When the Raptors go for the jugular today, their will be determined to move past the literal and figurative near misses they had in Game Five of the Finals. They were up by six points with three minutes and change to go, prompting behind-the-scenes preparations for their coronation as the finest of the finest of the National Basketball Association. Instead of firming up their date with living legend and Larry O’Brien Trophy presenter Bill Russell, however, they found themselves snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They called back-to-back timeouts that stunted their momentum. They missed five of their last six shots, including a wide-open three point attempt, and committed a costly turnover that helped the defending champion Warriors complete a comeback for the ages.
To be sure, the Raptors have ample reason to remain supremely confident of their chances to claim the championship. It isn’t just because they have the superior roster vis-a-vis that of the depleted Warriors. And despite being on the wrong end of a spate of developments in crunch time of their immediate past match, they know well enough to withstand pressure and preform to expectations. If nothing else, they have Kawhi Leonard, the series’ most transcendent player by far, to lean on, and, for motivation, a pristine 3-0 slate at the Oracle Arena through their 2018-19 campaign and heading into today’s set-to.
In other words, the Raptors are ready. In acknowledging that closeout contests are the hardest to take, they’ve steeled themselves for the worst possible eventualities. And, in this regard, it helps that they possess some leeway; they’re using the second of three chances to forge their desired outcome, with the first having imparted critical lessons and the last serving as a release valve that eases the pressure of performing under the gun. They know they’re favored to win, why they’re favored to win, and how they need only be themselves to win.
Parenthetically, the Toronto Raptors cannot but assume to encounter the Golden State Warriors’ best today, and in hostile territory to boot. The last thing they want is to underestimate the capacity of the hosts to rise to the moment and overachieve. Rather, they would do well to be mindful of the task at hand. Respect of their competition is critical to attaining respect from all and sundry. Opportunity beckons, and the extent of their answer will determine their place in history.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.