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2019 NBA Finals Preview: Toronto Raptors vs. Golden State Warriors

For the first time in franchise history, The Toronto Raptors are heading to the NBA Finals.  Also for the first time in their five-year finals run, the Golden State Warriors will not have home-court advantage. The Warriors are currently the heavy favorites to win the 2019 NBA Finals (-300 odds). However, what Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors can bring to this series will be a sight to see.

Previewing the 2019 NBA Finals

The Toronto Raptors

Over the past several years, the Toronto Raptors have always been a consistent playoff threat in the Eastern Conference. However, it was a struggle to get over the hump, as the Raptors were yearning for that moment to get them to a championship level. The Raptors finally reached that point, through a heroic, yet difficult journey.

It took everything Toronto had (a miraculous buzzer-beater in Game 7) to beat the Philadelphia 76ers. Then after losing two straight games, they won four straight against the Milwaukee Bucks to get to the NBA Finals. The Raptors reached heights that not many people believed they could reach, and on Thursday night, they can continue their historic journey to a championship.

Kawhi Leonard

In his first season with the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard has made his case of being the best player in a Raptors jersey and the best player in the NBA.

Leonard’s playoff numbers have been astounding. He is averaging 31.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.5 steals while shooting 51 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from three. The only player whose post-season numbers match closely to Leonard’s is Kevin Durant.

Leonard’s poised leadership is what helped elevate this Raptors team. When Leonard plays well, the team easily gets into the flow of the game by creating opportunities for big plays.

It doesn’t look like Kawhi’s dominance will stop anytime soon. If he keeps this going throughout the finals and helps the Raptors capture an NBA title, his playoff performance will go down as one of the greatest individual post-season runs in NBA history.

Kyle Lowry

In his seven-year tenure with the Raptors, Kyle Lowry and the playoffs haven’t mixed well.  He struggled to make shots or show up in crunch-time moments in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the 76ers. In the series against the Bucks, he stepped up averaging 19 points a game while shooting 44 percent from the field.

Even though Lowry doesn’t produce monster numbers like Leonard, his hustle is valuable to the Raptors. Lowry has the ability to make key plays — whether it’s a defensive play or a three.

In order for the Raptors to pull off an upset against the Warriors, Lowry needs to amp up his hustle and make whatever play he has to make in moments where Leonard needs assistance.

Father Fred 

Point guard Fred VanVleet serves as the Raptors sixth man who can make an impact on both ends of the floor. In spite of that, he was nearly non-existent in Games one through three of the Eastern Conference Finals. In those three games, he only averaged four points, shooting 26 percent from the field and 20 percent from three.

Ever since his son was born, VanVleet turned into an explosive bench player in Games four through six. During those games, he averaged 16 points, while shooting 68 percent from the field and 82 percent from three. As a result, VanVleet is now called “Father Fred” by many fans.

VanVleet’s brilliant shooting has profoundly helped the Raptors in those games. Going against the Warriors, the Raptors face a similar issue in having a not so stellar bench. However, VanVleet will be the x-factor in this series if he continues to shoot lights out down the stretch.

The 2019 NBA Finals Are the Fifth Straight for the Golden State Warriors

For the first time since Bill Russell‘s Boston Celtics in the 1960s, the Warriors make their fifth consecutive finals appearance. While the NBA Finals atmosphere is nothing new for this team, the process of being in this position was not easy.

In the first round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers, we’ve seen the Warriors blow huge leads at home in Game 2 and Game 5. Then, during the conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets, Kevin Durant went down, with the series tied 2-2.

Yet, through all of these moments, the Warriors survived and thrived, as they are accustomed to doing. While this series may look like a cakewalk for the Warriors, they will need to make a few slight changes in their game strategy to three-peat in a quick fashion.

Kevin Durant Unavailable for the Start of the 2019 NBA Finals

After being evaluated during the Western Conference Finals, Durant (calf strain) is still not cleared for basketball activities, and he has been ruled out of Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals.

Still, statistically, the Warriors are better when Stephen Curry is on the floor and Durant is out (32-4). While that number is not surprising considering that the Warriors won the championship in 2015 without Durant, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the team is far better without him.

In their last two finals appearances, Durant averaged nearly 30 points a game, while shooting 54.8 percent. This helped fill the void of either Steph Curry or Klay Thompson’s shooting woes. While the Warriors are completely capable of winning this series without Durant, having Durant on the floor maximizes their chances to win this series.

Defensive Strides 

The Warriors are a team that plays smart, elite defense. In the last two rounds of the postseason, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney, and Andre Iguodala have made tremendous defensive plays, stopping many players in big moments.

This defensive effort needs to continue against the Raptors, especially pertaining to Leonard. Stopping Leonard early on the road can help the Warriors dominate on the fast break and open up big leads.

2019 NBA Finals Prediction 

As magnificent as the Raptors have played this year, the Warriors are simply on another level. The greatness of the Splash Brothers, as well as the heart of Draymond Green, may be too much for the Raptors.

This series will go beyond four games, as the Raptors have a chance of taking charge at home. In order to win this series, the Raptors will need to steal a game on the road, in Oracle Arena.

Even though it’s very likely that the Warriors will win this series, don’t be surprised at whatever heat the Raptors will bring to the finals.

Prediction: Warriors in 6

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Embed from Getty Images


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