Exclusive: Former Raptors coach Dwane Casey weighs in on team’s first NBA Finals appearance

The Toronto Raptors’ success this season shouldn’t be a huge shock.

After all, the Raptors have been among the league’s top teams for quite some time, winning 50-plus games in four straight seasons.

Former Toronto head coach Dwane Casey, of course, has followed the team throughout the playoffs. He saw the Raptors eliminate the Milwaukee Bucks, who had a league-best 60-22 record this season, in the Eastern Conference finals to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. (The Bucks swept Casey’s new team, the Detroit Pistons, in the opening round of the playoffs.)

The Raptors (58-24 in the regular season), guided by first-year bench boss Nick Nurse, play host to the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday night.

Big moves

Toronto bolstered its roster by making two significant moves. After losing all four games to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinals, the Raptors added veterans Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in an offseason trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs. They also acquired Marc Gasol in a February trade with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Casey’s thoughts

“It’s been interesting to watch but they are a totally different team with Leonard, Gasol and Danny Green,” Casey told Talk Basket in an exclusive interview this week.“They are three experienced players who I would have given anything to have on my team. With their experience and championship pedigree, they have the experience to win.”

Casey, the 2017-18 Coach of the Year who was dismissed by the Raptors a couple days after winning the award, sees obvious parallels between the Raptors’ rise to prominence and the Milwaukee Bucks’ ascent.

“Milwaukee is going through the same thing Toronto went through the last three years. Growing pains,” Casey said.

“Winning a championship and playing for a championship is very hard to do. It takes multiple times of being there to get over that hump. Just look at the history of the league and you will see teams struggle before they win big in the playoffs.”

Historic parallels

The Chicago Bulls immediately come to mind when thinking about the last point that Casey made.

In the early years of Michael Jordan’s legendary career, the Bulls experienced lots of postseason frustration.

Chicago fell in the first round to Milwaukee in 1985, followed by back-to-back first-round defeats to the Boston Celtics in 1986 and ’87. In 1988, the Bulls lost in the conference semifinals to the Detroit Pistons.

In 1989 and 1990, the Pistons eliminated the Bulls in the conference finals en route to consecutive championships. Then the Bulls ended years of frustration in 1991, sweeping the Pistons in the conference finals. By doing so, they reached the NBA Finals for the first time in the Jordan years. That year marked the start of Chicago’s first three-peat under legendary bench boss Phil Jackson.