Finally, game one of the NBA Finals are upon us. Before the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors tip off, Dylan Litman from Raptors Blog offered his takes on what matchup intrigues him the most, adjustments and the vibe of Toronto after the Raptors’ historic win.
GSOM: What match-up(s) are you looking forward to in this series and why?
Dylan: When/if Kevin Durant comes back, I will be looking forward to watching Kawhi Leonard battle with him, toe-to-toe. However, until that day comes, there are plenty of interesting matchups to keep an eye out for. Kyle Lowry versus Steph Curry seems like an obvious answer, though I have a feeling the Warriors may opt to put the clamps on Lowry by guarding him primarily with Klay Thompson instead. Klay’s defensive prowess would be somewhat wasted on Danny Green, unless Green decides to snap out of the multi-series funk he’s been in.
If DeMarcus Cousins comes back, I’ll be curious to observe how he fares against Marc Gasol, who’s been a defensive powerhouse all postseason (though, I don’t think Steve Kerr will insert Cousins into the starting lineup, at least not right away).
I would assume Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala get the lion’s share of Kawhi matchups this series, so I’ll be looking for Kawhi to find his space and dominate as he did against a certain freakish Greek last round.
GSOM: What adjustments do you feel that coach Nick Nurse must make for Toronto to have a chance of winning the series?
Dylan: I think we’re finally going to get a taste of Pascal Siakam at center, a lineup that Nick Nurse has been teasing all year. Though having OG Anunoby would help provide some size in that lineup, the Raptors will likely try inserting Norman Powell for his relentless energy and quickness. Norm isn’t exactly the most consistent shooter, but a lineup of Lowry-Green-Norman-Kawhi-Siakam should have enough long-range proficiency (on paper, at least) to keep up with the smaller, sharpshooting lineups that Golden State could employ.
Unlike the Raptors’ previous three series, the Warriors don’t attack from the inside out. The Magic ran their offense through Vucevic, the 76ers’ through Embiid and the Bucks through Giannis. The Warriors however, are a very guard-centric team (especially when Durant isn’t playing). They run a ton of off-ball screens to get Curry and Klay open, and don’t stop moving once the ball has been launched. While the Raptors should have an easier time rebounding, they need to focus their defensive energy on sticking with the Warriors on the perimeter instead of packing the paint.
GSOM: This is the first International Finals, and Toronto is traditionally a hockey city. I’d like to know: has the city embraced basketball more, and if so, when did you first realize it?
Dylan: It’s true that the Leafs are dearer to most Torontonians’ hearts than the Raptors. After all, hockey is ingrained in Canada’s culture. Canadians have basically played hockey since the country was born. There are seven NHL teams across the country, compared to just one basketball team. Still, the Raptors have seen a ridiculous amount of support over the last few years, once the team put together a string of playoff runs. It’s also important to note that Toronto is a multi-cultural city, as are the Raptors themselves. Fans revel in the sport’s diversity.
I don’t know when I first realized just how massive the impact of a winning Raptors team is having on the city, but I’ve had multiple Leafs fans - who are generally indifferent to basketball - suddenly striking up a conversation with me about the Raptors. Co-workers, neighbors, friends and family are all sporting Raptor gear for the first time, and it’s a wonderful sight. There are murals of Kawhi popping up around Toronto, and a city-wide campaign in which local restaurants are offering Kawhi free meals in return for his commitment to the team, long-term. Here’s hoping that this city’s love affair with basketball is here to stay.