After being down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Toronto Raptors managed to rebound and win four straight, sending the Milwaukee Bucks home and becoming the first Raptors team in franchise history to advance to the NBA Finals. Effectively, LeThanos’s Reign of Terror that turned Toronto into Lebronto is over, and the team has finally been acknowledged as a playoff success. Their biggest test comes in the finals, where Toronto will face the juggernaut Golden State Warriors, who are fresh off of sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers. Both teams have something to prove in this series. Golden State wants to three-peat and secure its position in the history books as the greatest NBA dynasty before the team potentially disassembles this offseason. Toronto wants its first NBA Championship Trophy and to ensure Kawhi Leonard remains in Toronto for the foreseeable future. This matchup could not be better, as both teams have their respective strengths and weaknesses and they match-up well with one another. The Finals could go either way and if both teams play the way I expect, this will be the most exciting NBA Finals series since 2016.
The Warriors enter the Finals missing two of their Monstars: Kevin Durant and Demarcus Cousins. But even in their absence, the Warriors have shown zero signs of weakness. Boogie’s injury has had little impact on the Warriors’ success, since he was out of the rotation for most of the regular season and the entire postseason due to injuries already . Kevin Durant, however, has been instrumental in the Warriors’ success the past two years, delivering prolific scoring, length, and versatility that no other player can match. Even in his absence, the Warriors have looked stronger than ever. In fact, the Warriors have a better offensive and defensive rating when Kevin Durant was on the bench as opposed to him on the court. They were able to close out the Western Conference semifinals against Houston with relative ease, and swept Portland under the shelves in the Conference Finals. However, this isn’t to say that the Warriors will suffer when Durant is on the court. His mere presence and known fact that he can score from anywhere within 35 feet of the basket is going to wreak havoc on any defensive scheme his opponents draw up.
When Durant returns hopefully by game 3, the Warriors cannot be double teamed whatsoever. In most cases, opponents will try to sag players like Andre Iguodala or Draymond Green and double or help off Golden State’s shooters. This strategy, however, isn’t going to stop the Warriors from scoring. Frequently, when the Warriors set up screens for Steph Curry or Klay Thompson, the opponents would typically double the shooter. When this occurs, the non-shooter will typically slide through the opponent’s defenders and cut to the rim, leading to an open layup or dunk. This concept is explained well in this video here. In short, there is no easy way to limit the defending champions.
The Raptors, unlike the Warriors, really only have one superstar, Kawhi Leonard, so in terms of firepower, the Raptors don’t have the threats that Golden State has. However, Toronto has a much deeper roster with so many better role-players than the Warriors, and their bench is going to decide their fate in these Finals. The Warriors have the likes of Quinn Cook, Shaun Livingston, and Kevon Looney highlighting their bench. The Raptors have Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lin, and possibly OG Anunoby (if he returns from injury) on the bench. It is of utmost importance that Toronto’s bench is on their A-game for the entire playoff series, because the Warriors’ primary plan will undoubtedly be to prevent Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry from scoring.
Toronto arguably has better spacing than the Warriors as well. The Raptors’ starting lineup consists of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Marc Gasol, all of whom are capable of hitting open threes on a normal basis. The Warriors, outside of Curry, Durant, and Thompson, don’t have any other premier perimeter threats. Alongside this, the Warriors don’t have a true big man that can clog the paint and secure rebounds like the Toronto Raptors do in Pascal Siakam, Ibaka, and Gasol. Also, expect Toronto to get Stephen Curry involved in the pick and roll, and force him to guard players like Gasol, Siakam, or Leonard, since Curry is too small to guard any of these players. The Cavaliers employed this strategy in the 2016 NBA Finals, and this “whoever” offense was one of the key elements to their victory that year.
This series has too many factors to easily predict who will win. Golden State has more star power, but outside of their Fantastic Four (or Fabulous Five with Boogie), they don’t have anyone else who can reliably get buckets. The Raptors have just one superstar in The Klaw, but also have a multitude of role players capable of scoring the basketball well. These Raptors are nothing like the LeBron-Led Cavs squads, which were highlighted with great offense and poor defense. These Raptors play on both ends of the floor extremely well, and I am confident that Nick Nurse will come up with a defensive plan to limit the likes of Durant, Curry, and Thompson. As such, the series will be much closer than the 2017 or 2018 NBA Finals, and will be won in six or seven games. But, in the end, I have strong faith in the Toronto Raptors and Kawhi Leonard’s capabilities to win the NBA Finals. Their team’s versatility, bench depth, and scoring options will undoubtedly prove to be the toughest squad the Warriors have had to compete against in the Finals since the 2016 Cavaliers and enough to knock Golden State off their throne.
Final Prediction: Raptors in 7