Toronto Raptors were a testament to fit over talent in title charge

Toronto Raptors (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

More often than not, the most talented team in the NBA wins the title. Occasionally, though, the team with the best fit takes the spoils, and that was the Toronto Raptors this past season.

Still living on Cloud Nine after their first-ever victory in their first-ever appearance in the NBA Finals, the Toronto Raptors can proudly say they are NBA Champions. A title only a handful of teams can possess. Most players spend their whole careers searching for a shot at championship glory and fall short.

On occasion, some of of the greatest players in league history don’t even sniff the chance. Look at Chris Paul, a point guard that could well go down as one of the all-time greats and he only appeared in his first-ever Conference Finals at the tender age of 32 – his first season with the Houston Rockets.

Now, at a rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder, he may never get that chance again. The same can be said for Steve Nash, a two-time MVP and one of the greatest point guards of all-time. He, too, never made an appearance in the NBA Finals – instead, only ever getting as far as the Western Conference Finals.

A lot of that, of course, is down to sheer luck. Paul, in his later years, has been subdued by the dynastic nature of the Golden State Warriors. In any other year, he could have had a Finals appearance with the Houston Rockets – and even the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Warriors, for all of their detractors, were the most talented team in NBA history during their five-year stretch. That talent was enough to get them over the line on multiple occasions, and other times it wasn’t enough.

In the 2015-16 season, the basketball Gods had their say in one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history. The Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, were down 3-1 in the NBA Finals before rallying back to win the series. Talent, yes. Luck, yes. But a whole lot of heart. Any other team would have just lied down and accepted their fate.

Other teams, it’s not always the most talented team that take the spoils. Other times, it’s the team that is hand-crafted, chosen carefully and put together in meticulous fashion, making sure that every player has sufficient value and worth in the quest for greatness. It’s the team that value fit over talent.

That team, by all accounts, was the Toronto Raptors.

That’s not to say that the Raptors were not a talented team. That would be a straight-up lie, which would not be ideal. The Toronto Raptors of 2018-19 were a tremendously talented team, and a large core of that team still exists today – so they still are a tremendously talented team.

But, it would also be logical to suggest that there were teams that had the edge over the Raptors in talent.

For example, the team that ran the Raptors closer to elimination than any other team: the Philadelphia 76ers. On paper, the Sixers had the best starting line-up in the NBA last season.

A team that possesses a starting line-up of Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid is destined for greater things. Five extremely talented individuals stuck together in an attempt to win a title. Talent-wise, they had all the boxes checked.

The fit just never felt right, though. Ben Simmons, the often-compared heir to the throne of LeBron James, often felt like a passenger in the series, plonked in the dunker spot underneath the rim.

As a three-point shooting team, there wasn’t a lot of value, either. J.J. Redick was the only true floor-spacer on the team but the Sixers, thanks to pure talent and some nice adjustments from Brett Brown, took the Raptors to seven grueling games.

Matched up in talent, the Sixers definitely had the edge of the Raptors starting lineup. The Raptors had the fit, though. Every player on the team knew their assignment and their overall worth to the team.

From Kawhi Leonard being the team’s primary scorer to Marc Gasol and his incredible interior defense and passing, each player’s fit was highlighted by the fact that they meshed so well with everyone else on the team.

The Raptors offense was deemed to have two fully functional, but entirely separate, regiments to it in the first half of the season. There was the offense, and then there was Kawhi Leonard, a whole other entity.

Initially, the fit seemed to raise concerns on whether or not Leonard could mesh into the Raptors pace-and-space style of game. Those concerns were eradicated early in the playoffs.

Leonard seamlessly slid into the Raptors style of play while still being able to rely on the isolation-heavy style of play that made his playoff run so incredible.

Even when the Raptors ran a healthy dosage of Leonard in isolation, the other Raptors knew their role. Kyle Lowry functioned as the team’s primary playmaker, with Danny Green providing steady perimeter defense and shooting, Pascal Siakam was the team’s functional transition player, while providing the best defense on the team, and Marc Gasol was an interior presence, mixed with some deft passing.

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There were no question marks around the fit of the roster. Everyone served a purpose that highlighted other teammates strengths. The Raptors were a supremely talented team en route to their first-ever NBA title, but the fit of the team exercised the belief more than anything else.

Talent is talent, but sometimes it’s all about the right pieces at the right time.