Only two teams remain in the race for the 2019 NBA Championship as first-time Finalists Toronto meets perennial powerhouse Golden State in the big dance.
Toronto Raptors (East #2) vs Golden State Warriors (West #1)
Eastern Conference R1: def. Orlando 4-1
Conference Semi Finals: def. Philadelphia 4-3
Conference Finals: def. Milwaukee 4-2
After starting with a home loss to the up-and-down Magic, the Raptors quickly got going to put their opponents away. The big obstacle was the 76ers in round two, the Raptors needing a remarkable last-second shot by Kawhi Leonard at the buzzer in game seven to advance.
Kawhi’s buzzer-beater had Toronto roaring 😤 pic.twitter.com/MMPkkTkoEF
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 13, 2019
Another slow start against the Bucks saw them down 0-2, before the Raps rattled off four straight wins to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Leonard was enormous down the stretch in the Conference Finals, but is carrying a leg injury and looked very sore at times. Five days off between the Bucks and the Warriors will do wonders.
Western Conference R1: def. LA Clippers 4-2
Conference Semi Finals: def. Houston 4-2
Conference Finals: def. Portland 4-0
The Warriors were very much challenged at times in the first two rounds, before breezing past the Trail Blazers in a Conference Finals sweep – without star Kevin Durant
Steph Curry scored 36, 37, 36 and 37 against the Blazers in KD’s absence, while Draymond Green has now led the rebounding in their last 12 matches, adding four triple-doubles along the way.
Durant has been ruled out of game one and a time-frame for his return remains unclear, however the reigning champions should welcome back DeMarcus Cousins at some stage during the opening two games in Toronto.
Regular Season Meetings
Friday November 30 – Toronto 131 def. Golden State 128 (OT)
Thursday December 13 – Golden State 93 def. by Toronto 113
Toronto: 104.9 for, 99.6 against
Golden State: 117.3 for, 110.5 against
Why Toronto Will Win
The former Finals MVP has been doing it all late in games this post-season, and will need to continue that trend against the Warriors.
His potential match-up with Kevin Durant, if fit, is tantalising, but in the meantime he will lock-down another of Golden State’s All-Stars defensively.
At the other end, Leonard has been a scoring machine and has come up with big bucket after big bucket.
If the Raptors are going to have a chance in this series, Kawhi has to lead from the front.
Why Golden State Will Win
There’s two big reasons that the Warriors will complete a three-peat: All-Stars and experience.
While two of their stars are sitting on the sidelines, there’s still a ridiculous amount of talent at Coach Kerr’s disposal. Curry, Thompson and Green still make it three All-Stars in their starting five, which is still more than their Raptor opponents who have two.
You can’t buy big game experience either, so the fact that the Warriors are now gearing up for a fifth straight Finals tilt will play a huge role. The return of Andrew Bogut late in the season only strengthens the squad in this area.
For the Raptors, only Leonard and Danny Green have been to the big dance before.
Toronto $3.35, Golden State $1.33
(Prices available with BetEasy)
Toronto $1.86, Golden State $1.95
Total Points: 214.5
(Prices available with BetEasy)
Stephen Curry – $1.70
Kawhi Leonard – $3.50
Draymond Green – $5.50
Klay Thompson – $15
Kevin Durant – $17
Pascal Siakam – $34
Kyle Lowry – $41
(Prices available with BetEasy)
While Steph Curry is the obvious choice for Finals MVP, there’s no guarantee the Warriors win the series and $1.70 is extremely short.
If Kevin Durant misses at least the first two games but the Warriors take out the series, Draymond Green ($5.50) looks like the best value. Klay Thompson is a big price but is limited in ways to contribute, so would need to average above 30 points for the series if he is to take out the crown.
Green, meanwhile, does it all and provides the spark for his Warrior teammates. In the absence of Durant, Green’s numbers have increased dramatically, and he’s certainly not one to shy away from a big moment.
Kawhi Leonard is the obvious choice should the Raptors win, however $3.50 for him to take the honours – while his team is $3.30 to win it all – seems a little skinny as well.
He did have 37 points and 8 boards in an OT win earlier this year, and has also won a Finals MVP with San Antonio, so there’s plenty of merit to suggesting he could be the man again.
A little further down the list, Kyle Lowry ($41) is one that catches the eye at a massive quote.
Lowry has been inconsistent at times and widely criticised for his inability to perform in the big moments… that was until late in the series with the Bucks where Lowry stepped up big time alongside Leonard.
The maligned point guard accumulated 12 assists in each match-up with the Warriors during the regular season as well, so he has been able to get a hold of them. While up against a stellar back court, if the Raptors win the title there is no question Lowry will need to be at the centre of it all, so based on that alone there is value in his price.
Finally we have something new in the NBA Finals. We knew it would be happening as soon as LeBron James made the switch to LA in the off-season, but now the moment has arrived and it’s a little surreal.
There’s something exciting about this Raptors side that suggests they could be in the midst of a fairy tale run to the championship. Problem is, an established dynasty stands in their way.
Durant or no Durant, the Warriors will be extremely tough to overcome, particularly on the biggest stage of all. They have superstars in every position, while the Raptors will lean heavily on Leonard as he shoulders a heavy load.
The likes of Lowry, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam all have the ability to produce at both ends, but it’s whether they can play at that level consistently in a seven game series that will decide their fate.
It’s the first NBA Finals in the last five years where the Warriors haven’t had the luxury of home court, which will certainly pose a new challenge to the group. On the flipside, kicking things off with two games at home will be crucial for the Raptors as they look to play from in front.
Taking care of business at home, particularly while Durant remains on the sidelines, could be series-defining. The Warriors have proven time and again that they don’t take losing well, so to have them on the back foot early would be a massive boost for the Raptors in the first Finals appearance in their history.
The role players around Kawhi will have to ride the energy at home, but how they perform on the road as the series rolls on will be every bit as critical to their title chances.
As is usually the case, game one is crucial. A Warriors win without Durant snatches back home court advantage immediately and puts them in a really strong position. A Raptors victory will give Toronto the confidence that they can go on and win this series as underdogs.
Series Prediction: Toronto 4-3
Game 1 – Golden State @ Toronto, Friday 31 May 11am (AEST)
Game 2 – Golden State @ Toronto, Monday 3 June 10am (AEST)
Game 3 – Toronto @ Golden State, Thursday 6 June, 11am (AEST)
Game 4 – Toronto @ Golden State, Saturday 8 June, 11am (AEST)
Game 5 – Golden State @ Toronto, Tuesday 11 June 11am (AEST)
Game 6 – Toronto @ Golden State, Friday 14 June, 11am (AEST)
Game 7 – Golden State @ Toronto, Tuesday 17 June 10am (AEST)
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