For the fifth year in a row, the Golden State Warriors will be partaking in the NBA Finals and this time, it won’t be against LeBron James and a bunch of other random guys. Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors will be meeting the Warriors this year and look to upset in the Warriors, in what would be probably one of the biggest Finals upsets in a LONG time. Although you wouldn’t know that by looking at the teams records.
The Raptors get home court advantage here for finishing with a 58-24 record, versus the Warriors 57-25 record. The Raptors also won both regular season games against the Warriors, 131-128 in OT at home on November 29th, and 113-93 in Golden State on December 12th. Obviously, it’s been a long time since these teams have played each other. Also, the Raptors have added an important piece in Marc Gasol, and this team has gelled together with Kawhi throughout the year. So I don’t know how much you can take from those wins, other than the fact that the Raptors know they can win at home or on the road.
It’s funny to me that the Raptors are all the sudden getting a ton of love from the media. During the Trailblazers series, Golden State was all but crowned the champs and MAYBE Toronto or Milwaukee could win a game at home because they would have home court. Now I understand Toronto beat the best team in the league four times in a row but so many things had to go right for that to happen. The Bucks shot awful from the field (yes you can give the Raptors tons of credit but many were WIDE OPEN SHOTS), Fred VanVleet found fire late in the series and couldn’t miss, it seemed like each game the Raptors had one guy who just couldn’t be stopped. Marc Gasol was making all the shots he was missing in the 76ers series, and to an extent the Bucks beat themselves in some of these games.
There are people out there picking the Raptors in 6 all the sudden because Golden State won’t have Kevin Durant, supposedly. But just two weeks ago those same people would have picked the Warriors in 5 or 6 probably. Just sit back, and look at how both these teams have performed throughout the playoffs.
First of all, the Trailblazers were not the second best team in the Western Conference. I understand they beat the Nuggets in 7, but if they play again I’ll take the Nuggets. Houston was a better team. Hell if the Trailblazers would have played the Spurs or Clippers in a 7 game series it might have gone all 7. So let’s not overreact to the Warriors just destroying them, I don’t think the Warriors were too worried about the match-up.
What I am trying to say here is we shouldn’t read into how badly the Warriors beat the Trail Blazers, and how impressive the Raptors 4 game winning streak against the Bucks was. Were both tings impressive, yes? But when making picks and analyzing the series, we shouldn’t be jumping back to the Trail Blazers series or the Bucks series. Having said those things, let’s look at some key parts of this series and then make some picks.
Biggest Match-Up: Steph Curry vs. Raptors
We’ll mention Kevin Durant here to get it over with. Obviously he is the biggest story of this series, whether he plays or not. While he’s out or in, how the Raptors defend Steph Curry is the biggest match-up of the series. During their run to the finals, the Warriors have faced the 21st (Clippers), 17th (Portland), and 16th (Houston) rated Team Defensive Efficiency according to TeamRankings.com. Toronto is rated as the 3rd best defense just behind Utah and Milwaukee. So Curry and the Warriors are going to go up against a much better team defense than they have since.. April? Maybe even March. Individually, the Raptors have multiple guys with length they can throw on Curry. The biggest mistake the Raptors could make is putting Lowry or VanVleet on Curry for extended periods of time. If I’m the Raptors, I am throwing Kawhi, Siakam, and Danny Green at him. All three of those guys are some of the best individual defenders in the league. If they can slow Curry down from three point range specifically, the Raptors can win this series.
Biggest X-Factor: Danny Green
We just mentioned him above and his defense is going to play a huge part in this series but his offensive will play a bigger one. Danny Green was the only guys who did jack shit against the Bucks and it showed in Game 6 where we was barley on the floor. The Raptors need his offensive, so he can stay on the floor and guard Curry or Klay. If Danny Green is awful in these Finals offensively, it hurts them on the defense end.
Most Annoying Person: Drake
This was a tough one between Drake and Draymond Green complaining to refs, although Green has cut down on that as of late. But it’s Drake. Fucker will be up and about, almost walking on the court. ESPN will probably love it and show him all the time. I am ready for Twitter to be annoyed.
Most Important Offensive Player: Kyle Lowry
Outside of the usual suspects here, Steph, Klay and Kawhi I decided to go with Kyle Lowry. Why? He is the only other guy on the Raptors who can go off for 30+. More importantly, he is probably going to have Steph Curry guarding him. Lowry needs to make Steph work on the defensive end to try and tire him out. In the last 10 games, Lowry is averaging 17.1 PPG versus Siakam’s 15.3 who would have been my second pick for this. Lowry needs to hit that average every game. The Warriors are going to have a defensive game plan to take away Kawhi’s almost 31 PPG and Lowry has to pick up that slack and play like he did against the Bucks.
Most Annoying Home Crowd: Toronto Raptors
This was a tough one for multiple reasons. I am so fucking tired of seeing the Jurassic Park. I get it, people are outside watching the game. There seems to be no beer tents around, no chairs, no tables. Is that the main area? Is there somewhere else people watch it? Why is nobody dressed as an actual dinosaur there? The fans inside the stadium also boo at EVERYTHING. I understand being a fan but I despise fans who just boo when a ref doesn’t give them some kind of call. On the other hand, the Warriors fans aren’t really fans are they? I fully believe that 97% of the people in that stadium would have never gone to a game 7 years ago but they’ll never admit that. Then we have the annoyance of Drake getting screen time, I’m sure Steph Curry’s parents and wife are going to get put on the screen all the team. I don’t need to see their reactions, just show me the game.
MVP’s: Steph Curry & Kawhi Leonard
Boring and typical but whatever team win this series, I’d bet on those guys to win the Finals MVP. Curry hasn’t won one in three tries with Golden State, although he probably deserved it in 2015. I think that fact, combined with him playing well, and the memory of what he did to the Trail Blazers will sway voters his way. Kawhi is just too easy. If the Raptors win, then he was the most dominate player in the series by far.
Series Prediction: Warriors in 6
I’ll take the Warriors to win in 6. Klay, Curry, and Draymond will be enough to get them to their fourth championship over the Raptors. Even if Boogie Cousins is effective now that he’s playing, and Durant finds his way back – I don’t think the Warriors need those guys. The Raptors offense won’t be as on fire as it was against the Bucks – mainly I don’t see VanVleet staying on fire, I don’t see Gasol making all the shots he did against the Bucks, and I’m not sure if Lowry will be able to score 20 consistently. For those reasons, I’ll take the Warriors in 6. As a sports fan, I just hope they are all good games and everybody has fun.