The biggest event in basketball tips off this week as the Golden State Warriors – aiming add more sheen to their dynasty with a third-straight title – take on the Toronto Raptors, a franchise competing in its first NBA Finals.
NBA Finals schedule
From that perspective there could not be a bigger contrast between this year’s two championship finalists but Toronto are here on merit after overcoming the regular season’s best team, the Milwaukee Bucks, in six games to emerge from the Eastern Conference.
That said, the Warriors have been over the course and distance before and are in their fifth straight NBA Finals and, even with All-Stars Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins unavailable for the start of the series at least, are fancied by the bookies to complete the three-peat.
DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant are both injured for the Golden State Warriors
Position for position though, especially with those key absentees, there is plenty of evidence to suggest the Raptors have enough in their locker to produce a shock.
Here’s how both teams match up across the positions and in other key areas to see which one has the edge in each department ahead of what promises to be a fascinating series.
Stephen Curry takes top billing with 37 points, 11 assists and 13 rebounds in Golden State’s series-clinching Game 4 win over Portland in the Western Conference Finals
Golden State: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Toronto: Kyle Lowry and Danny Green.
Analysis: No disrespect to Lowry, whose toughness and leadership are both overlooked because people tend to see only scoring, but this matchup clearly tilts Golden State’s way. Curry and Thompson have averaged 42.5 points combined in their first 22 finals games together and even on their bad days are two of the most feared shooters in the game.
The Splash Brothers are two of the best shooters in NBA history
Toronto simply needs more from Green who, despite being good defensively, is shooting only 32 per cent in the playoffs and 31 percent from three-point range. Toronto won the last four games of the Eastern Conference finals even while Green went a staggering 1 for 15 from beyond the arc.
Kyle Lowry and Danny Green in action against Milwaukee
But Green is experienced and has had enormous moments in the finals before He is also a 52 per cent shooter from three-point land in 12 previous finals games. The Raptors will be hoping he is saving his best form for the big stage once again.
Kawhi Leonard came up huge in Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks with 27 points, 17 rebounds, and 7 assists as the Raptors advanced to the NBA Finals
Golden State: Kevin Durant/Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green.
Toronto: Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam.
Analysis: Durant is not expected to be available for Game 1 because of his calf strain, and it remains unclear if he will play at any point in the finals. Iguodala is a past Finals MVP and Green may be playing the best basketball of his life right now, with keeping his emotions in check yet another bonus for the Warriors.
Draymond Green has been back to his best for the Golden State Warriors during this year's playoff run
For the Raptors, Siakam has had great moments in these playoffs and is likely the most improved player in the NBA this season. But this matchup comes down to Leonard, who has willed the Raptors through every tough moment they have faced in the postseason and has put himself in the best-player-in-the-world-right-now conversation. The Leonard vs. Green (or Iguodala) matchup when the Raptors have the ball will be fascinating.
Edge: Even, based on the plan that Durant is missing some of the series.
Golden State: Jordan Bell (presumably).
Toronto: Marc Gasol.
Analysis: Bell, if he does actually start, which is in some doubt, has just 35 points in 11 games this postseason.
Jordan Bell slams a dunk home
But do not be surprised if Cousins, who has never played in a finals game and missed most of these playoffs with a quad injury, is back on the floor early in the series for the Warriors and back as a starter not long after that.
Marc Gasol in action for the Toronto Raptors
Gasol has waited a long time for this first taste of the finals and so far in the playoffs, the Spaniard has made more three-point shots (28) than two-point field goals (27) and 55 per cent of his points have come from beyond the three-point line.
Edge: Raptors, largely because of the uncertainty surrounding Cousins’ availability.
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Golden State: Kevon Looney, Shaun Livingston, Quinn Cook, Andrew Bogut.
Toronto: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka.
Analysis: The Warriors’ bench rotation will change if Cousins and/or Durant return. Golden State has averaged 24.6 points off the bench in the playoffs, which does not look so hot, but a deeper dive shows how effective certain things have been for the Warriors.
Kevon Looney shows off a beaming smile
Looney has been fantastic, shooting 72 per cent (50 for 69) in 329 minutes off the bench, and Livingston is looking for his fourth ring as a key reserve so he will not be daunted by the gravitas of the big moments.
Ibaka, assuming he doesn’t start at center, will get big minutes for Toronto and plays the two-man game with Leonard like they’ve been together for seven years instead of seven months.
Live NBA Finals – 30/05/2019
Friday 31st May 2:00am
And VanVleet came up big time and time again toward the end of the East finals, his emotions bolstered by the birth of his son midway through that matchup. His three-point shot, in particular, is red-hot right now – he drained 11 out of 14 shots from the long line in the final two games of the series against the Bucks.
Edge: Raptors, slightly.
Steven Kerr goes over the gameplan with DeMarcus Cousins
Golden State: Steve Kerr.
Toronto: Nick Nurse.
Analysis: Kerr won five rings as a player, has three already as a coach and somehow seems to always push the right buttons. His experience and composure could be key if the Warriors find themselves under pressure at any point in the series.
Nurse gives instructions from the Raptors sideline
Nurse has dealt incredibly well with the pressure that accompanied being a first-year coach who just happened to be replacing the reigning NBA coach of the year in Dwane Casey and had to lead a win-now-or-else team that went all in on moves to get players like Leonard and Gasol. He’s not been overawed and deserves real credit for finding ways to help his team win even when they have been in a hole during the postseason.
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But Kerr is arguably the safest pair of hands in the league to have in charge and has kept things moving in the right direction, even when the ship was threatening to veer off-course in the regular season.
Analysis: The Warriors have 10 players with a combined 140 games of finals experience while the Raptors have four players who have been in a combined 38 finals games – and that Warriors total does not even count the 49 finals games for Kerr (27 as a player, 22 as a coach).
It’s the first time in the finals for Toronto and the last time in the finals for Oakland as the Warriors are leaving Oracle Arena for the new Chase Center in San Francisco after this season.
Stephen Curry celebrates after the Golden State Warriors' triumph in the 2018 NBA Finals
Toronto won the regular-season series 2-0 – which is particularly significant given the Warriors had won 16 of the last 18 games between the teams prior to that.
By the time the finals start, the Warriors will have gone 24 days since losing a game (May 6, Game 4 of the West semis against Houston) and by the time the series shifts to Oakland on June 5 they will have gone 20 days without a home game. The team will be determined to sign off their time at Oracle in perfect fashion and you can imagine the home crowd in Oakland will be even more impassioned that usual given this is their arena’s swansong.
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Edge: Warriors, because of the experience factor.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals takes place in Toronto in the early hours of Friday morning (2am) live on Sky Sports Arena.
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