NBA Finals Preview
So here we are, another Warriors Finals trip secured (but finally against a fresh face). The Toronto Raptors, just a few months after the organization was ripped to shreds for trading away star DeMar Derozan for superstar Kawhi Leonard, have clinched their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history, a huge achievement that deserves a ton of recognition, especially for new head coach Nick Nurse but the players and front office as well. Now while Vegas has opened the Warriors as sizeable favorites over the Raptors, the defending champs will be without star forward Kevin Durant and star center DeMarcus Cousins for at least a few games to start the series, no doubt a big blow to a nonetheless talented roster. On the Raptors’ side, they go into this Finals full-force and with a boatload of momentum after winning four straight games against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks to advance past the Eastern Conference Finals. So, who’s going to win? Let’s go position-by-position and see which team has the advantage.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry v.s. Stephen Curry
No disrespect to Lowry, who has changed the narrative surrounding his previously lackluster Playoff performance, but Curry is in a league of his own, and he should continue to dominate this series as he has for a majority of this postseason.
Shooting Guard: Danny Green v.s. Klay Thompson
Two similar guys here in the fact that they both play a three and D kind of style, but what puts Klay over the top is his ability to attack off the dribble. Still, Green is an above-average defender who is definitely capable of slowing Thompson down, just maybe not to a halt.
Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard v.s. Andre Iguodala
This will probably be the most interesting matchup of these Finals, and for good reason. On one side you have Leonard, who is putting together arguably one of the best Playoff runs ever while doing everything a man can do on a basketball court. On the other, you have Iguodala, a former Finals MVP who has continued to prove he is one of the best on-ball defensive wings in the NBA. These two should be matched up a lot over the course of the series, and while Iguodala should continue to play stellar defense, he does not possess nearly the same level of offensive talent as Kawhi, giving the Raptors the edge at small forward.
Power Forward: Pascal Siakam v.s. Draymond Green
Talk about another guy going on a tear in the postseason. Draymond Green has been playing some of his best basketball ever, and it has made the Warriors scary good even without Durant or Cousins. While Siakam is extremely-talented, his inconsistency will definitely hurt him against a premier defender like Draymond. Siakam’s length might help to disrupt Draymond’s effectiveness as a passer, but experience and grit should win over in the matchup.
Center: Marc Gasol v.s. Kevon Looney
Yes, I am aware that Looney has not been starting, but he has by far been playing the most minutes at the five for the Warriors so we’ll go with him here as the de-facto matchup for Gasol. Speaking of, Gasol should have a big advantage here, as although he is playing in a reduced role since being traded from Memphis, his ability to do everything (shoot, defend, rebound, score inside) should overpower the much less talented Looney.
Bench: Fred Vanvleet, Norman Powell, and Serge Ibaka v.s. Alfonzo McKinnie, Jordan Bell, Shaun Livingston, Jonas Jerebko, and Quinn Cook
While the Raptors’ bench has been slightly depleted by injuries, they still have remained extremely effective in these Playoffs, though the same could be said for the Warriors. Nevertheless, the edge here has to go to Toronto, whose bench boasts three starting-caliber players, while the Warriors’ bench is more an amalgam of old and new that has found ways to contribute recently.
So, what does all this mean for the series? Well, if Toronto is going to win, they’ll need their frontcourt to continue to dominate as it has and their bench will need to continue its excellent run against a much less talented second unit from the Warriors. And if the Warriors are going to win, they’ll need their stars to continue to play like stars while still maintaining solid contributions from their bench players. Either way, I think these Finals will be closer than a lot of people are expecting...