);
Toronto Raptors

When we first believed the Toronto Raptors could win the 2019 NBA title

Last season, the Toronto Raptors made history by winning the franchise's first-ever title.

It certainly wasn't easy. The Raptors got the playoffs started with a loss to the Orlando Magic in the opening game of the first round. They then went to seven games with the Philadelphia 76ers before falling into a 2-0 hole against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Even the Finals were a whirlwind, with the Raptors losing Game 2 at home and Game 6 being an all-time back-and-forth.

Through all those ups and downs, when did it become clear that the Raptors were going to win the title?

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I want to say around Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

I had the Raptors beating the Bucks heading into the series, but it took a while for me to come back around on them after they fell into a 2-0 hole. Game 3 felt a little fluky to me at the time, especially with Kawhi Leonard hobbling the way he was for what felt like the entire game, and it still wasn't clear to me that the Raptors had figured the Bucks out after Game 4.

Game 5 was the turning point. Fred VanVleet had come alive, Leonard was looking healthier and the Raptors had made Giannis Antetokounmpo look human - by his standards, at least - for the third straight game.

As for the Finals, there was so much uncertainty surrounding Kevin Durant that I felt good about Toronto's chances. I thought it would be more competitive - I expected it to go to seven games - but I was all-in on them winning the championship after seeing how they bounced back against the Bucks.

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): After winning Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals.

Going into Oracle Arena and winning both games? That's the sign of a team ready for the moment. That's when I believed they could win it. But ... when did I think they actually would win it?

Honestly, not until the closing seconds of the clinching Game 6. Stephen Curry missed a great look with eight seconds left that would have put the Warriors up by two and potentially forced a Game 7. Even after Klay Thompson got injured towards the end of the third quarter, the Warriors hung around and were right in it. I've had a hard time ever counting the Warriors out and yes, even though I picked the Raptors to win Game 6 before it tipped, I wasn't confident they'd actually do it until moments before they actually pulled it off.

I still can't believe this shot didn't go in.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): After they won the Eastern Conference Finals.

This might seem a little harsh, but I really didn't believe the Raptors could truly win it all until after they beat the Bucks. When they went down 2-0 in the Conference Finals, I thought that was it. I had completely counted Toronto out.

It took until March for the Bucks to even lose two games in a row. I thought it was going to be impossible for the Raptors to potentially win four out of the next five games. Even when they won Game 5 in Milwaukee, I expected the league MVP and the NBA's best team all season long to kick things into another gear.

Once Toronto had rattled off four-straight against the Bucks, I started to buy in to their chances of knocking off the Kevin Durant-less Warriors. If KD was healthy, it probably would've taken until there was zero seconds on the clock of the Raptors' fourth win of The Finals to believe they had a chance!

I underestimated Toronto all season. I underestimated just how insane Kawhi Leonard was last season. I've learned my lesson.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): It's wasn't until Game 4 of the NBA Finals that I knew the Raptors had a chance of winning it all.

I had seen this from the Warriors before - their backs against the wall in a Finals series and being able to dig themselves out of a hole. They had to come back from being down 2-1 to defeat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015 before KD was there. They knew what it took to rise to the occasion without Durant - I expected them to be able to do it again.

What I failed to realize was this wasn't the same old Raptors and that Kawhi was a stone-cold closer.

Kawhi kept the Raptors in the game, scoring 14 of the team's 17 points in the first quarter, but Toronto still trailed by six. In the second period, he finally got some help and the Raps only trailed by four at the half.

Then it happened, the moment I realized the Raptors meant business and that the championship could truly come north of the border.

Leonard got the scoring underway in the third with a triple that rattled around the rim before finally falling. Then he ripped the ball from Draymond Green and hit a walk-up triple right in Green's grill to give the Raptors their first lead of the game. When that 3 splashed through the net, the travelling Raptor fans erupted. It also felt like whatever was said in the locker room resonated with the team and they were there to take not one but two wins from Oracle Arena.

The game would end up having nine lead changes in total, the last one coming with 4:00 to play in the third quarter when Serge Ibaka drilled a 3. When you look at the final score you tend to forget how close that game was and how the Raptors had to claw their way back into that game - and how they took the Warriors' best punch at the start in one of the toughest arenas in the league - and swung back and won.

Kawhi's back-to-back 3s was the moment I realized I was watching the better of the two teams head back home with a chance to close out the series and win their first-ever title.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): I'm with Scott, as I didn't really start believing that it could happen until Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

A lot happened in that game, but I always think back to Pascal Siakam's game-sealing dunk. And Serge Ibaka's passionate double fist pump on the baseline.

That the Raptors had just earned three straight wins over a Bucks team that only lost two in a row once all season was enough reason for me to believe that Toronto was capable of doing something special.

Meanwhile, on the other side of things, the Warriors were looking increasingly beatable without Kevin Durant as it took a few second-half comebacks to continue to fend off a Portland Trail Blazers team that wasn't as complete as the Raptors.

In short, after Kawhi's shot and the three straight victories, this started to feel like a team of destiny.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

More from NBA.com

#LeBron
LBJ takes over vs. Pistons in '07 playoffs
Benyam Kidane
LeBron James vs. Warriors in Game 1 of 2018 Finals
OTD: LBJ drops 51 vs. Warriors in G1 of 2018 Finals
Yash Matange
LeBron James
LBJ tops NBA's highest-paid players, per Forbes
Yash Matange
#LeBron
Rondo & LBJ's OT duel in 2012 playoffs
Benyam Kidane
this_is_60s.jpg
You can't tell the story of the 1960s without...
Scott Rafferty
The 1960s All-Decade Team
The 1960s All-Decade Team
Micah Adams
More News