The Golden State Warriors are back in the NBA Finals for the fifth consecutive year. The Toronto Raptors are making the franchise’s first-ever Finals appearance.
With four more wins, Steve Kerr’s group would become just the sixth team in NBA history to complete the three-peat, joining the 1952-54 Minneapolis Lakers, 1959-66 Boston Celtics, 1991-93 Chicago Bulls, 1996-98 Bulls and 2000-02 Los Angeles Lakers.
The Warriors have made it back even with Kevin Durant missing the last five games (Game 6 in Houston and all of the Portland series) due to a strained calf muscle.
Stephen Curry is averaging 35.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists and six made threes per game.
The team’s off-ball movement is just a bit crisper and the offense more varied with Durant off the floor. The Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green, Looney lineup has posted the seventh-best net rating among five-man groups in the postseason (+5.7).
Onto the Raptors: Kawhi Leonard is closing in on the type of postseason — a Finals run averaging over 30 points per game with a true shooting percentage better than 60% — only LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have accomplished.
The Raptors starting five of Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol have the third-best net rating of the playoffs at +12.1, while logging the most minutes (314) of any five-man group in the postseason. Swap out Gasol for Serge Ibaka, and that number has been even higher (+36.1) in 36 minutes of action.
With Durant out for at least Game 1, Raptors coach Nick Nurse has an opportunity to tinker with where Kawhi plays on defense. Placing him on Curry would be a tough ask, as Steph is basically the Energizer bunny. But, Nurse could set Kawhi loose on Klay Thompson to try and slow/shut down the secondary option. He could have Kawhi on Draymond, allowing him the opportunity to sag off on the perimeter and clog passing lanes.
Either way, it will be fascinating to see how a guy who has played the role of both elite defensive stopper and primary offensive engine holds up over the course of the series.
As for defending Kawhi, the Warriors have multiple options. Thompson and Green were both Second Team All-NBA defense selections and could spend time trying to frustrate Kawhi. Andre Iguodala off the bench has looked like his usual annoying self on the defensive end in this postseason.
Demarcus Cousins has been listed as active for Game 1.
Vegas favoring the Warriors at 1/3 odds to win the title. But, for Game 1, The Raptors are listed as slight favorites (-1).