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Finally, we have a different NBA Finals match-up. The four-year run of the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors was thrilling but ultimately predictable, with the mighty Warriors hoisting the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy at the end of three out of the last four seasons. I say “predictable” because, despite LeBron James’s brilliance, deep down we all knew it’d be Curry and Co. dancing in confetti at the end. In a way, the Warriors are a lot like the New England Patriots—both teams keep winning despite the hatred from opposing fanbases lobbed at them.
The Warriors used to be likable. But when former MVP Kevin Durant signed to the team as a free agent in 2016—adding to an already stacked squad that had just achieved the best regular-season record in NBA history—all hell broke loose. (To put this into perspective for casual or new NBA fans, Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for Golden State is like Mick Jagger ditching the Rolling Stones in their prime to play for the rivaling Beatles.) However, the move has worked out for the Warriors as they’ve steamrolled the Cavs in the last two NBA Finals, with Durant winning MVP in both years.
This year the Warriors face a new challenge: the Toronto Raptors, who are led by Kawhi Leonard, the man better known as the Claw (because his hands are extremely large for a human being). In the past two rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Toronto has proven to be a defensive beast thanks to a successful game plan that has slowed down Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center, Joel Embiid, and MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Toronto has demonstrated composure all playoff-long, most notably by winning an epic Game 7 game against the 76ers to advance in the second round, and by coming back from two games down against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. And there’s another twist this year for the Warriors: for the first time in the team’s five-year Finals run, they’re not beginning with home-court advantage. The series will start in Toronto this Thursday evening (May 30).
View this post on InstagramBALL GAME. CONFERENCE WIN!!!!!!A post shared by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on May 25, 2019 at 8:16pm PDT
BALL GAME. CONFERENCE WIN!!!!!!
A post shared by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on May 25, 2019 at 8:16pm PDT
So who will win the NBA finals? Will it be another year of dominance for the Warriors, arguably the team of the decade, or will the trophy be held in Canada for the first time in NBA history? Here’s my breakdown of both teams and my predictions.
It’s hard to compare the starters for both teams given that Durant’s availability for Game 1 is in question. (He’s still nursing that mysterious calf injury he suffered against the Houston Rockets almost three weeks ago.) Some NBA pundits have said that the Warriors are better off without Durant, though I’m of the belief that, while they may be more entertaining to watch, they are definitely not a better team without him. Let’s be real: Durant is REALLY good at basketball and, considering his length and lateral quickness, would be a very useful defender against Leonard. It’s a disadvantage for the Raptors that Durant’s injury timeline is unclear because they don’t know what Warriors line-up to prepare for. Golden State’s offensive game-plan is very different with and without Durant. However, both styles tend to be successful.
On the court, the Warriors are better at three out of the five positions. Despite his defensive liabilities, the Warriors’ Steph Curry is still the greatest shooter of all time and could probably beat a team singlehandedly. I expect the Raptors to give point guard Kyle Lowry the assignment of guarding him. Guarding Curry is like keeping track of a hyper dog, given his constant movement around the court.
After an excellent regular season, Raptors shooting guard Danny Green’s three-point shooting has fallen off of a cliff so he’s a bit of a wildcard in terms of what he’ll be able to do. The Warriors, meanwhile, have arguably the second-best shooter of all time in Klay Thompson, who will dominate this series if Green can’t keep up with him.
Draymond Green is by far the Warriors best defensive player and has looked incredible as of late. If he shuts down Toronto’s second leading scorer, Pascal Siakam, I think this series will be over quick. Siakam—also known as Spicy P—is only 25 years old and, at times, has seemed overwhelmed by the bight lights of the playoffs. He needs to continue being aggressive and start making those open-corner threes that have been given to him.
View this post on InstagramMore Spice for your headtopA post shared by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on May 15, 2019 at 6:06pm PDT
More Spice for your headtop
A post shared by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on May 15, 2019 at 6:06pm PDT
Kawhi versus Durant could be epic. It’s really a battle of Who is the best player in the league right now? At the moment, I’d say they’re even. When healthy, neither of them can be slowed down; however, both are dealing with nagging injuries with Durant’s being more serious. The difference, though, is that the Warriors still play at a high enough level to win despite Durant being absent or having a bad game. This isn’t the case for the Raptors and Leonard.
With Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors have more effective bodies than the Warriors to throw out on court. All of these guys have played starting at some point in their careers, and should provide valuable minutes for the Raptors. The Warriors’ bench is weaker and thinner, though they do have a wildcard in DeMarcus Cousins if he is able to recover from an injury.
The only reason I’m giving the advantage to Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is because of his experience. He has won three rings as a coach and another five as a player. However, I’ve been impressed with the Raptors’ first-year coach, Nick Nurse. He has been aggressive with his starters’ minutes and has created great defensive schemes, so I can see a scenario where he out-coaches Kerr.
View this post on InstagramBIG MOOD pt. 2A post shared by Golden State Warriors (@warriors) on Apr 30, 2019 at 9:33pm PDT
BIG MOOD pt. 2
A post shared by Golden State Warriors (@warriors) on Apr 30, 2019 at 9:33pm PDT
It pains me to write this but, ultimately, I believe that the Warriors will take this series. They have more experience and talent. This is their chance to cement their legacy as one of the best dynasties in NBA history—and it may be their last run as a group, given Durant and Thompson’s impending free agency. The Raptors only stand a chance if their supporting cast steps up, though they’ve proven to be inconsistent in this entire playoff run thus far. Sorry, Canada—this might not be our year, but at least our NHL teams are successful… (Too soon?)