The opening minutes of the Raptors’ 118-109 Game 1 victory over Golden State on Thursday made clear the Finals would provide a sharp contrast to Toronto’s Eastern Conference finals matchup against the Bucks. The blueprint to beating Giannis and the Bucks featured a severely slowed pace, with Toronto milking the shot clock as Kawhi Leonard pounded the rock. The Raptors ripped off four straight wins to advance past Milwaukee, setting up a battle with the (for now) Durant-less Warriors. Another slog was likely in store for Toronto in Game 1.
The hypothesis quickly proved incorrect, though, as the Raptors sprinted past Golden State from the jump in Game 1. Kyle Lowry blazed up the court after made baskets and Marc Gasol slung outlet passes to Pascal Siakam. The rested Warriors were blitzed as the Raptors continued to storm the tin. A Kawhi-led grind fest may arrive later in the series, but in Game 1, the Raptors were all systems go.
Toronto’s run-and-gun pace on Thursday benefited no player more than Pascal Siakam. The 25-year-old whirling dervish—and potential Most Improved Player—tallied 32 points on the evening on 14-of-17 from the field, attacking Draymond Green with near-glee. His two first-half threes commanded a shred of respect, and inside, Siakam went to work. He showed off an impressive hook over Green and a pretty 16-footer following an offensive board. Siakam paired his half-court growth with his usual gazelle strides down the floor on the fast break, forcing a Golden State timeout after a made layup in the third quarter. Siakam was the best player on the floor on Thursday, and the energizer behind the Raptors’ impressive offensive effort.
Siakam shined the brightest in transition, but Toronto more than held its own when the contest slowed. Marc Gasol deserves a large share of the credit. The 34-year-old channeled the best of his Memphis days in the first half and showed off an evolved three-point stroke. His first triple of the night came in typical fashion. He received the ball at the top of the key with little instinct to shoot. The gears turned in his head as he lined up a shot, realizing it would be the Raptors' best opportunity. He pulled the trigger hesitantly, but an early three set the tone for a fantastic night. Gasol ended the evening with 20 points and seven boards. Big Spain officially has his groove back.
Gasol’s defensive effort was arguably more impactful than his offensive aggression. Toronto’s length swarmed Steph Curry at every turn, hedging hard on the pick-and-roll in the second half. Against Portland, Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard provided little deterrent for Curry, who shimmied his way to open threes and easy dump-offs to Draymond Green. Gasol, Siakam and Leonard hugged Curry with their tree-like limbs, limiting the Splash Brothers to 16-of-35 from the field. The Durant absence was manageable against a middling defense in Portland. Toronto’s personnel and schematic intelligence overwhelmed limited the Golden State machine.
It’s a bit jarring to discuss Game 1 without mentioning Leonard's 23 points, but his contribution on Thursday was often one of a defensive specialist. Leonard made just five field goals, with 10 points coming from the free-throw line. He spent many possessions largely out of flame, refusing to indulge his isolation tendencies. Leonard will have to bail out Toronto at some point in the Finals, though he’s likely content to sit back as Toronto’s supporting cast steals the show.
Curry and the Warriors remain the series favorites heading into Game 2, with three home games left and a potential return for Durant looming. Green will likely force tougher looks from Siakam and Toronto’s outside shooting could be bound for some regression. A long series awaits, even if Durant remains sidelined. But Toronto’s Game 1 victory provided a clear blueprint for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. If Siakam, Gasol and Co. continue to step up around Leonard, Toronto could ultimately dethrone one of the NBA’s great dynasties.