1.) Let’s start with the biggest question first: When will Kevin Durant return, and how will the Warriors fare in his absence?
Duby: I’m aiming for a Durant return by game three at the earliest. Some recent video, about one week prior to game 1 showed him walking gingerly, and at the time of this writing, he still hasn’t even stepped on to a court for warm up shots. [Note, Durant has since resumed shooting activities] In other words, it doesn’t feel like he’s at all close.
As far as how we do in his absence, I’m optimistic that we can at least hang with the Raptors, if not outright beat them without Durant. But realistically, I’m hoping to split the opening two games in Toronto.
Dr. Tom: If it’s a Grade 2 sprain (rather than a Grade 1, which is what everyone assumed) that would put Durant’s return sometime between Games 3 and 6 of the series. Because I’m hopeful and I bet Durant wants to get back out there (especially after all of the nonsense people have been saying about him and how much the Warriors need him), I’m thinking it’ll be that Game 3 back at Oracle Arena.
But with that said, I think the Warriors can navigate the games without him and still be the favorite in this series but it will be much more of a challenge (in terms of how they win the games and how long the series goes on). This is where Andre Iguodala getting all this rest and the time to heal from his calf injury is so important. Especially with Durant out, Iguodala is important playing against a team with Kawhi Leonard. If they don’t have Durant, they need Iguodala to be as close to 2015 Finals MVP Iguodala as possible.
Jannelle: I’m inclined to agree with you, Duby and you, Tom. I expect a Durant return around game three at the earliest. Despite not being on the court, Durant is making an ounce of progress. He’s traveling with the team to Toronto and recent footage showed him not walking as gingerly as he did during practice over the weekend.
As far as our chances in his absence, I think will be fine. It seems as if everyone is underestimating the original core. I’m not. They are in a nice groove and playing well. They are winning off of the strength of their hustle on defense and moving the ball. I’m pretty confident that we can and will steal one on the road.
Joe: With the recent news that Durant is traveling with the team to Toronto for Games 1 and 2, I would say that there is the distinct possibility that he will come back for Game 2. The safe bet is still him coming back for Game 3, which would be exactly one month after his calf injury occurred.
Can the Warriors win without Durant? Of course, but it will be more difficult. Obviously, having Durant on the floor gives the Raptors more problems to deal with — a 7-foot unicorn who can create his own shots, act as a secondary or tertiary playmaker, and can provide a multitude of problems for the Raptors offense as an extremely lengthy perimeter defender and rim protector.
Durant’s presence also forces the Raptors to put Kawhi Leonard on him, which will most certainly work to the Warriors’ advantage. While Leonard is known more for his individual one-on-one perimeter defense, he is also an elite roamer/help-side defender. Without Durant, the Raptors can elect to assign Leonard to lesser offensive threats, such as Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala, which in turn allows him to help and/or switch onto the more threatening offensive options such as Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson.
Whatever happens during these first two games in Toronto is going to be crucial. The Warriors’ goal is to take at least one out of the two on the road. If they fail to do so, then Durant is surely going to be pushed to return, even if at such a point he isn’t 100 percent ready.
Daniel: I will answer these great questions in the vague all-knowingness of Bran from Game of Thrones... KEVIN DURANT WILL RETURN WHEN HE IS NEEDED MOST. UNTIL THEN, LOOK DEEP WITHIN THE SPLASH UNTIL YOU SEE THE BROTHERS.
2.) What (or who) is the biggest key for the Warriors, on both offense and defense in this series?
Dr. Tom: I hinted at it above but I think it’s Iguodala, especially given the fact that they don’t know when Durant will return. If he can defend Leonard and give them something on offense, then they’re going to be really tough to beat even without Durant playing.
Jannelle: The biggest key for the Warriors in my point of view is Draymond. Offensively, I look for him to quicken the pace of the game by pushing the ball quickly up court regardless of make or miss from the Raptors to keep their defense off balance. I also look for him to contribute offensively by taking advantage of the pick and roll sets. Defensively, I look for him and Iguodala to trap Leonard
Joe: This is a series begging for Klay Thompson to explode on the offensive end. Thompson has had fairly decent offensive stats so far during the postseason — averaging 21.5 points on a shooting split of .467/.402/.816, with a true-shooting percentage of 53.3. These aren’t particularly bad numbers (with the exception of his TS%), but they could be better.
No one has been complaining, however, since Thompson has done an amazing job on the defensive end so far in the postseason. He has had to defend each round’s most threatening offensive player on the opposing side: Lou Williams against the Clippers, James Harden against the Rockets, and Damian Lillard against the Blazers. He will most certainly draw the Kawhi Leonard assignment, perhaps splitting it with Andre Iguodala and — in small spurts — with Draymond Green. The Warriors will try to give Leonard different looks, but Thompson will take up a significant chunk of the duties against the Raptors superstar.
But it is still his shooting that could possibly make or break the series, especially with Durant being out for at least the first 2 games. The Raptors could assign Danny Green to Curry if they think that Kyle Lowry chasing Curry around would be detrimental, meaning that Thompson would have Lowry defending him. If this is the case, then Thompson should be able to take advantage of such a monumental size mismatch.
Whatever the case may be, it is important that Thompson establish his shooting rhythm early in this series. The Splash Brothers ran it back against the Rockets and the Blazers, and against the best defense they will face in this postseason, they will need to run it back even more.
Daniel: THE ROBOT KAWHI MUST BE WALLED OFF FROM THE PAINT AT ALL COSTS. IGUODALA, ‘TIS YOUR TIME.
3.) Coach Steve Kerr went deep into his bench against Portland, will the trend continue, or will they tighten up the rotations against Toronto?
Dr. Tom: I don’t think you’ll see Kerr going quite as deep into the bench as he did against the Trail Blazers, but players like Jordan Bell and Jonas Jerebko will get real minutes in this series.
Jannelle: Kerr might not want to go deep into the bench against the Raptors but he will probably have to since the unit is so thin and all. He may go deep into the bench for game one and hopefully make rotational adjustments accordingly.
Joe: Durant’s absence might have to force Steve Kerr to extend his rotation a little bit. Assuming a starting lineup of Curry/Thompson/Iguodala/Green/Andrew Bogut, the first man off the bench would certainly be Kevon Looney, followed by Shaun Livingston and Alfonzo McKinnie — after that is anyone’s guess.
Jordan Bell has been providing quality minutes so far during this postseason, so Kerr could give him some run depending on the situation. Jonas Jerebko could be part of Kerr’s usual second-unit squad that has been the norm since Durant’s injury. Quinn Cook might have difficulty getting some time on the floor due to his size and questionable defensive capabilities, but if the Warriors suddenly go cold, he could be inserted.
And of course, there is the possibility of DeMarcus Cousins’ return in time for Game 1. According to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, Cousins is fully recovered from his ruptured quadriceps injury, but it is now a matter of conditioning and fitness. Cousins still has some ways to go in that department, which tells me that he won’t be starting in Game 1 but will most likely come off the bench, possibly as the secondary option in the second unit behind Thompson.
Daniel: STRENGTH IN NUMBERS SHALL PREVAIL.
4.) What’s your prediction for how long this series goes?
Dr. Tom: I think it goes six games with the Warriors closing down Oracle Arena by winning a title. I think Leonard is going to play great (think LeBron James in the 2017 and 2018 Finals-great) and that will push this series to six, but I don’t know how his supporting cast will do against the Warriors. I also think big things are in store for Stephen Curry in this year’s Finals. It just feels like it’s going to happen.
Jannelle: Warriors in six. Toronto will more than likely split at home and at Oracle with the Warriors winning the title at Oracle. I believe that Steph will finally get the finals MVP that’s eluded him.
Joe: I personally think that this series depends on Durant’s availability, even going so far as to say that the series hangs on a thread because of it. While Curry, Thompson, and Green can most certainly hold their own against the Raptors, having Durant there adds the best insurance policy in the NBA. Make a mistake on defense? Give it to KD to make up for the easy points you just gave up. Split action gets bogged down? KD will just turn around and bury a fadeaway jumper. Etc., etc.
As I stated above, the series also hangs on Thompson’s — and by extension, Curry’s — ability to establish a rhythm on offense early on. Should they accomplish that, the Raptors will be hard pressed to stop them; if not, then the Warriors could be taken into deep waters by the Raptors, and that is a scenario that is frightening to think about.
With that said, if Durant returns by Game 2 or 3, I will take the Warriors to win their third-straight championship in 6 games. However, if Durant stays out for a longer period of time — or possibly, out for the rest of the season — then I will predict the series to go the entire 7 games, giving the Warriors a slight edge over the Raptors, but only by the smallest of margins — around a 51-49 percent edge.
Daniel: WARRIORS IN SIX. THE NORTH SHALL FALL.