The Raptors’ 125-89 Game 5 win over the Sixers on Tuesday night had to be what general manager Masai Ujiri envisioned when he traded for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in July 2018. The 2014 Finals MVP controlled the action as usual on Tuesday, bruising his way to 21 points and 13 rebounds as Green buried five threes. Paired with big nights from Toronto standbys Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam (19 and 25 points, respectively) the Raptors rolled to a 3–2 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The ceiling of the DeMar DeRozan era has been shattered. The Finals are within reach.
Toronto’s success remains driven by Leonard. He’s gone full Terminator in the Eastern Conference playoffs, entering Tuesday’s contest averaging 32.3 points per game on 58.7% shooting and 50% from three. Leonard is too big for Jimmy Butler and too sturdy to be bothered by Ben Simmons. He’ll bully his way to any spot he sees fit, leaning on jumpers from the elbow and push shots within ten feet. Only Kevin Durant boasts as efficient a midrange arsenal.
The Raptors still dropped Game 2 and Game 3 despite Leonard’s brilliance. Philadelphia is too talented to be dismembered by a one-man band. But a return to Toronto brought the re-emergence of Leonard’s supporting cast.
Tuesday marked Lowry’s best effort to date despite just five shot attempts. The bowling ball point guard finished with a plus-31 in 34 minutes, adding five assists. His strong night extended beyond the box score, collapsing Philly’s defense with drives to the tin while punishing any big left alone on an island. Lowry’s playoff demons stayed at bay on Tuesday night.
While Toronto’s longest-tenured player made a sizeable contribution Tuesday, its most-improved talent led the way with a team-best plus-35 along with a game-high 25 points. Siakam was a menace against Philadelphia. He destroyed passing lanes and sprinted past the Sixers on the fast break, gliding his way to a slew of dunks and lay-ins. Joel Embiid was gassed throughout the contest and couldn’t keep up. Tobias Harris couldn’t keep Siakam in check either, posting a ghastly minus-34 in 34 minutes. J.J. Reddick was predictably toasted on a pair of fourth-quarter possessions. The Siakam-Leonard duo is already downright terrifying on the defensive end, especially when paired with interior anchor Marc Gasol. When Siakam is scoring, Toronto’s wings are among the best in the NBA.
The current core in Toronto could be short-lived. A healthy Embiid and a raucous crowd will make for a difficult Game 6 environment in Philadelphia, and a second-round exit is still very much on the Raptors radar. Anything short of the Finals could send Leonard packing in July.
But Tuesday’s dominant effort was a testament to the roster Ujiri assembled after a 2018 sweep at the hands of LeBron. Toronto is home to arguably the best player in the East and a polished crew of battle-tested veterans. The Raptors are now one game from the Eastern Conference finals, and the Larry O’Brien Trophy is anything but a pipe dream. Neither would be the case if without Ujiri’s deal-making over the last 10 months.