After the dust has settled, two teams remain in the Warriors and Raptors. The Warriors were expected to be here while the Raptors were not necessarily the top choice out of the East. The Warriors are going for four titles in five years, but the narrative is not around their play on the court, but rather, the player that they’re missing in Kevin Durant. The Raptors one year gamble on Kawhi Leonard paid off as they reached their first NBA Finals ever. Can the Warriors win a championship without Durant? Can Kawhi slay the defending champs? Here are my preview and prediction for the NBA Finals 2019: Warriors vs. Raptors.
Where Will Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard end up in the offseason?: Not to take anything away from this series, but the biggest storyline is the impending free agency decisions for Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. I compare it to going to the beach and seeing a dark cloud on the horizon. You should enjoy the beach, but all you can think about is the storm that’s on its way. Both Durant and Leonard have been rumored to be leaving Golden State and Toronto respectively for almost a year. If Durant doesn’t play at all, does that signify he’s leaving the Warriors? If Kawhi wins the title, does that make him more inclined to stay? Both questions will be asked after every game this series no matter what happens.
Kevin Durant’s Calf: It’s not every day that the best player in the game is an x-factor, but that’s exactly the case here. Kevin Durant has been sidelined the past five games with a strained right calf and will miss Game 1. Most teams would falter without their best player. The Warriors aren’t like most teams as they have gone 5-0 since Durant exited the lineup. That being said, the Warriors are a better team when Kevin Durant is on the floor. I don’t care how many games or titles the Warriors won without Durant. KD was averaging 34 points per game before his injury. Without KD, more pressure is on Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green to deliver. From a psychological standpoint, Toronto has to feel like they have a better chance of winning the series without Durant in the lineup. Can you blame them? Also, don’t forget about the health of Demarcus Cousins and Andre Iguodala. Both should play in this series at some point, but I doubt they will be 100%.
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Pascal Siakam: The real X-factor for the Raptors is Pascal Siakam. The future Most Improved Player of the Year took a monumental leap this past season. Siakam improved in almost every statistical category with the most notable advancement coming in the form of his points per game average, which increased from 7.3 to 16.9. With all of the focus going towards Kawhi, Siakam needs to be a viable scoring threat as the Raptors’ second option. More importantly, Siakam will have to contain the pick and roll between Steph Curry and Draymond Green. If Siakam can hold his own on switches against Steph, the Raptors will keep games close.
Matchups To Watch
Pick and Roll Offense versus Switching Defense
The Curry-Draymond pick and roll combo can be a nightmare for opposing defenses. If you hedge out too quickly, Steph can hit Draymond on a roll to the basket. If you sag off, Steph will have a field day from 3. Just ask the Blazers how sagging off worked. On the flip side, Kawhi Leonard has been very good in the playoffs when he runs pick and roll and has a 47.9% scoring frequency in those situations. How will both the Warriors and Raptors defend pick and rolls? I’m expecting both teams to switch on most, if not all, pick and rolls because of their versatility. Leonard, Siakam, Danny Green, and Serge Ibaka for Toronto and Thompson, Green, Durant (if he plays), and Andre Iguodala for Golden State can switch all matchups and guard all of the positions (to an extent). Whichever team is more successful with pick and roll defense will have the edge in the series.
Steph Curry vs. Kyle Lowry: Before the playoffs started, if you saw this matchup on paper, it’s a huge mismatch in favor of Curry. The “Lowry disappears in the playoffs” narrative has somewhat disappeared this postseason thanks to an improvement in Lowry’s defense and clutch shooting. That being said, Curry has been on an unreal tear since Durant’s injury. In the past five games (all Warriors wins), Curry has averaged 35.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, and 6.6 apg. Lowry cannot stop Steph, but he needs to contain him. In crunch time, do no be surprised if Kawhi is guarding Steph especially if Durant isn’t playing. If Steph dominates this matchup, the Warriors will win in 4 games.
Kawhi Leonard vs. *Insert Golden State Player*: As important as Steph Curry’s defender will be, the Warrior to guard Kawhi Leonard is just as crucial. Leonard has been unstoppable these entire playoffs with averages of 31.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, and 1.6 spg. Good luck stopping Leonard. Luckily for Golden State, they have a few capable defenders that can guard multiple positions. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, and Andre Igudola will all be on Leonard at some point. The plan is simple: Force Leonard to pass the ball. Expect a lot of traps to force the ball out of Leonard’s hand. As I said earlier, good luck stopping Leonard because so far, no team has slowed Kawhi down.
The Plays: Odds via Oddshark
Steph is obviously the play to win Finals MVP since he has not won this award in any of the Warriors’ previous finals appearances during this run. However, if you’re getting Kawhi at +225, I would sprinkle some money there. The Warriors outside of Steph to watch is Klay Thompson. +800 for Klay is a steal.
For a series bet, I’m not sure how you could bet against Golden State. I firmly in the camp that the Warriors win the series, but if I’m looking for a game that the Raptors can win, it’s either Game 1 or Game 2. Since the Warriors are 18-1 SU in Game 1s of playoff series since 2015, the game to bet on the Raptors is Game 2. Plus, the current line for Game 1 is Warriors +1.5. I’m not betting against the Warriors as underdogs.
Warriors vs. Raptors Prediction
Warriors in 5: On paper, the Raptors match up well with the Warriors even with Durant on the floor. Toronto has the better bench and Leonard has been the best player in the playoffs. However, when it’s winning time in the fourth quarter, are you going to trust the team who has won three out of four titles or the team making their first finals appearance in franchise history? Look for Kawhi to go off this series, but in turn, the Warriors to neutralize the Raptors’ supporting cast. The Warriors win in five games and Steph Curry destroys the false narrative that he’s not good in the NBA Finals by winning MVP.
What are your predictions? Comment with your thoughts below or join in the conversation on Twitter@UnAfraidShow.