This years NBA Finals has a ton of headlines. For starters the Golden State Warriors are going to be playing in their fifth straight Finals, going for their fourth title in that span. The Raptors are playing in their first ever NBA Finals as they are reaping the benefits of making the big swing last offseason and trading for Kawhi Leonard.
Golden State is also going to be without Kevin Durant at least at the start of the series of course as he is still trying to make his way back from the calf strain that he suffered in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Rockets. The Warriors haven’t lost a game since Durant has gotten injured and that is another fascinating thing to watch. They lost possibly the best player in the world right now and they haven’t skipped a beat. And then there is the possible looming return of DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins hasn’t been a huge factor this season coming back from his Achilles tear, but he is of course supremely talented and if he is able to make a return at some point in this series he can throw a big wrench in the series.
For Toronto, Kawhi Leonard has been amazing in the postseason and he is likely going to continue that, but how will Kyle Lowry perform on the biggest stage of his career? Pascal Siakam hasn’t been on a stage nearly this big before and how will he play? If Toronto wants to win this series they will need both of those guys to play really well. Plus they have a whole nation behind them, which throws another piece of intrigue into this for me.
The Warriors are coming into this series as pretty good favorites to win their fourth title in five years and that’s for good reason. Even without Kevin Durant they are playing amazing basketball with Steph Curry playing at an MVP-level, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green playing two-way basketball as good as anyone and with the bench stepping up in the conference finals and playing much better.
Golden State hasn’t played since May 21st and that rest could be huge when it comes to possibly getting Durant and Cousins back, but perhaps more importantly is that rest will help give Andre Iguodala a lot of time to heal up after he didn’t even play in game four against Portland and having him healthy will help them up their level of defense even more than it already has been at, plus he is a guy who can get hot from three if he’s making the open threes that he normally gets and he can be dangerous as a guy who catches lobs when Draymond is able to get the ball in the middle and break down the defense.
For Toronto it’s about Kawhi Leonard. He has been playing at the level he was playing at when he won the Finals MVP in 2014 and he’s been doing that while playing on what feels like one leg at the end of the Eastern Conference Finals. Much like Golden State though, the Raptors will be going into this series with a good amount of rest, having finished off the Bucks on Saturday. That rest should help Kawhi heal up, which will be huge because he will have a large burden placed on him on both ends of the floor in this series.
Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam were better in the conference finals than they were in the first two rounds of the playoffs and they will need to play at an even higher-level if Toronto wants their first ring in franchise history. They will also desperately need something out of Danny Green. In the postseason Green is only scoring 6.8 points per game and is shooting 32.5% overall and a woeful 31.4% from three. To go along with that they’ll also need more offense from Marc Gasol. Gasol has been very good on defense, but against this Golden State team they will need him to be able to use his skill to open up the offense more and take pressure off of Kawhi and give more room to other guys when it comes to shooting jumpers.
When it comes to the benches overall I’ll side with the Raptors. I really don’t love either of these benches, but Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell have at least given them something when they’ve been in the game and although he hasn’t been very good throughout the playoffs, Fred VanVleet has been very good over the past few games since the birth of his son, and if they are going to get that level of shooting or something close to it from him that will be massive.
For Golden State it’s hard to know exactly who the bench will be. We can assume the starting lineup will consist of Steph, Klay, Draymond and Iguodala but who the fifth guy is has been a rotating cast of characters throughout the playoffs. It ultimately hasn’t been that big of a deal who that guy is though and the key guys off the bench will be some form of Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney, maybe Damian Jones and Alfonzo McKinnie and then of course Shaun Livingston.
Looney has been giving them some good minutes throughout the playoffs and Quinn Cook and Jordan Bell have been better recently after kind of falling out of the rotation, but the most reliable guy off the bench is Livingston. He has been huge during this run by Golden State over the past couple of years and should be a contributor in this series.
This series just has so many different headlines and despite being solid underdogs I think Toronto has some qualities that can give Golden State some problems. That mostly starts with Kawhi Leonard, but they have some other guys that I think can give Golden State some problems on offense because of their length and athleticism. And then of course there is the possible comeback of DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant, which either one of them will of course be a huge game-changer in the series.
With Golden State having been here before that will play a factor because the stage is not going to be too big for them, but Toronto hasn’t been here before and they will need to get over the shock of being on this stage quickly because if they don’t they will lose game one at home.
This has the potential to be a really entertaining series that goes pretty deep but it also wouldn’t surprise me if Golden State won the series in five. Overall though I think it’ll be a fun series and with the way Kawhi Leonard is playing I don’t see the Raptors going away easily and it’ll be fun to see someone here that isn’t a completely over-matched Cleveland team like last season that is LeBron James and a bunch of guys who will be at the top of the lottery the next season without him.
Another thing is Golden State not having home-court advantage in the Finals. This is the first time in this five season stretch of making the Finals that they won’t have home-court advantage and not only will that be interesting to watch in the first two games of the series, but if this series happens to go the distance, they will have to travel to Toronto for a game seven.
Overall just try and sit back and enjoy this series because it’s not lacking for headlines.
Top Photo: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP