Things were really bad for the Toronto Raptors, and then got really good. After dropping the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, the ‘dinosaurs’ flipped the switch and went from imminent extinction to utter dominance. Led by robot super-assassin, Kawhi Leonard, Toronto even swiped the first game of the Finals against the favored Warriors. Attempting to rectify its long history of “almost there’s,” the Raptors were playing like a team of destiny—until suddenly they weren’t. After a monumental third quarter collapse in game two, the Raptors blew a double-digit lead, and eventually the game. They now head to Oracle tied up and desperately needing to relocate their magic, because if they don’t, things might get really bad again. Here’s what they can do to steal back the momentum and return to Toronto in a position to win the series:
Playmaking from Kawhi
As we’ve seen so far this series, Golden State is plenty content to let anyone but Kawhi beat them. They’ve been sending doubles, forcing the ball from his hands, and its yielded mixed results. In game one, Kawhi was quickly finding the open man and his numbers show: five assists and only two turnovers. Game two, he wasn’t as effective, turning the ball over five times to three assists (largely in part to the poor shooting as a team). Playmaking for others has never been a featured part of his game, but now it needs to be. Too often Kawhi is dribbling away from the doubles into tough, contested twos. If he can be a willing passer, trusting his teammates to bounce back and hit their shots, they should be able to find great looks all game long.
Confidence from everyone else
Confidence is one of those elusive things in the NBA that can be the difference between a player swinging a series and finding himself benched. Fred VanVleet has been the perfect example, going from looking nearly unplayable to sinking 14-17 threes in a three-game stretch. The difference? His confidence. He started stepping into his looks without hesitation and creating chances at the hoop with purpose, and the basketball gods rewarded him with makes like this. Regardless of score or situation, the Raptors need to be approaching games like they know they can win, which is a tall task in the hostile Oracle environment. History tells us that role players typically play much better at home than on the road, but the Raptors don’t have the luxury of waiting these games out, especially now that they don’t hold home court advantage. Golden State is going to do everything they can to take Kawhi’s scoring out of the equation, which means everyone else needs to be up for the task. Toronto needs game one Siakam—tirelessly attacking the rim—and game one Gasol—stepping into open threes and diligently finding cutters. If the game two versions of those guys show up, though, they’ll be in big trouble.