Golden State- They aren’t exactly underdogs here…
But they aren’t an overwhelming favorite either. They lost both tilts against Toronto this season, and both in shocking fashion. In the first matchup, Kevin Durant went off, scoring 51 pts in an overtime loss on the road. Th second game is the one that gives me pause, however. In that December matchup, the Raptors rolled into Oracle Arena without Kawhi Leonard, and absolutely mopped the floor with the Warriors. The game wasn’t nearly as close as the 113-93 score might indicate. With that said, there’s a lot for the Warriors to like as the look to cement their legacy in their fifth-straight Finals appearance.
There’s no question that this metric favors the champs, who return a large core of players who have been there and done that. Curry, Durant, Thompson, Green, Igoudala, Bogut and Livingston have all been to multiple Finals, as has Coach Steve Kerr, who knows a little something about dynasties from his time alongside Jordan. Toronto only has three players with that type of deep playoff experience, Leonard, Ibaka and Green. In pressure time, it might be a mismatch.
2) Curry is a monster
Especially against the Raptors. Steph is 15-2 against Toronto, and averages over 35 points per game in those contests. They’ll need to figure out how to slow him down, because when he starts shimmying, things can get ugly in a hurry for opposing teams. They’ll definitely need to have a really strong game plan to deal with the pick and roll with Draymond, which will likely keep the Raptors from using their ideal offensive lineup for large chunks of each game.
3) Durant’s absence limits Leonard’s value
Bear with me here. Rumors are that Durant is still limping a bit, and he’s already been scratched from game one, even though he will be travelling with the team. If he’s out, Kawhi Leonard becomes less valuable since Durant is the player Kawhi would likely do the most damage against defensively. Sure, Leonard’s going to lock down on anyone he covers, but if he’s stifling Durant and forcing him into low-percentage shots, it has a greater effect on the game than if he’s covering Draymond Green, for example.
4) Draymond Green and Klay Thompson can slow Kawhi
In previous matchups, Thompson has taken the bulk of Leonard’s coverage. In this series, I can see them splitting the time, and either can be tough to score on. Kawhi has been huge this postseason, but he’ll now face the best defensive team yet, with multiple guys who can make him uncomfortable. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Igoudala coming off the bench to harass Kawhi like he’s done so successfully against LeBron. The Warriors have a depth advantage, and if Kawhi can’t dominate, or has to work too hard to do so, it could favor Golden State as the series drags on.
5) Golden State have been Road Warriors this postseason
While they didn’t have the best overall record this season (that was the Bucks), Golden State has been a tough team to beat everywhere all season long. The posted very similar home and road win totals and haven’t been phased by any of the noise and chaos that can unsettle teams on the road in the playoffs. A big part of that is the seasoned core of playoff-hardened vets that have played together for a long time and know how to react when the inevitable bumps in the road happen. Another part is the steady hand of Steve Kerr keeping his team on an even keel as the pressure mounts.
Even with the Raptors success this season and the extremely high level that Leonard is playing at, I just can’t see them winning in a seven-game series. The Warriors are just too deep and too versatile to get bogged down four times. Kawhi Leonard will take over a few games, but the Warriors team concept will prove too much for him to overcome by himself in the long run. They’ve made a dynasty out of beating the best player in the NBA in the Finals, they’ll do it again here.
Warriors in six.
Image Source: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren