The matchup is set. The 2019 NBA finals will be battled out by the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors. Just the fact the we will see the Warriors go against a team that doesn’t have LeBron on it will make this exciting but I think this has a chance to be one hell of a series.
This will be Toronto’s first time in the finals and that alone should tell you everything you need to know about the Kawhi Leonard experiment. It has been a resounding success. Even the most loyal Demar DeRozan fan would have to admit the trade was the right call. Sure, If Kawhi leaves this summer it will suck but hanging onto the DeRozan, Lowry partnership for one more season wasn’t going to work and ultimately would have lead to a Toronto rebuild. Now Leonard might leave and they have to rebuild anyway but that could be after a winning trip to the finals. Definitely worth it.
For now Kawhi plays in Toronto and he is going to have to play out of his mind for them to win this thing. He has averaged 31 ppg so far and may need to up that to 35 against Golden State. Not to mention the will likely need him to guard Kevin Durant when he comes back. In the era of super-teams and big 3’s. Kawhi will have to do what we haven’t really seen done since Dirk and carry a team to a championship.
Speaking of Kevin Durant, his health is a big factor going into this series. Having him out on the floor will occupy the attention of Toronto’s best defenders and change the kind of space Curry and Thompson will see. The Durant-less Warriors were able to dispatch of Portland no problem but they didn’t have anywhere near the defensive talent that the Raptors have. If Durant can’t play again, suddenly you can focus all the defensive length of guys like Leonard, Danny Green and Pascal Siakam on Curry and Thompson making things very difficult for the Golden State backcourt. If Danny Green can contribute enough offence to keep him out there the match-ups could look something like this;
- Curry – Lowry
- Thompson – Danny Green
- Iguodala – Leonard
- Draymond Green – Siakam
That would easily be the toughest lineup the Warriors have had to face this post season and if I’m Toronto I feel really good about each one of those pairings.
That will likely have to be the plan defensively for Toronto with lots of length and switchable guys on the floor they can run the Warriors off the 3 point line and keep hands and arms flying around in the passing lanes to stop those easy drop-offs and lobs. If they can get a throwback Serge I-block-a performance from Ibaka and make Draymond shoot from outside they may have a chance. Then again Curry and Thompson could each make 7 3s a game and there is nothing you can do to stop them.
Golden State will be very confident. They have been here before and know what it takes to win. Expect the ‘Death Lineup’ to target Gasol and Ibaka and make it very difficult to keep them on the floor. Curry has been unreal the last few games and for every game Durant is out he will want to further remind everybody just how good he is.
Reports have suggested that we may see Cousins return to the lineup at some point. It will interesting to see how quickly he can get up to speed. One series is not a lot of time to get match fit but having the option to have him out there may be useful if Toronto try and go small.
I think this will be a great series. If Kawhi plays his best stuff and the Raptors can bother Curry defensively then who knows it might be pretty close. However, I think the smart money has to be only Golden State. The chance to win 3 straight is pretty special and they will be very motivated to do so and just imagine if they do win it without Durant. That will make this summer very difficult for Kevin. You really hate to see it!