The Raptors belong in these NBA Finals

1152748767.jpg.0 - The Raptors belong in these NBA Finals

The Warriors played well, but Toronto was just better. Pascal Siakam is a star.

The Toronto Raptors were written off two games into the Eastern Conference Finals and possibly three games into the second round. Yet 48 minutes into the NBA Finals, they hold a 1-0 lead over the back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors and their dynasty.

The improbability of it all is outstanding considering recent memory, and even more so further in the rear view mirror, when Pascal Siakam was a role player and Kawhi Leonard a Spur. These aren’t last year’s Raptors. These Raptors are for real.

The Raptors’ 118-109 win over Golden State felt like their game from the very start. On their own homecourt, with a raucous Drake-led crowd, the Raptors’ secondary core players — specifically Marc Gasol and Siakam — poured buckets in from the jump. The Warriors stayed within reach throughout, and considering they rallied from double-digit deficits in three out of four wins in the Western Conference Finals, a 10-point halftime deficit looked doable.

But then, the Pascal Siakam that Toronto fans and NBA bloggers alike raved about all season came to life.

Siakam tore the Warriors apart any time they collapsed inside the paint and shot over their outstretched arms from the outside. The 6’9 forward with a 7’3 wingspan Euro-stepped his way past Draymond Green, and launched shots in the face of Andre Iguodala without second guess. For someone who didn’t take the game seriously until 10 years ago, he looked effortless, playing care-free on the NBA’s greatest stage in ways that seemed unimaginable. Siakam finished the game with 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting and eight rebounds.

Siakam’s brilliance allowed Toronto to win despite a semi-limping Kawhi Leonard, who was good, but by no means spectacular. This was a game that flashed the less heralded moves general manager Masai Ujiri’s made. His brilliant draft picks, free agent acquisitions, and other trades besides the lopsided one that brought Leonard to Toronto shined.

This was a complete Raptors effort. Gasol, a mid-season addition, scored 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting with seven rebounds, Fred VanVleet, an undrafted free agent pickup, scored 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and Danny Green scored 11. Kyle Lowry, the team’s longest-tenured star, didn’t even score well with just seven points, but notched six rebounds and nine assists.

This was a statement win for Toronto. The Warriors were frazzled throughout on the defensive end, falling asleep when defending the Raptors’ plethora of length and shooting. On the other end, Golden State shot well enough to win, even with the giant asterisk of missing Kevin Durant. Steph Curry scored 34 points on 18 shots, Klay Thompson 21 on 17, and Draymond Green finished with a 10-10-10 triple-double. The team made 39 percent of its threes, and finished shooting 44 percent from the field overall, which is far from egregious. And yet, they were still outplayed in virtually every way by a Raptors team new to this stage.

The Warriors aren’t at full health, with an ailing DeMarcus Cousins returning in spot minutes and Durant sitting on the sideline for the entire game, but they still have championship pieces. The problem is Toronto can match them with championship pieces of its own, and none shrunk from the Finals stage.

These Raptors are here to take every advantage that’s been handed to them.

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