In this time of celebration and rejoice, it’s time to take a look back at the Raptor’s 2019 NBA season, to remember and cherish not only becoming NBA champions but also the moments that led us there.
This past offseason was a big one for us—we traded away our best player DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs (we got super-star Kawhi Leonard in return, but his health was still uncertain at the time). We fired our head coach Dwayne Casey. Casey had been a stellar coach; more impressive than his clinching of the 2017-2018 Coach of The Year award was the fact that he coached the Raptors to 5 straight seasons with an increasing number of wins every single year. Last year, under Casey, we won 59 games, which was the best record in the Eastern Conference.
We replaced Casey with Nick Nurse, someone who had never been a head coach in the NBA. Yet when the season first started we saw what we had hoped for: We won all six of our first six games. We looked like a team that was well put together, with stellar defense and stellar offense. When close games near their ends, defenses tighten up. Players rarely get easy or open looks at the basket in clutch moments.
Yet our offense didn’t struggle much: We had a monster of a scorer in Kawhi. Kawhi has not historically been a prolific scorer, but this year he made many tough shots late in close games. He’s strong enough that opposing players can’t really affect his shots without committing fouls. But even more impressive than his top-tier finishing is his ability to get his shots off. Late in games he’ll often dribble his way to a fade-away jumper. Fade-away jump shots aren’t easy to make—the shooter pushes off the ground backwards to get uncontested shots. So while opposing players can’t contest fade-away shots nearly as well as they can contest regular jump-shots, the momentum and movement of the shooter during a fade-away drastically changes how hard they shoot the ball.
But Kawhi does it all the time: multiple times during the regular season, Kawhi Leonard has taken and made these shots over and over when we needed scoring at the end of games.
Even in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, where the Warriors were desperately trying to stave off elimination, Kawhi scored 10 points in just 2 minutes, late in the game. This scoring run gave the Raptors a 5 point lead with just 3 minutes left in the game. This clutch-Kawhi factor has saved the Raptors many a time, and even if Kawhi doesn’t stay in the Toronto Raptors, he’s led us to the first ever Canadian NBA Championship.