If you were to ask most NBA journalists and fans who the two favourites to meet in the NBA Finals are, most would probably say the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors. Toronto are currently first in the NBA with (insert record) while the Warriors have become an NBA dynasty. Both rosters are loaded with talent and there could be as many as seven All-Stars from the two teams combined. They recently played on November 29th in an overtime thriller where the Raptors squeaked out the win 131-128.
Revisiting their last matchup
The last matchup was seen as a must win for the Toronto Raptors and their fan base due to the absence of Steph Curry and Draymond Green. It was a game that the Raptors should have closed out in the third quarter as they had an 18-point lead halfway through the quarter. That is when Kevin Durant got hot and seemingly could not miss. The former league MVP and two-time Finals MVP finished with 51 points including a big three in the dying seconds of regulation. For the Raptors, the star of the show was Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors small-forward was getting whatever he wanted as the Raptors were able to consistently get smaller guards such as Quinn Cook to switch on Leonard. This led to him pooring in 37 points while also being a defensive force, particularly in overtime where he forced a decisive turnover that sealed the victory for Toronto. Two other players who had great games were Pascal Siakam who had a career high 26 points and Jonas Jerebko who had 20 and 9 rebounds.
The Return of Curry
Because Curry and Green were not playing the last time these two teams met, a number of media personnel did not think the game was a proper evaluation of how good the Raptors are, despite the team from Canada thoroughly dominating the Warriors for most of the game and needing superhuman level of shot-making by Durant to force overtime. However, it is undeniable that the Warriors are a different beast when Curry is in the lineup. Right now Curry is playing at an MVP level and the only reason he is not the overwhelming favourite is the fact that he has missed significant time with injuries. In only 15 games, Curry is averaging 30 points per game while shooting a blistering 50% from the field and an unheard of 50% from three. Curry forces defences to make a hard hedge on pick and roles which leaves the role man open, this forces the help defender to slide over and leaves someone wide open. He provides much more spacing for Durant who has struggled a little from deep this season and is doing most of his damage from the midrange and post ups. While Klay Thompson has been a shell of his former self, shooting a career low 35% from three, having Curry to add more spacing should re-invigorate the second splash brother.
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There are intriguing matchups across the board in this game that will certainly affect the line, as both teams have loads of talent. The most obvious are Kyle Lowry vs Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard vs Kevin Durant. Both of those are about even as you can assume all four players are going to put up similar combined numbers. The most intriguing matchup is going to be between the frontrunner for Most Improved Player of the Year award Pascal Siakam and the swiss army knife Draymond Green. Green has been one of the most influential players on the Warriors because of his ability to guard all five positions, rebound, run the fast break and organize the offence. However, this season, he has not had a lot of success shooting the basketball. Green is only averaging 6 points per game and is shooting a woeful 22% from the three-point line. Pascal Siakam on the other hand has been Toronto’s version of Draymond Green. He has been garnering praise from the NBA media because he is able to take advantage of matchups. Possessing elite quickness and a terrific handle for a 6”10 player, Siakam has been blowing by guys in the half court, getting to the rim for easy layups while also being a terror in the fast break as either the primary ball handler or filling in the side lanes. Draymond was unavailable for their last meeting, so there was no favourable matchup that Golden State could use to stop Siakam apart from Durant who was busy guarding Kawhi Leonard. Whoever wins the power forward matchup, will most likely win the game.
The “bench mob” has not been the same as it was last year where they terrorized NBA second units and were key in winning numerous games. Fred Vanvleet was a Sixth Man of the Year finalist and was often a closer for the club because he rarely made mistakes, played great defence and made open shots. This year, the diminutive point guard seems to be trying to force the issue. Last season Vanvleet was averaging 41% from three, this season that average has plummeted 10%. His decision making has not been as good this season, often driving to the basket and wildly throwing up a contested shot. CJ Miles has also not been the same this season. The veteran swing man has been a consistent sharpshooter, but this season he is struggling to make shots, only shooting 32% from the field. Both of those players have missed time with injury, as has Delon Wright and Norman Powell, which could be the cause of the “bench mob’s” early season struggles. The Warriors are a top heavy team and their depth has often been tested this season. Toronto will need a team performance if they want to prove to the NBA that they deserve to be in the same conversation as the Golden State Warriors.
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