2019 NBA Finals: 5 Thoughts on Game 1
Courtesy of Sportsnet.ca
1. Marc Gasol poses a real problem for the Warriors.
Much was made about Big Spain’s potential fit on the floor against the Warriors, with many predicting that the 7-footer would be rendered essentially unplayable by Golden State’s speedy, small-ball lineups. Well, they were off-target, and by quite a large margin. Gasol hung 20 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and some stellar defense on the Warriors in Game 1, hitting open looks from beyond the arc and anchoring a stuffy Raptors defense (one that currently looks like an all-time unit). Toronto will continue to trot out the surprisingly mobile Gasol until the Warriors can find an effective solution for the former DPOY; one that is not composed of either an out-of-shape Boogie Cousins or an overmatched Kevon Looney.
2. Toronto is considerably deeper than Golden State.
Well, duh. A team with so many All-NBA caliber players shouldn’t be able to field a bench unit that can match up with Toronto’s offering from the pine. However, that was not considered to be too much of a problem by pundits, as star power generally wins out over the course of a playoff series. But what the talking heads forgot to mention was the importance of diversifying the looks you can show another team, especially one that is uber-talented and prone to making silly, bordering-on-arrogant mental mistakes. Being deep isn’t just about being able to rest key contributors for the biggest moments; it’s also about having a variety of tools at your disposal. The Warriors will live and die by their Hampton’s 5 lineup and, ultimately, by the play of their superstars. As Game 1 just alluded to, the Raptors will not necessarily face the same conundrum.
3. Lowry and Leonard don’t have to combine for 60+ points in order for the Raptors to win games.
Stemming from the aforementioned thought, everything is not quite as dire and superstar-dependent as one may have thought from the outset of the series; many were clamoring for multiple 30+ point scoring nights from Toronto’s All-Star tandem, to the point that high-scoring games from Leonard and Lowry were being viewed as a prerequisite for a competitive series. Game 1 certainly challenged that notion, with Lowry submitting a sub-10-point effort and Leonard authoring a ho-hum 23 points on 5-for-14 shooting in a thrilling Raptors victory. Toronto has more capable scorers than many (including yours truly) anticipated, and will likely be able to receive substantial offensive contributions from outside their pool of usual suspects – a quality that the Warriors seemingly do not possess.
4. Golden State was not prepared for Toronto’s defensive intensity.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Toronto represents the best defensive unit Golden State has ever played in the playoffs. Period. Full stop. Golden State players and coaches spoke of being surprised and unfamiliar with the Raptors and their play style after Game 1, and it begs the question: was Golden State thinking that this would be an easy matchup for them? Did they not take their opponent as seriously as they should have? Did all of their footage of this year's Raptors playoff run disappear/corrupt spontaneously? Judging from the results of Game 1, this Raptors defence will prove quite the obstacle for a team that has been shown very few true defensive challenges in the past couple of years.
5. The Raptors (and their fans) should feel good, but realize that this series is far from over.
Toronto took care of business by winning Game 1, but if they want a real shot at taking this whole thing, they’d better win Game 2 as well (Durant will not be playing, and that lends must-win status to the latter half of the early home-stand). Golden State will make adjustments, and they will come out with a vengeance; the Raptors will have to be prepared, and treat every game as its own unique entity – strategies that worked previously may not work anymore against a team as historically loaded and versatile as the Warriors. While staying humble is certainly important, it’s equally important to recognize the opportunity ahead and the possibilities that exist; if you didn’t think the Raptors had a chance of winning it all, Game 1 should offer you some food for thought.