It started off in dramatic fashion, with Masai Ujiri trading franchise hero and long-time Raptor, DeMar DeRozan, to the San Antonio Spurs for the taciturn and distant, Kawhi Leonard.
Emotionally, it was a tough move. The Raptors had to give up one of the greatest players in franchise history for a potential rental. Your heart probably said no, for a brief moment anyway, but the head was always going to say yes.
The ambition was clear: take this team as far as humanly possible. An NBA Finals trip, something that no Raptor team has ever done before.
The bar was set higher than any year prior heading into this season because the team was far more talented than any Raptors team. So, while a trip to the Finals was a big step up, it was the necessary step up.
Now, they are two wins away from their first-ever trip to the NBA Finals, with a talented Milwaukee Bucks standing in the way of their wildest dreams.
Some passes were so off that it was unimaginable from the moment the ball left Bledsoes hands that any Buck could receive it. On others, Bledsoe passed on an open route to the basket. The inverse was also true; Bledsoe pulled up when he shouldve moved the ball. Mastering the halfcourt requires mentally picking apart the defense in real time, and often, especially on drives to the basket, it seems like Bledsoe was thinking two seconds behind. Hes a fake-it-til-you-make-it kind of driver, with the caveat that he often does not make it.
Whatever happens to this team, whether they lose the next two games and bow out in six, take the Bucks to seven games or even put the sword into the team with the best record in the NBA this year, make no mistake: this Raptors team is the greatest team ever assembled north of the border.
The regular season might not have been a record-setting season, but even with Kawhi Leonard missing 22 games along with the Raptors dealing with an overabundance of injuries, including long lay-offs for Fred VanVleet, Jonas Valanciunas, and Norman Powell, the Raptors still managed to cruise to 58 wins — one win shy of their franchise record set last year.
Midway through the season, the Raptors rolled the dice one more time, in an attempt to get even better. That signaled the arrival of one-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best passing big men of all-time in Marc Gasol.
But Bledsoes game-high four turnovers tell another story, one of impulse and forced passes and 3s. His hasty decision-making makes it seem like Bledsoe would be one of those says exactly what hes thinking and regrets it later-type hangs, which, yeah. And to add to that predisposition, Bledsoe always dials up his personal speed from intense to positively twitchy in close games, which Game 5 was throughout.
Gasol raised the ceiling of the team exponentially and his arrival saw the team jump to the top of the standings in three-point percentage and fourth in assist percentage.
His addition only added to the notion that this team was one of the premier teams in the NBA. They were ready to challenge for a title this year, the window was open for a potentially limited time.
The Raptors have technically been here before, in 2016. But let’s not compare this team to that team. That year felt like a “happy to be here moment” and nothing more. That was the beginning of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavalier clowning the Toronto Raptors for three straight years.
Those days are over now, and it’s a new chapter for the Toronto Raptors. Kawhi Leonard is leading the team, with the ever-present Kyle Lowry, and the budding star, Pascal Siakam by his side.
Whatever happens against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, just know, we’re in rarified air for Canadian basketball as a whole. This team has taken the biggest step of all, exorcising its demons along the way.
It turns out that making it up as you go isnt as easy as Steph Curry makes it look, and that no-look passes are only cool when there is a teammate waiting to receive them. Im not sure what Bledsoe will bring to Game 6, but I am apprehensive. Can he … can he have a baby by Thursday?
And with a few big moments stuck in there, we’re watching the greatest Toronto Raptors team of all-time.
Eighty days have passed since Milwaukee re-signed Bledsoe to his four-year, $70 million extension. Only eight days have passed since the Eastern Conference finals began. Yet its been more than long enough to begin [watches a compilation of Bledsoes bricks] rethinking that contract.
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It gives you a little perspective, I guess, on life, VanVleet said Tuesday. Had to sit at the hospital all day, had a lot of time to think, obviously a plane ride back. It just changes the way youre looking at things. You are not so down on yourself about everything.
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