi was not ideally in the mood but it didn’t matter. Our players have all developed a championship mindset and expectation. They understand who they are and are 100% confident in their abilities. Golden State lacks the depth that they once boasted. Even though the Warriors bench had a productive game, the Toronto bench is just better. Individually and as a group, the second unit for the Raptors are going to be favoured over the Warriors bench this series and is an advantage they must expose. Additionally, the Raptors are the best defensive team in the playoffs and have developed a strong rebounding presence. All the Warriors really have is proven talent and championship pedigree. They seem to be so robotic – as if they don’t have the drive and ambition to win this year as much as the Raptors do. Thats because they don’t.
Given all those reasons along with the reality that Kawhi and Lowry had sub-par showings based in their standards, this could be a very profitable series for the Raptors. The Warriors are clearly overconfident. They believed they have the game-plan to sweep us off our feet and send us home packing. The Raptors proved they can match their speed offensively and overpower their plan defensively even with below-average performances by Leonard and Lowry. We gear up for another must win on Sunday for game 2. The Raptors must continue to take what the defence gives them. Whether thats playing Kawhi 1 on 1 and doubling him in the post or blitzing him in the high pick and roll and forcing others to be aggressive offensively. We must be prolific to earn this title. We await the results of the next battle and together we move a step closer to our goal as a city and a nation.
By Maiyo Shahrawan