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NBA Finals

NBA Finals 2019: Which non-Kawhi Leonard Toronto Raptors player impressed you the most this postseason?

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VanVleet, Siakam, Lowry (NBA Getty Images)

The Toronto Raptors have won the NBA title and a huge portion of that falls on the shoulders of Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. He put together one of the greatest - if not the greatest - run in NBA Playoff history, but it wasn't just a one-man show the whole way.

Our NBA.com Staff debates which non-Kawhi Raptors player impressed us the most throughout this championship run.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Fred VanVleet impressed me the most.

After scoring 14 points in Game 1 against the Orlando Magic, VanVleet went 14 straight games without scoring in double figures. He then went nuclear against the Milwaukee Bucks, going 14-for-17 from the 3-point line in the final three games in the series, and came up big in the Finals, hounding Stephen Curry on one end of the floor and giving them a much-needed scoring punch off the bench on the other.

He also saved his best for last - 22 points off the bench in Game 6 to help the Raptors win their first title.

With how important every game is in the playoffs, it would've been easy for Raptors head coach Nick Nurse to lose faith in VanVleet early on in the process, if not by the Conference Semifinals then by the Conference Finals. But he didn't, and his trust in him paid off tremendously. The Raptors wouldn't have beaten the Bucks without him and he helped swing the Finals in Toronto's favour with his two-way play.

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): It's Serge Ibaka.

Toronto's entire postseason hinges on those four bounces of the ball on the rim at the end of Game 7. If Kawhi Leonard's shot doesn't drop, there's a chance they lose in overtime and it's a wrap. Had it not been for Ibaka, the Raptors would have been rolled in that game as he's the only player outside of Leonard that truly showed up.

It's easy to forget given how this entire team responded against the Bucks and Warriors, but it's not that long ago the Raptors were essentially getting by on the back of Leonard and not much else. Ibaka was masterful in that Game 7, hitting 3s off the dribble and terrorizing Joel Embiid on the offensive glass en route to finishing +22 in a game the Raptors won by two.

Were it not for Ibaka, Fred VanVleet's meteoric rise to folk hero status never would have taken place.
Were it not for Ibaka, Danny Green wouldn't have gotten his chance to once again catch fire in the NBA Finals.
Were it not for Ibaka, Kyle Lowry would have once again faced questions about coming up short in the playoffs.
Were it not for Ibaka, Pascal Siakam would have been doubted following a Philly series in which he really struggled.

Though he certainly had other big games throughout this magical ride, Ibaka to me stands out as the single biggest non-Kawhi reason the Raptors are now champions.

Alex Novick (@Anov_SN): The most impressive non-Kawhi Raptor for me is a guy who started the playoffs with an 0-for.

The stain on Kyle Lowry's career had been well-earned prior to 2019. He's had legitimate postseason struggles offensively, and shared major blame for Toronto's disappointing playoff exits. These were marked by bouts of lost confidence and ugly shooting slumps, which had ample opportunity for snowballing this time around. The aforementioned scoreless Game 1 against Orlando. Starting out the first three games of the Philly series just 2-of-14 from deep. A 2-of-9 shooting line in the opening game of the Finals.

But the 33-year-old found some youth and mental toughness, consistently bouncing back with big-time scoring performances, even getting better as the playoffs went deeper. He was the only Raptor to shoot over 50 percent in the Bucks series, steadying them with 19.2 points per game on 20-of-43 from the 3-point line. And Lowry's 23-points and nine assists on the road in pivotal Game 3 of the Finals might be the defining moment of his career.

Lowry 's resilience was the same quality that defined the Raptors throughout this great run. Kawhi Leonard was the hero, but Kyle Lowry's inspirational gut-check was just as critical.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I'm going with Pascal Siakam.

We saw the potential Siakam had last season, but when the playoffs came around, the moment got the best of the second-year forward. In 10 playoff games last year, he only reached double-digit scoring twice. His role was different, there's no question about that, but he only averaged 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

This season, Siakam proved just how great he can and will be. He should be the NBA's Most Improved Player and he was terrific for the Raptors in an increased role all regular season. But there was still a part of me that doubted he could keep that same level of consistency when the stage got brighter, and he proved me wrong.

He had a few massive outings - none bigger than Game 1 of the NBA Finals, where Siakam set the tone for the series by going for 32 points on a near-perfect 14-for-17 shooting from the field. Without that breakout performance, the Warriors could have stolen Game 1 on the road and changed the entire momentum of the Finals.

Siakam wasn't afraid of the moment this postseason and continued to do what he did all season for the Raptors, no matter how big the stage was. If he failed to match his production from the regular season, Toronto's run would have ended long before their opportunity to make history.

The future is only going to get brighter for the third-year forward.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): I was most impressed with Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.

I don't think Nurse is getting the credit he deserves for what he's done, not only in the regular season, but in the playoffs as well.

He's had to manage a roster that went through multiple trades, had his star player in and out of the lineup and had the burden of past franchise failures in the postseason weighing on his shoulders. He dealt with it all and coached the Raptors to their first ever championship.

When Fred Van Vleet struggled through two rounds of the playoffs, Nurse stuck with him until he found his rhythm. When Kyle Lowry was getting crushed in the media for not stepping up offensively, Nurse gave him the license to shoot more. When Danny Green couldn't throw a rock in the ocean, Nurse trusted him to figure it out.

He made the right adjustments game-to-game, series-to-series and cemented his legacy in just one season as an NBA head coach.

If that's not impressive, I don't know what is.

Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): I gotta go with Fred VanVleet

VanVleet came up time and time again for the Raptors, knocking down big shots from beyond the arc against the Warriors, but it was how he did it that made the difference.

He gave the Raptors a constant spark off the bench, but whenever a broken play ended with the ball in his hands at the end of the shot clock, VanVleet seemed to hit everything under pressure, sapping the Warriors of momentum and bailing out the Raptors.

VanVleet also made his presence felt on the defensive end in the series, harassing Stephen Curry on the perimeter, chasing him around screens and making him work for every bucket. From losing a tooth to getting seven stitches in his head in Game 4, VanVleet left everything out there for Toronto and set the tone for their desperation when they needed it most.

The dude is all heart!

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

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