Golden State Warriors vs Toronto Raptors
Toronto- Let’s start with the team that had the better record this year and won the season series 2-0.
1) Home court advantage
On the strength of their better regular season record (and their two head to head wins), Toronto will have home court advantage for the series. That can be crucial to their chances to win it all this year. This is Kawhi Leonard’s team, even if he’s only here in the short term. Beyond him, they rely on a cast of lesser known talent, like Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. Those guys, plus a few more will need to play BIG to dethrone the reigning champs. It’s an assumption that role players show up at home and shrink on the road, so having a potential game seven in Toronto is HUGE.
2) Kawhi Leonard has been exceptional
Leonard has been the best player in these playoffs, and only Steph Curry has been close. The Raptors power forward might be just a little dinged up, but he’s still a force on both ends of the court. Expect to see some fireworks between the normally calm Kawhi and defensive juggernaut Draymond Green. Not many other players outside of Green and Klay Thompson on
the Warriors can hope to contain Toronto’s superstar. If Kawhi can bait those guys into a few early fouls, or a stupid technical, the odds in this series swing towards Toronto.
3) Golden State is banged up
The defending champs have had some awful injury luck down the stretch, losing DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant and most recently Andre Igoudala to non-contact injuries. That’s one of the five best centers in the game, a defensive mastermind and previous Finals MVP, and arguably the greatest scorer on the planet (and reigning Finals MVP). That’s a heck of a lot of fire power to be sitting on the sidelines. At least one of those guys should make it back to the court for the finals, but Durant has been ruled out for (at least) game one, and his return might pose problems in and of itself.
If, and when Durant and/or Cousins return, there will be an adjustment period as they reintegrate into the flow of the Golden State offense. That might be a boon in the long run, but it might mean some missed opportunities and confusion in their first game back. If Toronto capitalizes on that confusion in the right moment, like stealing game three at Oracle Arena in Oakland, the Warriors might end up in too big of a hole to dig out of.
5) The emergence of Pascal Siakam
Everyone knows that Michael Jordan never won a title until Scottie Pippin arrived in Chicago. And a quick glance tells you that Leonard is largely a one-man show in Toronto. He still needs a second superstar. But what if Kawhi’s right-hand man is already there? Pascal Siakam has taken a quantum leap forward this year, scoring just under 19 points per game and 7 rebounds per game. Both of those represent huge improvements over his 2017-2018 campaign. At 6’9”, he’s the sort of long forward that can give Golden State’s smaller lineup fits.
Tomorrow: Golden State – They aren’t exactly underdogs here…
Image Source: AP Photo/Morry Gash