They lost their first game of the playoffs to the Orlando Magic. They trailed the Philadelphia 76ers 2-1 and needed a Game 7 buzzer-beater to advance. They trailed the NBA’s best team 2-0 before reeling off four straight over the Milwaukee Bucks.
And after a dominant Game 3 win over the Golden State Warriors, the Toronto Raptors are now in the driver’s seat to pull off an improbable NBA Finals victory.
Oddsmakers are hesitant to call the Raptors, who now lead 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, the favorites. They’re -106 on 888Sport, -110 on PointsBet and -102 on FanDuel, all slight underdogs compared to the Warriors (-114, -110 and -114 on those respective sportsbooks.) You can also check out the latest NBA Finals odds here.
It’s clear that they’re respecting the dominance of the Warriors and the fact that, when heatlhy, there isn’t a better team on paper. But Toronto’s 2-1 series lead feels different. There are a number of factors in their favor that make them prohibitive favorites moving forward in the Finals.
Raptors Win Critical Game 3
Above all else, the Raptors hold a 2-1 series lead. That’s obviously important in the race to four victories, but consider just how critical Wednesday’s Game 3 win was:
In all 2-2-1-1-1 series, the team that wins Game 3 goes on to win the series 70.7% of the time.— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) June 6, 2019
If the home team wins Game 3 to go up 2-1, they go on to win the series 58.9% of the time. However, if the road team steals it, they go on to win 85% of the time. https://t.co/ZyMhpbedZX
The Raptors will head back to Toronto with home-court advantage even if they’re unable to pull off another upset in Game 4. The Warriors now need to beat the Raptors in three out of the next four games, and Toronto hasn’t had a 1-3 stretch that included two home losses since the end of January.
The Raptors have won an NBA-best 41 home games this season, and their 41-12 record is third best behind Milwaukee and Denver.
The series shifted in their favor with that Game 3 victory, and they no longer need another win at Oracle Arena, so long as they take care of business at home in Game 5 and a potential Game 7. For all the talk of how important Game 5s are, Game 3 winners see just as much success.
If Toronto wins the series, we will likely look back at Game 3 as the turning point.
Even if the Warriors get back Thompson and Durant, admittedly a fearsome duo who could shift the momentum of the series, the Raptors are simply in too good of a position. They’re seizing the moment.
Toronto is Healthy and Heating Up
You know the injuries the Warriors are facing. They were without Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney in Game 3. The Warriors went 10 deep in a Finals game, an unthinkable number given the circumstances but a necessary one at that.
The Raptors? Knock on wood but they appear as healthy as ever. That mysterious leg injury that Kawhi Leonard was nursing in the Bucks series has disappeared; Leonard is averaging 29.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists in the Finals.
Pascal Siakam’s calf injury isn’t a hindrance if his 20.7 points and 8.7 rebounds are any indication, and role players like Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and Danny Green are all stepping up in major ways that led to an historically good Game 3 performance.
Raptors shot 52% from the field, 45% from three, and 95% from the line...— Chris Black (@ByChrisBlack) June 6, 2019
It's the 3rd 50/40/90 team game in NBA Finals history...
1986 Celtics Game 2 vs Rockets
2017 Warriors Game 2 vs Cavs
2019 Raptors Game 3 vs Warriors
The Warriors simply don’t have an answer for the Raptors right now. For as critical as Durant and Thompson are as scorers, Golden State is missing their defense even more. And having to play DeMarcus Cousins over Looney has proven to be a significant downgrade; Marc Gasol is averaging 14.3 points on 50% shooting in the series.
Sometimes health makes all the difference (just ask the 2015 Cavaliers). It certainly appears to be that way for the Raptors. And don’t expect Kyle Lowry to be disciplined by the NBA for this dust-up with a fan last night.
If Steph Curry wasn’t forced to miss a game in 2016 for accidentally throwing his mouthpiece at a fan, Lowry won’t be penalized for this.
Kawhi a Great Bet For Finals MVP
Steph Curry is still the favorite to win his first Finals MVP (-114), but that just means we love Leonard’s odds of -106 even more. He’s the only real logical choice if the Raptors come out on top. While it is just an award for the Finals, Leonard has been the MVP of the postseason and the main reason Toronto is here in the first place.
He’s also dominating the series. Leonard’s 29.0 points have come on 43% shooting (a decent figure considering the attention he’s receiving and being guarded by Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green), 33% from deep and 92.3% from the free throw line. In fact, he’s been historically good from the charity stripe in addition to his other numbers.
Kawhi Leonard is 36-of-39 from the free-throw line over the first three games of the Finals.— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) June 6, 2019
The only player ever to make more FT's over the first three games of any NBA Finals was Jerry West
We like the Raptors to finish off the Warriors, making Leonard the obvious candidate for Finals MVP. Despite everything that Toronto is getting from its role players, Leonard will be the one to carry them to the finish line and the Larry O’Brien Trophy.