Case for Toronto Raptors to Win the NBA Championship
If you listen to the oddsmakers, this is not going to be a particularly competitive NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors, going for their fourth title in five years, are a very heavy -280 favorite to win the series at BetOnline. The upstart Toronto Raptors are at +235 and should be, in the eyes of many, just happy to be there. I have the task of doing an NBA Championship preview. It could be a boring task if all we did was look at the Warriors and why they are almost inevitably going to win. By now if we don't know everything about them then we just haven't been paying attention.
What we are going to do instead is to try to build the best argument we can for the Raptors. To see if we can convince ourselves that we can bet on the underdog here. And, I'll warn you in advance, there is going to be a consistency to the arguments that is undeniable and compelling. So, here are five good reasons to consider backing the Raptors in the NBA Finals:
This could be arguments two, three, four, five, six and seven, too. It's really the only thing that matters. I'm a Canadian born and raised, and I'm obviously proud of that. Either you are a Canadian, or you are jealous. We are used to that by now. And Canada - all of Canada - is very much behind this team. It's an odd thing, really - there are probably a dozen NBA teams that are closer geographically to me than the Raptors are, but being on the right side of the border is what matters. Canadians outside of Toronto have a strange bond with the city. When it comes to baseball and basketball, we unite behind their teams - especially when things are rolling. But the one thing that unites all Canadians above anything else is a bitter, impenetrable hatred of the Maple Leafs. So, we are all Raptors fans. And you shouldn't mess with Canadians - our politeness hides a toughness born from poor weather and a lifetime of frustratingly poor cable TV choices. By taking on our team, you are taking on all of us. An army of terror dressed in plaid - but no guns because we don't like those up here.
2. Kawhi Leonard
We have always known how good this guy was. But if you watched the Milwaukee series, you could see that he is really at the peak of being himself. He was profound. It would have seemed a little silly at the start of the playoffs, but now there is a truly tough debate to be had about who the best player in this series is. He has embraced the role of being the centerpiece of his team, he is dialed in on both ends of the court, and for perhaps the first time in his life he is even showing glimpses of a personality. He has the experience of winning a title, and of playing against the Warriors countless times, to draw on, so he is not going to be intimidated. And he has been feeling it. Against Milwaukee he not only keyed the offense in five of the six games but had the biggest role in largely containing the Greek Freak as well. Now, of course, he faces a much more varied, deeper attack on both ends of the court, and nothing will be nearly as easy as it was against the Bucks. And, as always with him, we can't be sure how physically sound he is. But if you had to pick a guy you would want to play with in the NBA Finals, he would have to be right near the top of the list.
Steph Curry lived in Toronto for a while when his dad was with the Raptors. His wife was born in the city and spent the first half of her life there. He knows what he is stepping into. And that must terrify him. Canada is ready for him. And it remains to be seen if he is ready for that.
4. Pascal Siakam
We could talk about Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Danny Green and his suddenly absent shot, Serge Ibaka and the rest. And they are all important. But if this series is going to be even remotely competitive, it is going to be because Siakam steps up and joins Leonard as front-line soldiers against the three or four stars the Warriors throw at Toronto. Earlier in the year Siakam's emergence seemed like it was tougher to trust. He was playing great, but was it sustainable? Well, the answer has clearly been "yes". He's a force defensively, and useful on offense. A Leonard-lite in some ways. If he can't let the moment become too much and have a strong series, then the underdog price here could almost be justified.
Toronto is an absolute gem of a city. One of the finest on the continent. A world-class smorgasbord of cultures. The center of Canadian culture - in more ways than we want to admit, sometimes. Oakland is the place where you fly into if you get a better deal than going to San Francisco. It's a place that sports teams leave. This, on that front at least, is a mismatch of a series.
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