It was an impossible ask. In the past two postseasons, the Toronto Raptors had cycled through role players, specialists, and everything in between for the job. For a decade and a half, the entire NBA had filtered through potential solution after potential solution; in the last seven postseasons, the Eastern Conference has had no answer, and the occasional Western Conference solution — a zone defense before he could really shoot, ultra-defender Kawhi Leonard, NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala — was fleeting or required serious reinforcement to be repeatable. It is the league’s most unreasonable request of even the most polished, gritty, or experienced.
Yet here the Raptors were, on their third consecutive attempt to topple the Cleveland Cavaliers, turning the most difficult defensive assignment in basketball over to a 20-year-old rookie selected outside of the lottery. OG Anunoby would be the primary defender on LeBron James, and nobody was batting an eye.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in OG,” Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said before the series. “I have faith in him to go out there and do what he’s done all year: play well. The way OG is, his mannerisms, the way he carries himself, he’s a quiet confident kid. I know he’s looking forward to the opportunity.”