For the first time in it’s history, the NBA will have a truly international Finals series to determine their champion. This is just one aspect of what makes for quite a different feel coming into the NBA Finals, where the Warriors have been going up against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for what feels like an eternity. The Raptors don’t have James, but they also have a squad that isn’t one of those tatterdemalion Eastern Conference teams that he dragged in last year either.
As Nate Parham pointed out earlier, we really can’t draw too many conclusions from the matchups between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors during the regular season. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to infer from looking at these teams ahead of game one.
The Raptors look different than they have for most of the season. With new addition Marc Gasol joining late, and Kawhi Leonard having missed one of the two regular season games, Golden State hasn’t truly faced this team before. The Warriors, for their part have done everything they could to make this matchup as opaque as possible. In two regular season matchups this season Golden State played one game without DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Iguodala; and the second without Curry, Cousins, or Draymond Green.
DURANT INJURY UPDATE
The biggest issue of course is Kevin Durant and his strained calf. Still walking gingerly, he did end up making the trip up to Toronto for the first two games. He’s officially out tonight but judge for yourself if you think he’ll be ready for the second game on Sunday. Game three is in approximately one week from when this video was taken, so would seem like the earliest potential return date.
Here's Kevin Durant boarding the Warriors team plane to Toronto. An encouraging sign. #DubNation pic.twitter.com/r7PfW7PxYz— Casey Pratt (@CaseyPrattABC7) May 28, 2019
I don’t know what’s going on with Kawhi Leonard leg. He was clearly favoring right leg in the last round, but was dominant, and looked fine mostly. Danny Green mentioned as an aside that Leonard was “dealing with a knee issue” but the team doesn’t have anything officially listed, though The Athletic noted tendinitis after Game 3 against the Bucks:
The right quadriceps tendinopathy that basically cost Leonard his last season in San Antonio was never an issue, but a season spent overcompensating for that injury eventually manifested in the form of tendinitis that flared up in his left knee in Game 3.
The tale of the tape
Without Durant, the Warriors need to work a bit harder for everything.
As pointed out by various people already, while it certainly doesn’t make the Warriors better, it does force them to run around a lot more. And the Warriors wise players know how to thrive in chaos.
Do yourself a favor and spend two minutes watching Tim Legler break down how differently the Warriors attack in a nine second span of time. Too long, didn’t watch? They run around a lot more:
Tim Legler breaks down how GSW offense runs differently with Curry vs KD pic.twitter.com/xfXVNJMsO0— The Render (@TheRenderSports) May 23, 2019
Toronto’s defense is mostly well-positioned to defend the Warriors. My guess is that Kyle Lowry will primarily defend Curry, with Danny Green chasing Klay Thompson around, and Leonard pairing up opposite Draymond Green in order to crum up the pick and roll attack. In particular, watch the Curry/Lowry matchup for fouls. Kyle Lowry ranks second in both loose balls recovered (2.2) and charges drawn (0.72) per game in the playoffs. While he is certainly not better than Curry, his hustle may steal a critical possession or two if Curry isn’t mindful.
As we’ve seen throughout most of these playoffs (and really all of them over the past five years) Green and Iguodala will serve as relief valves once Toronto over emphasises defending Curry and Thompson. How well the Raptors ancillary players can survive within the chaotic environment of the Warriors attack will play a large role in determining how effective their overall game plan can be.
Two well-matched teams
Looking at the statistics, these teams have a lot in common. Neither has any glaring offensive or defensive holes. While the Warriors have a more high powered offense (116.4 points per 100 possessions; compared to Raptors’ 108.1), the Raptors superior defense pushes this to a pretty even draw - both teams have a Net Rating of right around +6 in the 2019 playoffs.
The Raptors are one of the ever-increasing number of teams that seem defensively built to frustrate the Warriors attack. They are long, athletic, and have multiple options at the wing that will help them to deal with the Warriors motion-heavy schemes. There aren’t really any surprises left when it comes to the Warriors core - everyone already knows that Curry and Thompson will drive the scoring, with Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala taking control of the steering wheel from time to time. But like an angry old man throwing soup across the deli counter, knowing something’s coming doesn’t always help prevent it.
Toronto actually runs a system somewhat similar to Golden State’s. With Lowry and Leonard as the fulcrums, the offense is a reasonably efficient, top ten performer. Leonard is really the trickiest one to stop, according to NBA.com: Leonard has averaged 0.472 points per touch, most in the playoffs. His rate of 0.410 points per touch in the conference finals was down from the first two rounds, but still led all players with at least 100 touches last round. Though we will miss Durant defensively (Thompson and Iguodala will serve as the primary Kawhi defenders), Durant’s 2nd best point per touch (0.468) would have been a nice counter to go to. Thankfully, the Warriors do have this one guy who’s pretty good.
Steph is more focused on winning a 4th title over a Finals MVP— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 30, 2019
Key Players and strategies
I’m approaching a thousand words here, but want to cover a couple of key points:
The defense of Draymond Green vs the defense of Kawhi Leonard - Green had a lot of very insightful things to say yesterday about what it takes to be great. If he’s not the greatest defender of all time, he is certainly one of the greatest disruptors ever. With his ability to guard all five positions - really though - at an elite level, Green’s fingerprints all over the Warriors recent records of accomplishment.
Every.Single.Word— Wells P (@Wells_P) May 30, 2019
Greatness is a choice, not a given. Hard Work and dedication to your craft defines that. pic.twitter.com/KNlCwXCiYk
Leonard too, is widely regarded as one of, if not the best, defender in the league. The Raptors were able to completely shut down the Milwaukee Bucks because Leonard does all the little things Green does, while also having a bunch of shot blocking, long-armed players behind him.
Whichever one of these guys can do a better job at disrupting their opponents offense will be a significant factor in the Finals.
Can the Warriors-reintegrate their stars on the fly? - Because this team is so deeply talented, we gloss over the fact that they lost their starting Center in round 1, and a guy who most people were calling “the best player in the NBA” in round 2. But as both Durant and Cousins return to availability, reintegration will be an issue.
This is a team that has rediscovered the purest form of their identity, a seamless time warp back to the times when Andrew Bogut was starting and Curry was chasing MVP awards. We led off this article with a video from ESPN showing how differently the team uses the final nine seconds of a shot clock. It’s not an indictment, but the nature of both Durant and Cousins’ games doesn’t lead to smooth inclusion into what the Warriors are running right now. In the regular season, we’d just toss them back in whenever and live with the results, but with only four losses left to play with, Kerr’s tinkering and rotational decisions are going to be vitally important.
The Warriors have been excellent on the road, especially in the post season, and are playing extremely well right now. Even without Cousins and Durant, I think this team could take the Raptors.
Even with whatever complications arise from bringing Durant and Cousins back mid-series, I keep coming back to the fact that when you match up player against player, the Warriors show extremely well. I’m taking Curry over Lowry and Thompson over Danny Green - neither of those is particularly close. Kawhi and the combo of Iguodala / whatever we can get from Durant leaves me feeling all right about the wings. Draymond Green is miles better than any power forward the Raptors have. And at center, it’s a big mess, but one that is close enough to even for me.
Warriors in 6.
When: Thursday May 30th, 2019 at 6:00pm PST
Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Ontario
Line: Warriors +1, o/u 215
Injuries: OG Anunoby (appendix) is out and Patrick McCaw (personal) is questionable for the Raptors.
Andre Iguodala (calf) is probable, DeMarcus Cousins (quadricep) is questionable and Kevin Durant (calf) is out for the Warriors.
Blog Buddy: Raptors HQ
Full 2019 NBA Finals schedule (from NBA.com)
Game 1: Thur, May 30, Golden State at Toronto | 6 PT (ABC)
Game 2: Sun, June 2, Golden State at Toronto | 5 PT (ABC)
Game 3: Wed, June 5, Toronto at Golden State | 6 PT (ABC)
Game 4: Fri, June 7, Toronto at Golden State | 6 PT (ABC)
*Game 5: Mon, June 10, Golden State at Toronto | 6 PT (ABC)
*Game 6: Thur, June 13, Toronto at Golden State | 6 PT (ABC)
*Game 7: Sun, June 16, Golden State at Toronto | 5 PT (ABC)
(* = If necessary)