How the Raptors won the Finals and how the Lakers and Pelicans both won their trade.
It still feels surreal proclaiming that they are the 2018–2019 NBA Champions. They won their first title in franchise history since their creation in 1995 and won the first title for any Canadian team in all major North American sports since 1993.
This improbable run to the championship mostly fell on Kawhi Leonard’s broad shoulders and he was able to deliver a playoff performance for the ages.
He was, without a doubt, the best player throughout the whole playoffs. Carrying both the offensive and defensive load for the Raptors for a lot of stretches during the playoffs. His offensive game almost looked Jordan-esque with the way it was so easy for him to score either through his mid-range jumpers to drawing fouls and even spotting up for three pointers. He felt like he was just on a different level offensively because he could almost get any shot he could want when he faced single coverage.
Then when he faced double teams, which became more frequent in the later rounds, he showed that he had the ability to make the right decision and find the right pass to a teammate. It’s amazing to see the growth he has made offensively the past few years since he won his first Finals MVP five years ago.
Obviously, Kawhi made his name on the defensive end ever since he was drafted and it was also a vital cog in Toronto’s defensive schemes and efforts. The turning point of the Eastern Conference Finals was when Coach Nick Nurse decided to put Kawhi as the primary defender on Giannis starting Game 3 and it worked wonders and it led them to eventually win 4 straight games to get to the finals.
Kawhi’s importance and his cool, calm demeanor can’t be understated and he is the main reason these Raptors were not like the old Raptors who were easily rattled during tense moments.
Also really glad for Kyle Lowry, who has finally outgrown all the choker labels that were thrown at him the past few years and even after game 5 where he missed what could have been the game winning shot. He came out hot during the first half of game 6 and played one of his best playoff games ever.
This was also a coming out party for two of the Raptors young stars Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. They both played amazing in the Finals with Siakam surprisingly dominating his matchup with Draymond Green down low and VanVleet hitting almost every big three pointer the Raptors needed during clutch situations while also chasing around Steph Curry.
What an amazing journey it was for Nick Nurse as well who came from winning the G-League championship to winning an NBA championship in his first year as a head coach in the NBA. And when you watch the playoffs, you would be surprised it took him this long to be a head coach for an NBA team with how well he made adjustments and schemes throughout the whole playoffs. He outcoached Mike Budenholzer of the Bucks who might be coach of the year during the conference finals, and he outcoached former coach of the year Steve Kerr during the finals as well.
It was just a coaching masterclass from Nurse against Kerr in the Finals from the rotations he deployed and defensive schemes he put out against the Warriors. He decided to shorten his rotation to mainly 7–8 players that were capable on both offense and defense in some capacity. He went unconventional with starting VanVleet during the start of the second half to bother Steph Curry more and he was able to balance the production or the strengths and weaknesses of both of his centers, namely, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Gasol made great passes and defensive plays while Serge Ibaka was great as a pick and roll receiver either making open jump shots or standing by in the dunker spot making jump hooks or making dunks in the lane.
Nurse’s defensive schemes really were an important part of the Raptors winning the championship because the Raptors were able to contain what should have been inevitable Steph and Klay explosions throughout the Finals. When the Warriors ran a lineup with Steph as the only real offensive threat, Nurse deployed a box and one setup which is rarely seen these days to stop Curry from getting any sort of clean look from the three point line. His scheme really exploited the lack of shooting the Warriors had outside of Klay and Steph as the Raptors fully focused on them and just sagged from anyone else that weren’t threats from outside like Iguodala, Green, Livingston, Looney, or Cousins and none of those players really made the Raptors pay with their coverage. This ultimately was the Warriors’ downfall because no one else besides Steph and Klay could have contributed enough to put up a fight against a deeper Raptors team. And that’s why the Raptors became the NBA champions.
After all this, I hope Kawhi stays for at least one more year to try and have a chance at going to the Finals again and maybe meeting a different team from the Western Conference since the Warriors will most probably without Klay and Durant for a huge chunk of next season.
Anthony Davis Trade to the Lakers
Maybe that next Western conference contender could be the Los Angeles Lakers who had just given up their promising young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart for perennial all-star Anthony Davis who will be paired with LeBron James.
Honestly, when I found out about the trade, I felt more of a feeling of relief and contentment instead of a feeling of surprise or satisfaction like most people. I was just relieved that the deal finally went through after so many months of rumors and speculation of what the Lakers were willing to offer and if the Pelicans would even want to engage with the Lakers. People around the league kept telling the Pelicans not to pull the trigger just because they’re the Lakers even though the Lakers probably had the best trade package available.
It was getting toxic for the young Lakers players and everyone else on both the Lakers and the Pelicans side so I was glad that the deal finally pushed through to finally put some closure towards this whole Anthony Davis situation.
Offcourt drama aside, I thought this was a good deal for both teams as most trades should be. There aren’t any clear cut winners or losers in this trade because I felt that both teams got exactly what they wanted.
The Pelicans were able to get a lot of promising young talent in Ingram, Ball, and Hart along with the 1st and 4th pick of this year’s draft and a lot more draft picks so they have acquired a lot of great assets. The haul they got from the Lakers along with the inevitable №1 overall pick Zion Williamson will make for a fast and fun team in New Orleans.
Lonzo has always shown amazing potential in terms of his playmaking and defense. Ingram has shown flashes of being a great option on the offense as a primary ballhandler driving to the hoop and making plays. Josh Hart has shown that he can be a knockdown 3 point shooter and a decent defensive player willing to do all the dirty work. I’m excited to see how these former Lakers develop in the future now that they have a fresh start and a lot less pressure to win now.
For the Lakers, this trade has delivered what they have wanted ever since LeBron James arrived last year and that’s another huge superstar that should help him carry this team since LeBron isn’t getting any younger. Anthony Davis is still just 26 years old and he will most probably spending his prime years in Los Angeles.
The Lakers receive a once-in-a-generation talent so now they have two of those in their team. Any team with two Top 10 players in the league will almost always go straight to contention and I hope that is the case here as well. Anthony Davis is arguably the best teammate LeBron James ever had and fits almost perfectly with him. Davis can be a perfect pick and roll partner as he can roll hard to the rim and also pop out for either a midrange or three point jumper. He’s also an elite rim protector which helps make up for whatever defensive mistakes LeBron or the team makes.
With LeBron and now Anthony Davis in tow, this makes a more appealing pitch to potentially a third star through free agency who could be Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, or maybe even Kawhi Leonard. However, with a limited cap space for a max contract, I would be fine if the Lakers just spent the money trying to get proven veterans on affordable contracts to fill out the roster like Pat Beverley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Terrence Ross, or Dewayne Dedmon. This year’s finals showed that to stay on the floor, players have to the capacity to be serviceable on both offense and defense and that should be taken into account while filling out this Lakers roster.
Overall, for the Lakers, I hope that this truly is the start of something special for years to come. With two megastars on the roster, and enough cap space to get either another all-star or a number of serviceable veterans, this team looks to be a potential contender in the West now that the race is wide open.