The 2019 NBA Finals are now set and are to be contested between the three-peat minded Golden State Warriors and the Finals debuting Toronto Raptors. The Western Conference champion Warriors had no problem in dispatching the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, sweeping the Blazers even without the aid of star forward Kevin Durant, who is already confirmed to be out for Game 1 of the Finals.
The Raptors made up for their initial two-game skid to begin the Eastern Conference Finals to win four straight against the Milwaukee Bucks behind some heroics from Kawhi Leonard. With the status of Warriors starters DeMarcus Cousins and last season’s Finals MVP Kevin Durant up in the air as well as Kawhi Leonard putting together sublime performances, could the Raptors use the depleted state of the Warriors roster as well as home court advantage to come out of their first Finals appearance as the NBA Champions?
(Once Again) Will We See Kevin Durant?
Kevin Durant’s absence in the Western Conference seemed to not really bother the Warriors, who seamlessly reverted back into their pre-Durant selves, reminding us that they are still incredible without everything Durant adds to their team. Without a doubt, the Warriors, or any team, are made better by having Kevin Durant on the floor, but the elite caliber of the Warriors still exists without him. The absence of Durant does, however, add an opening for the Raptors in taking away a massive threat as well as freeing up a match-up for Kawhi Leonard’s overwhelming defensive presence. If Durant doesn’t feature in this series, the Raptors are left to contend with a great team as compared to a near-unbeatable team, and at least that’s a more feasible task.
NBA announces that "Kevin Durant has been excused from Finals Media Day given that he has been ruled out for Game 1 due to his calf injury."
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) May 28, 2019
Golden State star Kevin Durant will travel with the team to Toronto, a league source tells Yahoo Sports.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) May 28, 2019
Kawhi’s Been Here Before
As opposed to most of his teammates Kawhi Leonard has been to the Finals, and to add onto that, he has a championship ring and a Finals MVP from the San Antonio Spurs victorious campaign in 2014. Since then, Kawhi’s been traded to the Raptors and has experienced growth from the best defender in the league to a basketball savant on both ends of the court. Since the beginning of the Playoffs, Leonard has averaged a staggering 31.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game with over 50% field goal percentage through 18 games. With Kawhi Leonard reaching the height of what we’ve ever seen him produce, the best chance for the Raptors to topple the defending champion is one that is not all that complicated, in theory: Give the ball to The Klaw and get out of the way.
That being said, it’s yet to be seen if Leonard’s teammates in Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry, making their first Finals appearances, will be able to compliment Leonard’s dominance in the way Curry’s teammates have been able to do for him, with Curry assuming the majority of the Warriors offense if Durant doesn’t feature. Kawhi is almost certain to be in top form, but beyond that we’ll have to wait and see.
KAWHI LEONARD WINS IT FOR THE RAPTORS ?????
THEY'RE MOVING ON TO THE EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS pic.twitter.com/VcYdHlN3z4
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) May 13, 2019
2019 NBA Finals Prediction
Let me stress this: The Toronto Raptors are a threat to the Warriors. They could win this series, especially if Kevin Durant doesn’t play, and I’m writing under the assumption he won’t. Regardless of that, the Warriors are a proven dynasty. We know how good they are, and even though the Raptors are a stronger team than the Blazers team that was decimated last round by the Warriors, I haven’t seen enough out this Raptors teams that suggests that they are the giant killers that will unseat Golden State. A core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is still really, really good, and I think that will be too much for the Raptors.
Give me the Warriors in this one, sending the Raptors packing as they see off Oracle in style, capping off their three-peat in Game 6.
Prediction: Warriors 4-2