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Warriors at Raptors preview: Kevin Durant upgraded to “questionable” for do or die elimination game

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Don’t let it end like this.

2019 NBA Finals - Game Four

It’s been a long time since the Golden State Warriors looked as thoroughly defeated in a playoff game like they did after falling behind 3-1 in the 2019 NBA Finals on Friday night. After dropping their second consecutive home game, it was apparent that the Toronto Raptors were just a better team through four games.

But after going through a successful practice on Sunday, Warriors star forward Kevin Durant was upgraded to questionable for Game 5. He hasn’t played basketball in a month, but another star returning to the lineup will provide an emotional and statistical boost - both aspects are sorely needed.

What’s been going wrong

When you can add a player of Kevin Durant’s caliber, you do. However, such a move comes with some opportunity costs. The NBA’s maximum salaries are tied to a percentage of the total allowed cap (25% in general, up to 35% for the so-called Supermax players like Steph Curry). So obviously, when you add a lot of top-end talent you sacrifice some of the time and money available to entice marginal players. You also tend to not get good draft picks because your team is so good.

It’s a reality that everyone has generally understood — and I’m not complaining about it — but if you’re looking for an explanation for how the Raptors have so completely owned the Warriors, that’s a good place to start. And even more specifically, the market inefficiency for shooters in the modern NBA.

Outside of Curry and Thompson, the rest of the Warriors are 17 of 64 (26.6%) from beyond the arc in the Finals. This isn’t a new problem.

Golden State ranked dead least in bench three pointers two seasons ago and were unable to do anything about it over the offseason. Names like Rudy Gay, and Tyreke Evans went off the market for well over what the Warriors could offer. It’s a problem most teams would be happy to have, but the historical inertia at work in these losses to the Raptors is something that bears consideration. Here’s Patrick Murray’s thoughts from our Slack chat:

DeMarcus Cousins fell into their lap, but it was a gamble for a ceiling that hasn’t been reliably maintained by the big man as he continues to battle through injuries. Flat-footed and unable to jump over a phone book, he’s been abysmal in these Finals, outside of one game.

There’s a reason the Raptors got away with playing a Box-and-1 zone defense. Other than Curry, Thompson, and Durant, the Warriors don’t have any dangerous scoring threats.

What has been left at the wings is a cobbled together set of good players with one glaring deficiency — none of the ones who can shoot can stay on the floor. Draymond Green is shooting 18% and has put up 44 threes in these Finals. Iguodala has attempted 17 threes, only hitting four of them for a 23% accuracy rate. Even our shooter options haven’t been hitting well enough to justify the lost defense (Quinn Cook 33%).

Meanwhile, the Raptors face no such struggles. Rising star Pascal Siakam dominated a game. Savvy journeyman Serge Ibaka came up big when they needed him. Fred VanVleet and Danny Green have shown flashes. There’s a reason it’s hard to stay on top in the NBA, and the Warriors streak of five consecutive Finals series serves as an excellent illustration of how bare the cupboards can get by the end of the run.

How can the Warriors win game 5?

The return of Durant — assuming it happens — is paramount. If Durant doesn’t come back in this game, I’m having a really hard time imagining the Warriors season not ending tonight. Up until the injury, Durant was destroying everything. He’s averaging 34.2 points per game on .655 true shooting, to go along with 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks in the playoffs. Even at partial efficacy, his impact would send shivers through the stout Raptors defense.

Otherwise, we just need to play better.

On the defensive end, the tendancy of overhelping and then coughing up an open look to one of the Raptors shooters looks a whole lot like a full blown meltdown. Many have been trepidacious about the bad defensive habits, and this post season may be the year they’ve finally caught up. From 538:

Toronto’s offensive rating for the series now stands at 115.1, per NBA.com, better than any mark the Cavaliers posted against the Warriors during their four consecutive finals clashes. This is also not the only series this postseason in which Golden State’s defense has struggled.4 Their defensive rating for the postseason overall is no longer even in the top 10 among the 16 teams that made the tournament. That is a major departure from their previous four trips to this round, when they ranked first, seventh, second and first among playoff teams in defensive rating.

Prediction

It can’t end like this. As magical and well-deserved as a hometown victory would be for Toronto, they’ll have to wait to celebrate the first ever NBA championship in Canada.

Durant comes back. Warriors hold off Raptors 108-107