The Toronto Raptors joined the NBA in 1995. In the 21 years since then, they had played in only 8 playoffs series and won just one of them. That was in 2001 over the New York Knicks. Then this season happened. Toronto has played in two more playoff series, and with a 116–89 win over the Miami Heat yesterday, they have now won them both. It is easily the best season in team history.
They'd like it to still be even better.
For that to happen though, they will need to beat the only group in the Eastern Conference with a better record than them: Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Across the way in the West, the team with the greatest record in NBA history, superstar Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors, are facing the Oklahoma City Thunder. (That series starts tonight!) Despite Golden State's incredible season, OKC (that's Oklahoma City scrunched up, folks) is no pushover and has two superstars of their own in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Either team would be a huge challenge for the Raptors in an NBA final.
But let's not get carried away here. Because Cleveland hasn't even lost a game yet these playoffs.
Raptors need to be consistent
The Raptors actually played really well against Cleveland this regular season, winning 2 of their 3 games. But they know that the playoffs are a completely different story. And so far, Cleveland has been very good in them. Very, VERY good. They plowed through the Detroit Pistons in the first round, then walked all over the Atlanta Hawks in the next round. Most of the games weren't even close.
Meanwhile, against Indiana Pacers in the first round and then Miami, the Raptors were rarely at their best and got pushed to the maximum seven games twice. Sure, they played awesome basketball yesterday against the Heat. But so far, it's been anyone's guess how well Toronto would play. This has been especially true of their All-Star guards, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who have been dealing with minor hand and arm injuries that have hurt their shooting. Will they come out with the aggressive defence and deadly shooting that made them one of the very best teams in the NBA this year? Or will they look slow on defence and struggle to score?
Maybe, just maybe?
Hey, let's be honest. The general prediction is that Cleveland is going to win this series, and it's probably true. The Cavaliers have been a lean, mean, three point-hitting machine. They have probably the best player of his generation, Lebron James, and the imposing one-two punch of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The Cavs are healthy, rested, and on a roll.
The Raps? Starting centre Jonas Valuncuinas is still out injured. Defensive specialist DeMarre Carroll is going to have to try and figure out how to stop the powerful James. And Toronto has had a very tough time being at their best for even two games in a row. But this is still a very good basketball team. And the funny thing? These Raptors have gone further than any team in franchise history, all with their two stars playing just so-so ball. But yesterday, Lowry and DeRozan played great and they blew their opponent away.
In other words, if the Raptors can actually find their groove... who knows? We'll find out on Tuesday!