Article by: Harrison Weaver
I hate to be the guy who mentions LeBron James in an article about these NBA Finals, which features a terrific matchup between Golden State and Toronto, but this is the first time since 2010 that we will be watching a championship series that does not include The King. For those of you reading this that are fellow college students, that means we have not seen a LeBron-less NBA Finals since middle school. Think about that, it's just absurd. Okay, enough about that. ESPN seems to have enough reporters that eat, sleep, and breathe LeBron and like I said before, I am not going to be that guy for the rest of this piece.
This year, it's all about the Raptors and Warriors, squaring off in an extremely intriguing matchup with a lot of variables that are still in question. The most important being the health of Kevin Durant, whom some would argue is the best player in the world right now. He has been ruled out of Game 1 tomorrow night, but still traveled with the team to Toronto for the first two games of the series. Some are questioning whether or now KD will even appear in this series. The Warriors with Durant and The Warriors without Durant will create two completely different NBA Final endings, and I am going to break down what each one looks like.
The Warriors without Kevin Durant
Without Durant, the Warriors have managed to look like the best version that we have seen all season. Ball movement has been fluid, Steph Curry has been looking like his MVP self, Draymond has been on an absolute tear, and the whole supporting cast has really played to their potential. They outplayed the Rockets in Game 6 without Durant, proving to be the superior team down the stretch. Then they swept the Trailblazers in the Conference Finals, despite that series being a lot closer than what the score would suggest. However, neither the Rockets nor Blazers pack the same kind of punch that the Raptors do. The Rockets cannot get through the playoffs. They rely too much on isolation basketball which has led to some late-game sputters and an inability to close out games against elite teams, *cough cough* Golden State. The Blazers simply did not have enough of a supporting cast around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to be able to close out games against the Warriors.
The Raptors though are a different monster. They are led by superstar Kawhi Leonard who was raised in the fire of Western Conference basketball with the Spurs and Coach Popovich. In my opinion, he is playing the best basketball in the league right now. The Raptors are a long and physical team who have a wide variety of ways that they can D-up their opponents. Down in the paint, they can throw Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka at you to deny easy layups and dunks. On the perimeter, Kawhi is always on lockdown as well as Danny Green and Kyle Lowry, who have really been dogging opposing offenses in these playoffs. Pascal Siakam is an extended and spidery defender, and he really uses his length to intercept and tip passes. Offensively, the Raptors have been streaky all season outside of Kawhi but have been hot ever since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Case in point, the Raptors could match up with these Warriors. Look for the Raptors to switch on every screen, especially because they have the personnel to do it. Without Durant, the Warriors will be playing a lot of perimeter offense just like they did against Portland. If the Raptors can keep Golden State from getting crazy hot from beyond the arc, they can and will win their first NBA Finals. Let me repeat that, if Kevin Durant does not play in these Finals, the Toronto Raptors will be the NBA Champions. With their offense clicking, the Raptors are one of the hardest teams to stop in the entire league. Without Durant to make those clutch buckets down the stretch, the Warriors lose that element of being unstoppable, and with a lengthy, athletic, switching defense, they can be made vulnerable.
My pick without KD: Raptors in 7
The Warriors with Kevin Durant (by Game 3)
If Kevin Durant comes back after Game 1 or 2, the Warriors will win. Plain and simple. Kawhi has been the best player overall in these playoffs, the whole Raptors team has been playing elite and has shown so much resiliency. Examples being like facing a 2-1 deficit against the Sixers, and a 2-0 hole against Milwaukee. However, the Warriors are too much for anyone to handle when they have Kevin Durant along with Steph, Klay, Draymond, and the rest of the group. I would pick the Warriors in 6 with him healthy. Sure, they looked off against the Clippers and the first half of the Rockets series, but I am convinced they were not giving 100%. The Warriors are a different team when the spotlight is on, whether it is the Conference Finals or NBA Finals. With KD, they are 8-1 in the Finals, all against Lebron and the Cavaliers. A lot of those games to that point were blowouts. Even when they are close, the Warriors can finish the job. Given this year’s Raptors are a better team than the Cavs, I still think the Warriors have too much skill and experience for them to handle with KD.
My pick with KD: Warriors in 6
Side Note: Somehow, against all odds, DeMarcus Cousins is likely to play in this series, maybe even by Game 1. With or without him there has not been a big difference, hence why I did not cover it previously. He is just not the same Boogie we are accustomed to seeing ever since his Achilles tear. He always has the potential to make game-changing plays. At one point, he was one of the best big men in the league, and that still has not disappeared. Look for him to possibly be an X-factor in this series if he can come back healthy.
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