The Toronto Raptors will be facing the Golden State Warriors on May 30th in the 2019 NBA Finals. This is the best match-up we could have gotten for many reasons and I will go into them in a bit but first congratulations to these two teams on making it to the NBA Finals.
First off, I want to admit that I had the Milwaukee Bucks making it to the NBA Finals and I was wrong. My prediction was that Giannis Antetokounmpo would be unguardable but that wasn’t the case. I saw one person point out that the Raptors needed Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to stop Antetokounmpo and no other team has that many elite defenders on their team. It was a team effort by the Raptors to beat the Bucks.
We need to talk about Leonard and the amazing playoff run he has been having. He is averaging 31.2 points per game on over 50 percent shooting. That is ridiculous and telling of why the Raptors are in the NBA Finals. A player as efficient as Leonard and the best defender since Scottie Pippen is unheard of. His teammates have come up big when he had needed them and head coach Nick Nurse has been phenomenal this year. He is only the 8th rookie head coach to make it to the NBA Finals.
On the other side, we have the Warriors trying to win for the third straight year and four out of five. They are the first team to make it to at least 5 straight NBA Finals since the 1960’s Boston Celtics. Talk about consistency. The headlines following them are injuries and the stellar basketball they are playing without their star player, Kevin Durant. They will be without Durant in Game 1 and it is yet to be determined when he will return.
Having Durant back is crucial for the Warriors not because they can’t win but because it frees up Stephen Curry. Leonard will be tasked with guarding Curry until Durant returns. That puts the Raptors in a bad predicament because if either Curry or Durant goes off, the series will be over fast. Klay Thompson will have an easier match-up and he will get his points and the Raptors won’t be able to match the Warriors offensive output.
The key for the Raptors will be to limit Curry and Thompson and get a lot of production from Paskal Siakam and Kyle Lowry. If either of those two players falters, the Raptors will not win. Everything has to go right for the Raptors to win and that isn’t even putting into account Leonard’s production. He has been carrying the scoring load but we have seen the Warriors shut down Damian Lillard and if they do the same to Leonard, the Raptors will be in trouble.
I don’t expect Leonard to be stopped but his shooting percentage will take a dip. Golden State defends well and help well when players drive. They also have an elite defender in Andre Igoudala and are a lengthy team that will disrupt shots. Getting points on this Warriors team is going to be much tougher than any team they faced so far but the Raptors are resilient and have been good at solving problems in this playoff run.
When the Miami Heat tried to three-peat with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, they ended up losing to the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Guess who was on that team? Yes, Kawhi Leonard was the one who stopped the Heat from three-peating. He will try to do that again against the Warriors and this may be his toughest task yet. When Leonard won the Finals MVP that year, many people said he didn’t deserve it. He obviously did but by now carrying this Raptors team to the NBA Finals, he has proven that he did deserve it and will try to get another one this year.
I have the Warriors winning it in six games. Toronto is a great team but their second and third best players are too inconsistent. Everything has to go right for the Raptors to win and I can’t see that happening. They are facing Steve Kerr and he is a basketball wizard who gets the best out of his players. Toronto has proven that with great defense and giving the ball to Leonard is a recipe for success but the same trick can work so many times before opponents can see through it and that is what will happen. That doesn’t mean we won’t have a great NBA Finals. It may be the best one of this decade and there’s no better way of closing this decade with a great series.