Raptors Draw First Blood

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Raptors Take Game 1 of NBA Finals with Commanding 118-109 Victory

Rocking a signed Toronto Raptors Dell Curry jersey, Drake had no intensions to quiet down, taking a moment to talk trash to Draymond Green and Steph Curry after the conclusion of Game 1.

Drizzy definitely felt good at the conclusion of the first Finals game in Toronto Raptors history and so did the rest of the team and fanbase, as the Raptors went onto draw first blood, with a 118-109 victory.

The Raptors now have a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven series and they received it on a night in which the team’s two superstars, Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, did not have particularly brilliant shooting nights. The duo may have finished the night shooting a combined 7-for-23 from the field – good for 30 points – but it was their leadership, aggressiveness, ability to draw pivotal charges and their hard-nosed defensive efforts that proved to be all that the Raptors needed from them on this night.

For the offense came from the role players in Game 1, starting with Pascal Siakam, who exploded for 32 points on 14-for-17 shooting, taking it to the self-proclaimed “best defensive player ever”, Draymond Green. Making a couple of key three-pointers, Siakam had his shot going while still being aggressive in putting the ball on the basket, abusing the Warriors inside.

“It’s amazing and it just proves that if you put the work, and it’s something that it’s so cliché most of the time, but that’s the story of my life. Just going out there every single night, working hard to get to this level,” Siakam said. “Moments like this definitely shows that I’m going to continue to be myself and continue to work hard.”

Incredible on both sides of the court, Siakam put together one of the most impressive Finals debuts on both end of the court. Struggling at times in the past two series against bigger defenders of the calibre of Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Siakam was able to use his length and athleticism to take advantage against of a smaller Green. When guarding big men, Green prefers the less mobile type of centers and power forwards who would rather play with their backs to the basket, allowing Green to use his low centre of gravity to force his opponents to either go up for a tough shot or kick the ball out of the paint.

Siakam forced Green, a former Defensive Player of the Year, to remain uncomfortable on defense for the entirety of the night.

“Man, you know, I knew he was good. But this good is like — he’s out of control, no?” said Serge Ibaka in the Raptors locker room following the win. “Like, tonight, man — that boy was on fire. First NBA Final game. And he scored 30-plus? That’s amazing man. That’s amazing.”

Outside of Siakam’s big performance, Fred VanVleet Sr. carried his dad strength over into the finals, continuing to take the ball aggressively to the hole, while making a couple of clutch shots down the stretch, en route to finishing with 15 points. At long last, Danny Green came up huge, finally getting his rhythm going, cashing in three of his five three point shots on the night, including one massive three-pointer at the conclusion of the first half with a hand in his face. A consummate professional through and through, Green did not shy away from the criticism he received in the last round, but rather continued to show confidence in his shot while maintaining his plus defensive efforts on the other end.

Lastly, a huge question going into this series was how the Raptors were going to utilize Marc Gasol against a fast-paced Warriors team, that runs athletic and laterally quick big men such as Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell for the majority of the minutes. Gasol answered those concerns by abusing the Warriors with his size on Thursday night, scoring 20 points, while being his typical self on the defensive end, anchoring an incredible Raptors defense that once again, came to play.

“Their defence was great and it wasn’t our best night, but we just got outplayed, so simple as that. Move on to the next one,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.

Outside of the 34 points scored by Steph Curry, the Raptors did everything in their power to shut down the Warriors pick-n-roll game while closing out on shooters as much as possible. The Warriors made 12-of-31 three point shots, matching the Raptors in three-point percentage for the game (39%), but the Raptors were still able to hold their high-powered opposition to just 44-percent from the field.

“Well, I think the big thing is you got to continue to play defense all throughout the game,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “Even though you’re trying really hard sometimes and they will come down and they will make you look silly sometimes. They will hit, cut, boom layup, and you’re just like, man, how did that happen? That happened fast.

“We just said that some of those breakdowns will happen … But take it out and you go back down and you try to answer. You get a shot and you try to answer, and you try not to have any droughts on offence, because you know their ability to score quick.”

While the Warriors will go back to the film on Friday morning, there are still some things the Raptors will need to clean up. The bigger team in this series, the Raptors cannot afford to be out-rebounded by the Warriors (-2 in Game 1), and must establish their dominance on the glass in Game 2. The Warriors had nine offensive rebounds in Game 1, a couple of which came off of defensive breakdowns, leading to gut-punching three-pointers.

That being said, the Raptors did a good job at neutralizing the Warriors fast break game, while scoring a bunch of points themselves in transition. The Warriors, who tend to get cute with the basketball at times will continue to turn the ball over in this series and the Raptors must continue to take advantage of it.

“We’re not that familiar with this team, but that’s no excuse,” said Klay Thompson, who was held to 8-for-17 shooting in Game 1. “Our goal is to come [to Toronto] and get one. I know we’ll respond like the champions we are.”

With Kevin Durant all but ruled out for Game 2, the Warriors will need to respond on Sunday night. DeMarcus Cousins made his return on Thursday, but his slow-footedness and lack of in-game conditioning turning him into a liability as the big man finished with just three points in eight minutes.

Meanwhile, the Raptors, who’s aggressive pace set the tone in Game 1, will look to protect home court on Sunday. OG Anunoby may also be back and active in time for their Game 2 tilt. Taking Game 1 is huge, but there is still plenty of work to be done if the Raptors hope to bring a championship north of the border.

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