The Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors will play in the 2019 NBA Finals, and there are some serious San Diego connections in this championship series.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has lived in San Diego for years, while his assistant Mike Brown is a former University of San Diego basketball player.
As for the Raptors, sure everyone knows about former San Diego State Aztec Kawhi Leonard, but there’s also Norman Powell.
Powell was born in San Diego, graduated from Lincoln High School in 2011 and is now in his 4th year with the Raptors. Powell, 26, hears all the talk about Toronto being an underdog against the two-time defending NBA Champion Warriors, but he’s not buying it.
“We’re really excited to out and shock the world and prove we belong. We’re not satisfied just making the finals, our main goal is to win a championship.”
Powell gained footing early in his career as a defensive dynamo, his defense could be key in slowing down the Warriors offensive stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
“They’re a great team, with great players, hall of famers, it’s going to be a difficult task to stop the head of their snakes.”
Asked about the best way to defend the Warriors, Powell said, “It’s going to take everybody, you can’t single out one person or player who’s going to stop Curry, Thompson and Draymond. It’s going to take a full team being tied in.”
As a team, this year’s Raptors are as “tied in,” as any team in Powell’s four seasons in Toronto.
“I’ve been on this team since 2015 and it’s been a tough playoff run. My rookie year, we were two wins away (from the NBA Finals) battling Lebron, the next two years we get swept. It’s been a constant grind here to get over that hump and we’re able to do that this year. We have a great group of guys that really believed since day one of training camp, that really believed we could do something special and make history, we worked hard to achieve that goal.”
Powell has seen the Raptors ups and downs the last 4 seasons, now he’s in the middle of hoops history. On Thursday, the Toronto Raptors franchise will host its first NBA Finals game.
“You feel the vibes around city, it’s special what we’re able to do, create history,” he said.
It’s history that almost didn’t happen. In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Toronto trailed Milwaukee by 15 points in the second half. At that point, Powell said the Raptors other San Diego star stepped up to steady the team.
“In the huddle, Kawhi was saying enjoy the moment, stay together, we’re good, keep chipping away at it, keep working the ball on offense, stay patient and really lock in on defense, and that’s what we were able to do.
The Raptors followed Leonard’s advice, were able to rally and wrap up the series. It was Toronto’s third straight playoff series victory and Powell believes each series has prepared the team for what’s ahead with the Warriors.
“We’ve been battle tested in all three series we’ve had so far. We have guys that are selfless, give themselves up for the team, every game we grow and get better. Each game we’re more tied in on the offensive and defensive end, tied in like a family to keep going,” Powell said.
Powell’s minutes and statistics have increased as the playoffs have progressed, but maybe his most impressive stat is this - in the final four wins against Milwaukee, Powell’s plus/minus rating was +36. If Powell can duplicate those numbers against the Warriors, there’s a good chance Powell will raise his NBA profile and possibly raise the Raptors to hoops heights the franchise has never reached before.