The Golden State Warriors will now make their 5thstraight NBA Finals appearance tonight, though for once, they will not have to face the Cleveland Cavaliers or LeBron James. James leaving Cleveland left the Cavs with one of the worst records in the NBA, and a new team to finally take over the throne of the Eastern Conference. Once LeBron left, it became a race between the Toronto Raptors, who had traded for Kawhi Leonard this past summer, the Boston Celtics, who had just made the Eastern Conference Finals and challenged LeBron the season before on his way to his 8thstraight NBA Finals appearance, and the Philadelphia 76ers, who were led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and during the season traded for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. No one expected the Milwaukee Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokuonmpo, to have an MVP-caliber season and lead them to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they would play Toronto. Toronto, however, having been down 2-0 to start the series, won the next 4 to take the series in 6 and go to the NBA Finals. The Warriors had a somewhat difficult path to the Finals this year, with a near first-round scare from the LA Clippers. The Warriors had a 1-0 lead in the series and were looking to make it 2-0 when they were up by 31 in the 3rdquarter, but lo and behold, the All-Star-less Clippers won that game. Then, when the Warriors were up 3-1 and looking to close it out in their building, the Clippers won again. Since then, the Warriors beat the Rockets in what was a surprisingly short series against the Rockets, where they won in 6 games (short considering how the Rockets were expected to take the series to 7), and then they swept the Portland Trail Blazers. Along the way, they ended up losing DeMarcus Cousins in the first round, who will be back tonight, and Kevin Durant in the Western Conference Semifinals, who will be out for at least tonight and Game 2 (I do not expect him to be healthy and playing this series). Here is what I think will happen in this intriguing NBA Finals.
The Series Depends on Kevin Durant
In the last 32 games that Golden State has played without Kevin Durant and with Stephen Curry, they have a 31-1 record. The last 32 games with them both, the Warriors are 21-11. Yet despite all the crazy thoughts and ideas that people have, saying that the Warriors are better without Kevin Durant as opposed to with him, they are definitely better with Durant in the lineup. With Kevin Durant, there is less movement without the ball by the players, and more movement with the ball, which stems from Durant’s ability to create separation from defenders and get open shots. Durant being there allows for Golden State to play slower, but play more effectively, and put more value into each possession, with his bonafide scoring ability. While I do not expect Durant to play, but if he does, and he does before Game 7, the Warriors will be overwhelming favorites to win the series.
Marc Gasol Will Outplay Demarcus Cousins
It has been no secret that Demarcus Cousins’ injury history has finally taken a toll on him, and that should be an area where Toronto should have the advantage. The Warriors have the advantage right now at shooting guard with Klay Thompson being better than Danny Green, point guard with Curry being better than Kyle Lowry, and then power forward and small forward matchups are close to even, with Draymond Green and Pascal Siakam being rather evenly matched, and Kawhi and KD being evenly matched as well. But what can give Toronto a huge boost is the defensive prowess and improved shooting of Marc Gasol, who can also tire out Demarcus Cousins very quickly due to his lack of movement and speed due to his injuries. I fully expect Raptors Coach Nick Nurse to use Gasol as the second scoring option behind Kawhi, and I fully expect Gasol to take advantage.
The Warriors Bench Needs to Play Valuable Minutes… and Make Valuable Use of Them
The Warriors bench, I think everyone can agree, is certainly not better than that of Toronto, led by Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell, but the Warriors do have experience in NBA Finals games. The bench, led by Andre Iguodala, who has been with the Warriors for all of the past 5 years, will need guys like Quinn Cook, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Damian Jones to match up with the likes of Ibaka, VanVleet, and Powell. As good as Curry, Green, and Thompson have been these playoffs, this is the NBA Finals, and these guys will need rest each game, so these guys better be ready. I know Toronto’s guys will be considering how much they have relied on this postseason. Golden State’s bench better match that.
Drake Will Frustrate Golden State
The NBA’s greatest fan currently is certainly going to be a big discussion point in these Finals. Drake was arrogantly called out by Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer in the Eastern Conference Finals and said Drake was a ‘distraction’. So, are guys like Spike Lee, who has been at Knicks games for 20+ years, not? Just because Drake is a passionate, flamboyant fan, does not mean that he is a distraction. That being said, the world is full of petty people, and Golden State will feel frustrated by the antics he pulls during this series.
Despite All That…
The Warriors will probably still win. Simply put, there is no way that Kyle Lowry and Danny Green can stop Curry and Thompson. IF Durant does not come back and IF Toronto doesn’t lose any home games, they will win in 7. My expectation is that Golden State will lose Game 5 at Toronto, go back home, and win in 6. So yes, my prediction is Warriors in 6, but I sure hope I am wrong, and it is Raptors in 7. This will be a great and entertaining series, and certainly a series where you cannot count Toronto out.