Source: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors will meet for Basketball's greatest prize on Thursday. Entering this year's finals both teams have made history. For the first time ever the NBA finals will be held and played in Canada, while the Warriors are the second team ever to make it to at least 5 straight NBA finals appearances.
The Warriors have once again made their way to the Finals despite missing key figures in Demarcus Cousins and 2-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant. The Warriors leaned on the splash brothers Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The first two rounds Golden State went to six games to finish off their opponents. Kevin Durant got hurt in game 5 in their series against the Houston Rockets, but Steph curry balled out in game 6 and knocked the Rockets out of the playoffs for the second straight season. The Warriors had a new challenge in Portland and amazingly came back from a double-digit deficit for three straight games, that lead to a sweep for the Warriors.
The Toronto Raptors made light work of the Magic but had some bumps in the road against Philly and Milwaukee. So needless to say they are battle tested.
In both meetings this season the Raptors defeated the defending NBA champs, snapping an eight-game losing streak against Golden State. Their first meeting both teams combined for 259 points in an OT thriller. The Raptors shot over 50 percent and connected with more threes against the three-pointer juggernauts. Kevin Durant scored 51 points and Toronto still pulled off the win. Though Steph didn't suit up, it's still an impressive win for the Raptors.
Their second meeting the Raptors shut down the Warriors without their star player Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors continued to shoot better than the Warriors, as Golden State shot a brutal 6-26 from three. The Warriors lost by 20 and this time the Warriors had their whole team healthy. Steph Curry had one of his worst games of the year, scoring on 10 points in 33 minutes. Klay Thompson only did a bit better with 14 points and once again Kevin Durant leads the team in the lost. The Raptors without Kawhi had double-double games from Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. The Raptors swept the Warriors for the first time since the 2001-02 season.
The Raptors biggest advantage is their stingy defence. The last two games Milwaukee didn’t score 100 points and were held to under 40 percent shooting in 2 of the 6 games in the series. While the Raptors defence at times gave up big runs early in games they came up big in the later stages of the contest, It also helps to have 2 former Defensive Players of the Year on your team.
Having Kawhi Leonard on your team is a big advantage. Leonard is a multi-dimensional player that can help in every aspect of the game. He can play defence, score points, grab rebounds and he's a good free throw shooter. Kawhi Leonard has had a fantastic playoff, and he's carried the Raptors for most of the way and has shut down multiple all-stars while doing so. He’s one 1 of 4 players with Finals experience on this team, and of course, is the only one with a Finals MVP under his belt.
Ibaka and Marc Gasol can pose as a threat for the Dinos. Ibaka has had success against the Warriors this season averaging almost a double-double per contest, and Gasol will make his presence known with his occasional 3 and a stingy defence. Gasol not being your typical big man has been able to contribute in other places in his game, he’s averaged 11 points and 7 assists against the Dubs and that mix will be key. Ibaka, of course, will be his athleticism and toughness to plate as well. Both of these big men can help the Raptors get past Golden State.
While the Raptors have a few players that have played in the NBA finals it still doesn't match the Golden State Warriors. Even if they don't have Kevin Durant for some time in the series, Steph Curry and company have shown they can play without the Durantula. Curry has scored at least 35 points in every game of their 4 game sweep of the Blazers. Also, the Warriors have won 31 of their last 32 games when Curry suits up and Durant doesn’t. Scary stuff.
Depth is a big key for Golden State as well. Klay Thompson has shot over 40 percent lifetime in the playoffs and he's averaged almost 20 points per game. Thompson has had better success than Curry this season against the Raptors. Andre Igoudala has won an NBA finals MVP and can be a shutdown defensive player alongside Draymond Green. Both players add not only experience but intensity. There's a reason why these 4 men have won 3 rings and are looking to gain their 4th.
If Durant can get healthy he's an X-Factor. Just before his injury in the playoffs, Durant led all scorers in points per game. What makes tricky if Durant does indeed regain his health is he’s gotten the better of Kawhi this season. As of now though there is no word on his return.
A keynote for this series is that the Centre formerly known as Boogie will be active for Game 1. Whether he gets meaningful minutes is anyone’s guess.
The Raptors will face their biggest test to date, however, Golden State not having Durant for a game or two gives the Raptors a chance to sneak in some wins. Take away the regular season meetings this year and Golden State has the advantage, but Toronto has the tools to dethrone the champs.
The Raps are better than the Clippers and Rockets and both teams were able to to go six games against the Dubs. With the Raptors having home court advantage this may give them the extra boost they need but it won't be easy, and it's not supposed to be.
The championship will be coming north of the border for the first time ever!
RAPTORS IN SEVEN!