How the rosters stack up
Enough dwelling in the past; let’s start talking about who is going to be suiting up for both teams. If the Toronto Raptors learned one thing during their time in the bubble, it’s that the bench is ready for war.
Long the pride and joy of Raptors Nation, the bench mob disappeared for a beat during last year’s playoffs. At times during their series with Milwaukee, head coach Nick Nurse was forced to shorten his rotation to eight, putting more exertion on an already exhausted Lowry and Leonard.
This season, there’s a feeling around the team that no such absence will occur. En route to their 7-1 bubble record, the Raptors have had the opportunity to give their starters some rest.
This has allowed the bench to test themselves against the league’s best. And they passed with flying colours.
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Chris Boucher, who played sparingly in last year’s playoffs, has now established himself as a bona fide bench threat. Terence Davis, who has already started a couple of games in the bubble, remains the Raptors’ X-factor.
On top of those two more well-known names, some Raptors deep cuts are proving they have what it takes too. Matt Thomas is shooting 50 per cent (12/24) from three since the restart, and Paul Watson, who has played a grand total of nine NBA games, came out of nowhere to drop 22 points on the Denver Nuggets in the Raptors’ final regular-season game.
And that’s to say nothing of this from Stanley Johnson. This team is deep, unified and experienced; a recipe for success in the pressure cooker that is the NBA playoffs. As far as the Raptors’ starting five goes, well, you know what they can do.
If Davis is the Raptors’ X-factor, then Brooklyn’s is one Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Already with a couple of 20-plus point performances in the bubble, the native of Cannes, France is opening eyes around the league.
The man they call TLC is shooting 45 per cent from three, despite already having lofted up 51 attempts from beyond the arc in Florida. His shooting touch, along with that of 2018-19 three-point contest winner Joe Smith, means no lead is safe when you’re playing Brooklyn.
The list of players to have scored 50 points or more in a game this season reads like an all-star team. Featured (among others) are James Harden, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and… Caris LeVert?
Indeed, Brooklyn’s LeVert dropped 51 in an overtime win against the Celtics this season, somehow making it over the half-century mark despite a tepid 14-point performance through the first three quarters. LeVert exploded in the fourth and overtime periods, pouring in 37, including a six-foot running floater that put the Nets ahead for good.
Even with the extreme layoff, LeVert hasn’t lost his touch. The Michigan product even drew praise from bubble royalty Lillard after putting up 37 points against the Trail Blazers:
"“They play with a lot of effort, they play together, they believe. And Caris LeVert is cold.“"
With Durant, Irving, Jordan and Dinwiddie sidelined, LeVert is Brooklyn’s top threat.
With that being said, a comparative analysis at each position shows distinct advantages for the Toronto Raptors across the board. The Nets lineup they will see come playoff time is chock full of role players built to play complementary basketball with a superstar, but not made for slaying the defending champions all on their own.
When Durant and Irving return next season, the Nets and Raptors are going to be doing a lot more jockeying at the top of the Eastern Conference. For now though, the on-paper advantage lies with Toronto.