The NBA Finals are finally here. Eastern Conference champions, the Toronto Raptors will face off against the Western Conference champions and two-time defending NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors. We are at the cusp of witnessing history in a few days as one of these two teams will lift the prestigious Larry O'Brien Trophy.
The Warriors have reached their fifth consecutive NBA Finals (a feat that has not been achieved since Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics reached ten consecutive NBA Finals from 1957-66) whereas, for the Toronto Raptors, this is their first NBA Finals in the franchise history.
Contrary to what many expected, the Warriors' path to the NBA Finals has not been a cakewalk. Rather, they have endured many hardships along the way. Firstly, there was the on-court altercation between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant in late November that put the Warriors' chemistry in jeopardy.
Further, many sloppy and uninspired plays leading to numerous blown leads against sub .500 teams had the team doubting itself. Come playoff-time, unfortunate injuries slowed down the team rhythm as it took them 6 games to beat the Clippers in the first round. The Warriors' path to the NBA Finals has been nothing but rocky, to say the least.
The Toronto Raptors, on the other hand, began the last off-season having gone through some meticulous planning. First, they traded star player Demar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Then they fired reigning Coach of the Year Dwane Casey and hired a relatively inexperienced Nick Nurse as the new head coach.
In the regular season, the Raptors rested Leonard for 22 regular season games as part of load management. Things did not get easy for them as they lost the first game of the playoffs against the Orlando Magic, then were taken to seven games by the Philadelphia 76ers, only to get saved by Leonard's game-winner.
The Raptors then lost the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals to the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks, only to come back stronger and win the next four games to seal the deal. The Raptors have had their fair share of problems along the way.
What to expect from Game 1 of the NBA Finals?
Game 1 of the NBA Finals will be played between the Raptors and the Warriors at the Scotia Bank Arena, Toronto. Warriors' coach Steve Kerr in an official press conference stated that the Warriors will be without the services of Kevin Durant as he is still recuperating from a left calf strain. DeMarcus Cousins's status has been upgraded to questionable.
Both the teams faced each other twice in the regular season with the Raptors coming out on top in each of them. In their first face-off on 30th November early in the season, the Raptors narrowly beat the Warriors (who were playing without Curry), in overtime despite Kevin Durant finishing with 51 points as Leonard had 37 points of his own. In the second game played on December 13th, the Raptors, playing without Leonard, beat the Warriors again, 113 to 93 as all their starters scored in double figures.
In Game 1 of the Finals, the Raptors will play to the crowd support and feed off their energy as they look to go one up in this series. Apart from Kawhi Leonard, who has been stellar the whole playoffs, the Raptors bench has been inconsistent. The Raptors bench has to outperform the Warriors bench in order for them to have any chance of upsetting them.
Expect Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to have their hands full, as they will be tasked with guarding Leonard and Siakam respectively.
The Warriors will have to heavily rely on Stephen Curry's scoring which the Raptors will be wary of. Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Danny Green and Norman Powell are all capable defenders who can effectively defend 1 through 3 spots to counter the Splash Brothers' scoring.
At the 5, Marc Gasol will have a considerable advantage over Kevon Looney as he is an excellent passing center and a former Defensive Player Of The Year.
Let us look at the starting line ups for both the teams.
Possible starters for the Warriors:
Stephen Curry, PG
Klay Thompson, SG
Andre Iguodala, SF
Draymond Green, PF
Andrew Bogut, C
Injuries: Kevin Durant, Out (Left calf strain); DeMarcus Cousins, Questionable (Left Quad)
Possible starters for the Raptors:
Kyle Lowry, PG
Danny Green, SG
Kawhi Leonard, SF
Pascal Siakam, PF
Marc Gasol, C
Injuries: OG Anunoby, out (Appendicitis)
Matchups to Watch:
Kawhi Leonard vs Stephen Curry: The outcome of this game will heavily depend on who will have a better game as both these players are the main scorers for their respective teams.
Pascal Siakam vs Draymond Green: The X-factors on both the teams, Siakam and Green are the Swiss Army Knives for their respective teams who will have to perform well in different aspects of the game for their teams to come out on top.
With Kevin Durant out and DeMarcus Cousins questionable, the Toronto Raptors, riding on home support and inspired play from their role players, will come out on top.
Raptors take Game 1 against the Dubs.
Game Date: 31st May, Friday
Start Time: 06:30 AM IST
Where to Watch: NBA League Pass, YouTube TV, Sony LIV, Sony Ten 1, Sony SixPublished 30 May 2019, 16:17 IST