The Raptors took down the Bucks on Saturday, 100-94, to clinch an NBA Finals berth for the first time in franchise history. With that series victory, Toronto seemingly vanquished the infamous Drake curse, exorcised the demons of past postseason failures and even vindicated Kawhi Leonard’s place as one of the top-5 players in the league.
In most years, this accomplishment would likely have been “enough” for a fan base whose team used have to sell tickets at drug stores to get people to come to games. The reason being that the Raptors’ next task is to face off against this generation’s greatest NBA dynasty: the Golden State Warriors. The fact that Toronto eventually found and exploited the kryptonite of every team they faced, adjusted game plans well enough to come back against the league’s best team by record and featured one of the greatest individual postseason performances with Kawhi Leonard emulating players like LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would mean absolutely nothing. Golden State would enter the finals and just destroy Toronto’s will to live under a barrage of threes and high-paced transition buckets, just like they do nearly every year.
But—as you probably have already guessed by the set up used earlier—this postseason doesn’t seem to be following the scripts that have been used these past few years. Sure, the Warriors are coming off a conference finals sweep against the Blazers that served more as a collection of inconveniences than an actual challenge, and the Raptors just finished a much more competitive and exhausting series, but there are so many compensatory factors that seem to balance the competitive scale. Toronto has home court advantage, Golden State is missing a whole-ass Kevin Durant, and Leonard has been consistently God-like in every game, whereas Steph Curry has actually disappeared a couple times. The fact that these teams have not faced off in a seven-game series makes these points open-ended enough that it’s not unreasonable to believe in the lie that the Warriors could actually lose this year.
This isn’t to say that the Raptors are guaranteed to do it as they have problems of their own: Leonard is hurt, Fred VanVleet’s recent success from three is unsustainable and Kyle Lowry is probably due for another seven-point performance. But Leonard did everything he did this postseason through that injury, and regressive performances can be fixed with teammates stepping up—an easier ask when up to four of the seven games could be played in a kinder home environment.
In other words, the issues that the Raptors are concerned with pale in comparison to what the Warriors have to deal with. Toronto also carries a heavier realistic hypothetical threat with it than Golden State does. Imagine Leonard becoming healthy enough defend Curry from full court. If he’s able to be even 80 percent as good against Steph as he was against Giannis, that forces someone else to take the scoring load for the Warriors. But no one really qualifies for that role on that team—consistently, at least. Klay Thompson could maybe have one breakout game against Lowry before the amount of times he’s forced to dribble catches up to him, Draymond isn’t dropping 45 on Pascal Siakim and if Marc Gasol was able to frustrate Brook Lopez, I can’t imagine Kevon Looney having more success. The only counter Golden State has to that is hoping their old guys can be mildly more successful on offense or that Curry, who has yet to have a standout performance in a finals series, breaks some personal postseason records.
All of that obviously isn’t as easy as I’m making it sound, but that’s part of the point of trying to convince yourself to believe a lie like this. There are so many unknowns that won’t begin to make themselves clear until Thursday that almost anything could be possible right at this moment. And the more you think about it, the more likely you’ll be able to actually think of ways that a team best known for being LeBron’s pre-finals meal could take out the goddamn Warriors.