Congratulations to the newly-minted NBA champs, the surprising Toronto Raptors!!! You caught the imagination – not only of that vast kingdom in the north called Canada – but of many, many more small territories in the south which have grown tired of bending their knees to the Warriors of the West(eros) world. It is time for the realm in the east to rule the land once more, with Kawhi Leonard as the new King in the North.
This year has been a great roller-coaster ride for the NBA, most especially for the Raptors. It could have been the 76ers, if that ball had not decided to roll in after 4 dramatic bounces in Game 7 of their playoff series. It could have been the Bucks, who led the Raptors 2-0 in the eastern conference championships, before a dramatic double-overtime loss in Game 3 turned the tide the other way. It could have been the Warriors still, if that dramatic spate of injuries to Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson et al had not held them at bay. And it could have been anyone other than the Raptors, if Masai Ujiri had not made that bold dramatic decision to roll the dice on the Kawhi Leonard trade. The gods in cage heaven have ruled: Raptors, you are THE chosen one. For now.
But beyond that, what have we learned from this year’s Finals series? Beyond praying for luck and all, what else should one prepare for?
Perhaps we start off with injuries. Injuries will play a big role in a campaign, especially come the playoffs. Injuries can and will happen, that’s true. But they can also be diminished or avoided. Toronto introduced a good innovative way to do that with their Load Management Program.
Toronto’s load management program worked 2-fold. First, it gave Kawhi enough time to rest and heal whatever injury – major or minor – he had. His break-in period with the team was so well-paced that he was ready and totally well-conditioned for the big-time grind and big-time bumps come the playoffs.
But other than that, the absence of Kawhi due to the load management program allowed the Raptors more playing time for the lesser stars to jell. And this would surface as a good thing come the playoffs. These Raptors would not be cowed while Kawhi was resting on the bench. And they kept delivering, with or without Kawhi. Fact is, in the championship-clinching Game 6 of the series, 3 players either had more points or equal that of Kawhi’s scoring output.
On proper load management, there is the issue of why Kevin Durant was allowed to play 12 of 14 minutes in Game 5 of the series. Knowing that he was coming from an injury, and for that matter was not fully healed yet, why was he given such a load immediately? That injury could probably have been prevented if he was not ‘overloaded’ with playing time. But then again, this is hindsight. One can never really say what would have happened then.
Masai Ujiri’s decisiveness to go for higher stakes by trading for Kawhi bodes well for the NBA. Today’s NBA landscape will look far different from previous years due to the growing trend of moving key players to different locations. There will be more dynamic action, injecting new scenarios, and introducing new alliances and patterns. Already, we hear of the Anthony Davis trade to the LA Lakers. This and more will make the NBA more interesting for the fans.
Finally, the Golden State era popularized the concept of small-ball basketball, a style of play that sacrificed height for speed, agility and increased scoring. Today – and I’m not saying this should be attributed to Toronto alone – we see the advent of positionless basketball, which is similar, though somewhat different from small-ball. Positionless ball emphasizes the skills of players like Kawhi, Paskal Siakam, the injured OG Anunoby, well-rounded players who can play all positions to make different match-ups favorable to Toronto.
The Toronto – Golden State match-up has been a fun and enlightening series to watch. It provided us great new insights of a new cage kingdom unfolding. It afforded us new ideas, new trends in playing this dynamic game. It unveiled a new cyborg-star in Kawhi Leonard. Here’s a toast to the NBA’s 2018-2019 season. And a toast too, to our new champions, the Toronto Raptors.
All hail, the King in the North!!!
For a closer look, just click on the pics. (Pics courtesy of: Oregon Live, Daily Herald, Mercury News, CBS Sports, Inquirer Sports, ABC Action news, China Daily, YouTube, Daily Express, NBA.com, My Bookie.)