How they got here
Golden State- The Warriors representing the West in the Finals was surprising to no one who’s familiar with the NBA. Golden State will be making their fifth consecutive trip to the finals, the first team since the 1966 Celtics to achieve such a feat.
Even without two of their star players in Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors swept their way through the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals and have positioned themselves as the clear favorite to grab their fourth title in the last five years. Golden State has put themselves in position to be considered amongst not just the great teams in the NBA today, but as arguably one of the greatest teams of all time.
Toronto- Did anyone see Toronto being here just a couple weeks ago? Following a rocky start to the Eastern Conference finals, Toronto found themselves down 0-2 to the Milwaukee Bucks, with the Raptors dropping both games by a combined 30 points. The Bucks seemingly had too many weapons and too much depth, meanwhile the Raptors, who had been extremely reliant on Kawhi Leonard to shoulder much of the load, simply didn’t have enough weapons to compete.
Yet from that point on, the series completely changed. Toronto received key contributions from many different players such as Fred VanVleet, Normal Powell, and Pascal Siakam, utilizing a committee approach behind Leonard to rally to four consecutive wins against the Bucks in order to secure the Raptors first finals appearance in franchise history. A series many people were once predicting to be a sweep in the Bucks favor had quickly changed into a convincing victory for the Raptors.
Keys to victory
Golden State- One of the major factors to pay attention to for Golden State will be their overall health. Durant has already been ruled out for game one while Cousins’ status remains up in the air. Although Golden State has been able to overcome their absences in convincing fashion, one must wonder if injuries could come back to bite this team.
Even without Durant and Cousins, there is little doubt that the talent favors the Warriors in this match-up. Steph Curry has been on an offensive tear in Durant’s absence, while Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have played their role to perfection.
However, one area of concern for the Warriors coming into the postseason had been their bench play. Golden State’s bench struggled mightily at times throughout the regular season, and they could be exposed against a Raptors’ bench that although isn’t very deep, has several key impact players and could be boosted by the return of OG Anunoby. On the contrary, Cousins’ possible return could provide a major boost to the Warriors bench in their own right.
Toronto- Kawhi Leonard has arguably been the most impressive performance thus far in the playoffs, but he won’t be able to topple the Warriors alone. Leonard will need plenty of help from his supporting cast in order to outduel the Warriors star-studded cast, easier said than done. Toronto will need big performances from Siakam, Powell, VanVleet, and Marc Gasol if they hope to be able to outduel the Warriors.
With that being said, Toronto’s ability to slow down the Warriors on the defensive end could prove the single most important facet of this series. The Raptors were able to stymie the Bucks offense in the latter half of their series, largely due to the defensive dominance of Leonard, and the Bucks number one ranked offense during the regular season looked pedestrian at times against the Raptors. However, Golden State is a unique challenge due to the sheer amount of scoring ability spread throughout their roster and the Raptors will have their work cut out for them.
Warriors in six. Everyone roots for the underdog, but I don’t see Toronto possessing the firepower to topple Golden State. Kawhi Leonard has firmly entrenched himself as a top 3 player in the NBA, if not higher with his dominant showing in the postseason, but one man won’t be enough to beat the Warriors. The depth and supporting cast for Golden State will simply be too much, and the probable returns of both Durant and Cousins will add two huge weapons to an already stacked Warriors roster.