Raptors shake off Game 1 curse with finality
Adrian Dy on May 31, 2019 01:47 PM
FILE - TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 5: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors is introduced before the game against the Houston Rockets on March 5, 2019 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
For the longest time, the Toronto Raptors' greatest foe in the postseason was themselves.
Entering the 2019 NBA Playoffs, the North had this unfortunate habit of digging themselves an early hole and daring themselves to get out of it. They were a horrid 2-13 in Game 1's, and while sometimes they would survive shooting themselves in the foot, against superior opposition ("LeBronto" says hi), they usually couldn't.
These Playoffs started much like it had in the past. The Raptors dropped game one of their first round series against the Orlando Magic, getting outplayed by the likes of DJ Augustin and Evan Fournier. They rebounded by beating the 76ers in game one, and ultimately in game seven. That emotional game seven win versus Joel Embiid and company created a sort of hangover for the Raptors though, and they lost their first two versus the Bucks, before going to win four straight and the series.
Such was the legacy, and the expectations they had facing them ahead of these Finals.
There were plenty of reasons for the Raptors to lose Game 1. The Warriors were the fresher team, the more experienced team too, while Canada's squad could have been content to just have reached this far for the first time in franchise history.
There were plenty of chances for the team to be satisfied with their play within Game 1 as well. After a Klay Thompson triple gave Golden State a one-point lead with 5:37 left in the first half, the Raptors closed out strong and built a 10-point lead at the break. They successfully blunted a third quarter comeback with the help of a Patrick McCaw (former Warrior Patrick McCaw!) fling at the buzzer to still lead by seven after the penultimate period. And so when the Warriors bench mob got out to a hot start and pulled their side within a basket, 90-87, 10:38 left to play, it would have been understood if the Raptors clapped their hands and packed it in for Game 2, content at the effort they gave, well aware of the "curse" inflicted upon them.
Instead, the Raptors reached deep down and sprung a 10-1 run that robbed the air out of the Golden State Warrior sails.
"Well I think the big thing is you got to continue to play defense throughout the game," head coach Nick Nurse said during the postgame press conference. "We just said that some of those breakdowns will happen....But take it out and you go back down and you try to answer."
The Raptors finished shooting 50.6% from the field, including 13-of-33 from downtown (39.4%). The Warriors seemed intent on swarming Kawhi Leonard, leaving other guys wide open. In the past, those "other guys" missed those shots, but not tonight.
"Just keep shooting man," Danny Green, one of those "other guys" said. He finished 3-of-7 from three after going 4-of-23 in the Conference Finals versus the Milwaukee Bucks. "When you've go a shooting slump, you've got to keep shooting."
Had the Warriors won Game 1, without Kevin Durant, with DeMarcus Cousins still being eased back, it would have been an ill omen for the Raptors. It would have put a damper on the festive atmosphere at Jurassic Park and all the other mini-Jurassic Parks across Canada. It would have created that niggling doubt at the back of the players heads that this team, despite reaching this far, still wasn't that different from their predecessors, still couldn't win Game 1's, still couldn't set the tone like winners often do.
But the Raptors won, comfortably, and not only junked talk of that Game 1 curse, but also ended the Kerr-era Warriors' run of winning four straight Finals Game 1's too.
"We just stayed with it," said Kyle Lowry. "Stayed the course. Stayed with the game plan....Just stayed patient and played the game."
And got rid of that pesky Game 1 curse as well.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or ABS-CBN Sports.