The NBA Finals are here after what’s been a phenomenal playoffs thus far and for the first time since 2014, the Golden State Warriors are not playing the Cleveland Cavaliers. For the first time since 2010, Lebron James is not in the NBA Finals. That’s pretty incredible when you think about it. To put things into perspective, here’s a recap of what the world was like the last time the Warriors didn’t play the Cavaliers in the Finals and the last time Lebron James wasn’t in the NBA Finals.
2014 – Last time the Warriors didn’t play the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals
- #1 Song on Billboard Hot 100: Fancy – Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX
- Super Bowl Winner: Seattle Seahawks (over Denver Broncos)
- NCAA Basketball Champs: UConn (over Kentucky)
- NCAA Football Champs: Florida State (over Auburn)
- NBA MVP: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
- All-NBA First Team: Chris Paul, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Lebron James, Joakim Noah
- All-NBA Second Team: Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard
- All-NBA Third Team: Goran Dragic, Damian Lillard, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Jefferson
2010 – Last Time Lebron James didn’t play in the NBA Finals
- #1 Song on Billboard Hot 100: OMG – Usher ft. will.i.am
- Super Bowl Winner: New Orleans Saints (over Indianapolis Colts)
- NCAA Basketball National Champs: Duke (over Butler)
- NCAA Football National Champs: Alabama (over Texas)
- NBA MVP: Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
- All-NBA First Team: Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard
- All-NBA Second Team: Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Amar’e Stoudemire
- All-NBA Third Team: Brandon Roy, Joe Johnson, Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut
How the times have changed…
Game 1: @Toronto, Thursday, May 30th, 9 p.m.
Game 2: @Toronto, Sunday, June 2nd, 8 p.m.
Game 3: @Golden State, Wednesday, June 5th, 9 p.m.
Game 4: @Golden State, Friday, June 7th, 9 p.m.
Game 5*: @Toronto, Monday, June 10th, 9 p.m.
Game 6*: @Golden State, Thursday, June 13th, 9 p.m.
Game 7*: @Toronto, Sunday, June 16th, 8 p.m.
*All games on ABC*
Preview: The Raptors match up well with the Warriors, but does it matter?
The Warriors are undoubtedly one of the greatest teams we’ve seen in NBA history, as they’re making their fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance. However, all I’ve been able to think about is the Raptors size and length on defense, and how they’re built to defend the Golden State Warriors.
Think about these defensive players… Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Fred Van Vleet. The Raptors may also get back OG Anunoby for the NBA Finals at some point, as he’s been out the whole playoffs after having an appendectomy. Have the Warriors ever faced defense like this? This team was able to take Giannis Antetokounmpo the last four games of the Eastern Conference Finals and completely expose him. All of Giannis’s flaws were shown. They figured out how to slow down one of the league’s most unstoppable forces and they succeeded because they had the talent to execute their defensive schemes.
Within the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis Antetotkounmpo averaged 27 points per game on 47.2% from the field. Within the last four games, Giannis Antetotkounmpo averaged 20.5 points per game on 43.5% shooting. This included a 12 point, 8 turnover performance in Game 3. The Raptors were physical with the Greek Freak, and doubled him, not every time he touched the ball near the paint, but every single time he turned his back to the basket. They made the rest of the Bucks try and beat them and they couldn’t do it. It worked.
So how does this translate to the Warriors?
There are times during this series where you’re going to get 2016 NBA Finals vibes. This doesn’t mean that I think the Raptors are going to win, but the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers were notorious with being extremely physical with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, causing them to have some really bad games in the NBA Finals. I think the Raptors are going to do the same thing.
Obviously the Warriors are not the Bucks. You have multiple all-stars who can beat you at anytime. You’re not going to focus on one player and let the others beat you. I’m just saying Kawhi Leonard on Steph Curry at times, Danny Green on Klay Thompson, and Pascal Siakam on Draymond Green could be troubling for Golden State.
It could be troubling, but is it the end-all-be-all for the Warriors? Definitely not. Even if the Warriors are slowed, the Raptors are still going to need to score the basketball and that’s something they’ve struggled with as well throughout the NBA Playoffs.
The Toronto Raptors have played 18 games throughout the playoffs, and in 11 of them, they’ve scored 105 points or below. In all of the Raptors six playoff losses so far, they shot below 36% from beyond the arc. They shot 27% or below from beyond the arc in three of those six losses. In six of the 12 Raptors wins in these playoffs, they shot 39% or over from three-point range. In the last two wins vs. the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, they shot 41.9% and 44.4% from three-point range, respectively.
I think it’s pretty clear that the Raptors need to hit shots to win the series. Yes, its cliche. Yes it’s a very general statement, but it’s true. Fred Van Vleet, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka need to make major contributions on the offensive side of the basketball in order for the Raptors to win this series. We saw it in the Eastern Conference Finals when Fred Van Vleet averaged 16 points per game and shot 82.3% from three throughout the last three games. He was also a +65 in those three games. Norman Powell averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 41.9% from three throughout the series as well. These are the type of contributions that are going to be necessary in order for the Raptors to have a chance to win the series.
We know Kawhi Leonard is going to do his thing. He’s going to win them games in this series. Kawhi’s a top-three player in the NBA right now and averaging 31.2 points per game this postseason, probably a top-three most impressive playoff performance from a single player that I’ve seen in my lifetime.
When talking about the Raptors offensive struggles and need to hit shots, the Warriors defense is what flies under-the-radar. The Warriors are the best defensive team that the Raptors have faced, just like the Raptors are the best defensive team that the Warriors have faced. Between Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, it’s going to be even harder for the Raptors to score points than ever before and even harder for these role players to step up.
How Will DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant Affect The Series?
It was announced Thursday morning that DeMarcus Cousins will be active for Game 1. If I had to guess, he’ll probably play between 10-20 minutes off the bench. Coming off a torn quad, it’s a big risk for Steve Kerr to play him for an extended period of time. I think Cousins’ role will be as a bench player the entire series, and I’m not sure he’ll play more than 20 minutes in a single game the whole series. It’s all going to depend on how he looks in the first couple of games. Steve Kerr will make his decision on Cousins based on that. Overall, I don’t see Cousins making a huge difference in the series, whether he plays a lot, or doesn’t play a lot.
Based on what we know, Kevin Durant is going to come back Game 3 at the earliest. I personally think he’ll be back in either Game 3 or Game 4 at Oracle Arena. Once Kevin Durant comes back, if the series is tied or it’s 2-1 each team, I don’t think the Raptors have a good chance to win the series at all. You can slow down Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, but once you add Kevin Durant into the equation, the best player in the world, it’s almost impossible to defend this team, even with the roster that the Raptors have.
No, the Warriors aren’t better without Kevin Durant. They’re still an NBA-Finals-caliber team without him, but they aren’t better. As Andy Liu said in my Q&A with him, “without him, the Warriors are beatable, with him, the Warriors are likely the greatest team ever.” When Kevin Durant comes back is the x-factor in the series. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Raptors chances to win are incredibly slim if Kevin Durant is back for a large portion of this series.
I’m more excited for the NBA Finals this season than in a long time. It’s great to see new teams make the NBA Finals, especially a team making their first appearance in franchise history. Add that to the fact that Kawhi Leonard is having one of the best postseason runs that we’ve ever seen and it’s even better.
I think that the Warriors are going to take Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night in Toronto. It’s going to be incredibly tough for the Raptors to win this game, as the Warriors have been to the NBA Finals five straight years, and the Raptors have never been there. Experience is certainly a factor. Let me also stress how important it is for the Raptors to win tonight. They have something that the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t had the last four years… home-court advantage. You cannot give that up against one of the best teams of all-time by losing Game 1. It would be too much of an uphill battle to win the series from there.
However, the Raptors will rebound in Game 2 with a big win at home, and they’ll head to Golden State where Kevin Durant will return for Game 3 or Game 4. The Warriors will win two close games at home, largely in part because Durant in the lineup is too much for the Raptors to handle. The Raptors will win Game 5 at home, and the Warriors will close it out in Game 6 at Oracle Arena.
My pick for MVP is Stephen Curry. The one thing that’s missing from Curry’s resume is a Finals MVP and with Kevin Durant out for at least the first two games, this is his chance. Curry has scored 30+ points in five straight games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that continues into the NBA Finals.
Warriors in 6. Steph Curry MVP.