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The Raptors Didn't Even Need Kawhi Leonard To Punk The Warriors In Oakland

Illustration for article titled The Raptors Didn't Even Need Kawhi Leonard To Punk The Warriors In Oakland
Photo: Ezra Shaw (Getty)

Last week, the Warriors traveled to Milwaukee and avenged their early-season loss to the Bucks with ease, dispatching one of their possible Finals opponents without ever having to do to much. They clearly made a point of putting the Bucks in their place—increasingly rickety Andre Iguodala played 28 minutes and hasn’t seen the floor since—and one would have assumed that the Warriors also planned to do the same to the Raptors last night, who beat the Curry-less Warriors in a thriller two weeks ago. Not so much!

Toronto came to Oakland on the second night of a back-to-back, without Kawhi Leonard, and they stomped out Golden State with authority, 113-93. It was a tip-to-tail asskicking: every Warriors starter went at least -10; Steph Curry was held to just 10 points; Kyle Lowry broke out of his horrible slump with his best game since he called out GM Masai Ujiri. Everything clicked for Toronto, and they did it all despite playing without their MVP and losing Jonas Valanciunas to a wayward Draymond Green swipe early on.

Without Leonard around stealing basketballs via ESP, there’s not much obviously sexy about the Raptors. Serge Ibaka has had a resurgent season as the starting “center,” but he’s not punting shots into the upper deck anymore, he’s simply shooting, I kid you not, 69.4 percent on long two-pointers this season. Pascal Siakam is becoming an excellent defender as he learns to control his limbs, which are significant, and the rest of the team fits together harmoniously. It doesn’t have to be exciting for it to work; their best highlight last night was, I dunno, this Greg Monroe post move on Shaun Livingston?


Monroe has been an afterthought for years, but he played ably in Valanciunas’s stead, which I suppose speaks to Toronto’s greatest strength: depth. A healthy Raptors squad can go 11-deep with real NBA talent, and it’s hard to find too many minus-defenders in the bunch. Lowry is the clear floor general, and they have two backup point guards who can run the offense when he sits. All their wing dudes are switchy terrors who can play on both ends of the floor, and they can stagger OG Anunoby, Leonard, Siakam, and Danny Green such that they have a tremendous wing defender to harass an opposing star on the court for all 48 minutes.

The bench was a big part of Toronto’s rise to the one-seed last year, though the limitations of the team’s depth were exposed when they were utterly humiliated by the Cavs in the playoffs. Who cares about your ninth man when LeBron James can obliterate your entire team? Leonard changes that calculus, as does James’s fortuitous exit. Kawhi’s two-way brilliance snaps the rest of the team into place. The defense is just as good as it was last year, but it looks significantly more aggressive. Curry chalked up his 3-for-12 shooting night to Fred VanVleet’s relentless pressure.

As for Curry and the Warriors, they looked either unwilling or unable to cope with Toronto’s energy. Steve Kerr seemed to think his team was just sort of tired and unmotivated for a regular season game after going to the Finals four years in a row, saying, “I can’t really explain it other than we’re now in a place where we’re defending a title and defending sort of a mantle that we’ve had for several years and it’s a different vibe, it’s a different feeling than when you’re on the climb than like Toronto is, like Milwaukee is, like we were a few years ago.”


Kevin Durant seemed to be the lone Warrior who got up for the game yesterday, as Draymond Green managed two points in 25 minutes and Klay Thompson missed all five of his threes. Thompson’s poor three-point shooting this year aside (he’s only shooting 35.3 percent, easily the worst of his career), the biggest change in this year’s Warriors team seems to be their startling lack of depth. With Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston slowing down, it’s hard to find a non-star Warriors player who can do more than one productive basketball thing.

Jonas Jerebko runs around a bunch, Quinn Cook can spot up, Kevon Looney is tall, but nobody can be a consistent plus on both ends of the floor. The Warriors’ stars look, now more than ever, surrounded by a group of undeveloped specialists, pegs who can fit precisely into a round hole alongside Durant and Curry. However, they get DeMarcus fucking Cousins back soon, and their stars are all clearly coasting right now, so there’s no need to worry or anything just yet.


But that doesn’t put an asterisk on the Raptors’ regular season sweep of Golden State. They became only the second Eastern Conference team to sweep the Warriors during the Steve Kerr era, and the first to do so against a Warriors team that was not resting their stars before the playoffs. They earned it, and all I can hope for now is that they meet again, this summer, at full-strength.

Staff writer, Deadspin

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