NBA Finals Preview & Predictions
After winning their two regular-season matchups, can the Raptors beat the Warriors in the Finals with their home court advantage?
The Warriors Road to the Finals
The Golden State Warriors were widely tipped to become the first team since Bill Russell’s Celtics to appear in five consecutive NBA Finals, which would put an end to the run of eight straight by LeBron James with Cleveland, Miami and Cleveland again. The Warriors ended up on top of the Western Conference with a record of 57-25, one less win than last season and their lowest since 2013-14, but as has been the case in the last four years, the feeling was Steve Kerr’s men had another gear to go to in the playoffs.
Surprisingly, it took until Kevin Durant injury in Game 5 of their conference semi-finals against Houston to elevate to that gear. Since Durant limped off the court against the Rockets in that crucial game 5 of a tied 2-2 series against the Rockets, the Warriors haven’t been defeated and head into the Finals on a six-game winning streak and extremely well rested.
Rd 1 1. Golden State Warriors def. 8. Los Angeles Clippers 4-2
Conference Semifinals 1. Golden State Warriors def. 4. Houston Rockets 4-2
Western Conference Finals 1. Golden State Warriors def. 3. Portland Trailblazers 4-0
The Raptors Road to the Final
The Toronto Raptors began their journey to the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance 12 months ago. After again falling being swept by LeBron James and the Cavs in the conference semifinals, coach Dwayne Casey was fired. A month later, Casey was named NBA Coach of the Year. If that move wasn’t shocking enough, the Raptors traded away their leading point scorer in franchise history and perennial All-Star DeMar DeRozan and their first-round draft pick for Kawhi Leonard who had practically missed the entire 2017-2018 season. They later dealt Jonas Valanciunas for Marc Gasol and have continued to break records in their 25th season as an NBA franchise.
After losing Game 1 of their opening round series, the Raptors responded with four straight wins to advance in five. In the conference semifinals, they had to survive a Game 7 where Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater in a 41-point performance eliminated the 76ers and advanced the Raptors to just their second Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
After dropping the first two games in Milwaukee, many thought the series was over, but the Raptors had other ideas as their bench finally came alive and Leonard for the first time had a supporting cast around him. Behind a 26-3 run, the Raptors rallied in Game 6 to send the city of Toronto into delirium with the former Finals MVP Leonard finishing with 27 points and 17 rebounds.
Rd 1 2. Toronto Raptors def. 7. Orlando Magic 4-1
Conference Semifinals 2. Toronto Raptors def. 3. Philadelphia 76ers 4-3
Western Conference Finals 2. Toronto Raptors def. 1. Milwaukee Bucks 4-2
The one thing in favour of the Raptors heading into this series is they hold home court advantage and the Warriors will be missing Kevin Durant for at least the first and possibly the second game of the series, both of which will be in Toronto. Despite the Warriors going undefeated since Durant’s injury, the Warriors are a significantly better team with the former MVP in the starting five. The Warriors battled back from double-digit deficits in their last three games against the Blazers, relying heavily on some Steph Curry magic and can ill afford lucky to afford the Raptors such a cushy buffer.
Another edge for the underdogs is they became only the second team in the Steve Kerr era to sweep the Warriors during their regular season series. In their two season meetings, the Raptors won 131-128 (OT) in Toronto and 113-93 in Oakland – without Kawhi Leonard. Kyle Lowry scored 23 points and added 12 assists in the rout. Both of those results were before Christmas and a distant memory for the Warriors, but no doubt it will give Nick Burse and the Raptors even more belief.
Having said all of that, the Warriors are too talented and there is far too much on the line for them to let this opportunity slip. A Three-peat and a fourth championship in five years will solidify the Warriors as undoubtedly one of the greatest dynasty’s the sport has ever seen.
The subplot to all of this is whether or not this is the last series we see the Warriors as we currently know them. Regardless of the result on the court, discussion will still centre around will he, or won’t he? There has been conjecture about Kevin Durant’s future long before this season even started.
So how will this all play out? Here’s what we think…
Kevin Durant to return for Game 3 back in Oakland. His presence will lift the Warriors to back-to-back wins at home to tie the series at 2-2. Kawhi Leonard will have a monster Game 5 to put his franchise on the precipice of their first ever championship. Game 6 will return to Oakland where the Warriors force a Game. 7 before ultimately writing their name in the record books as they lift a fourth championship in the past five years behind a huge performance from Steph Curry in the decider.
Tip: Golden State 4-3
Finals MVP Prediction
It’s the only thing missing from Steph Curry’s trophy cabinet and he is the short priced favourite to add a Finals MVP to his impressive CV. It’s hard to back against him, especially if you think the Warriors will win the series with Durant likely to miss the opening two games.
Curry averaged a ridiculous 36.5 point per game against the Blazers and shot over 42% from behind the arc so certainly comes into this series in career best form. Kevin Durant is a silly price at $17 with many bookmakers, especially if like us, believe the Raptors can pinch the opening two games at home. This means Durant could enter the series down 0-2 and potentially lead his team back to a famous championship.
If that’s the case, it’s hard not to see Durant making it three consecutive Finals MVP awards. Kawhi Leonard will win his second Finals MVP if the Raptors can win their first ever championship, heck they will even make a gold statue of him in Toronto. He represents great value because it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Leonard could still potentially win the award in a losing series, especially if it goes the distance.
Tip: Steph Curry
Value: Kevin Durant