The NBA Finals are finally here. The Toronto Raptors will play host to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, kicking off a potential seven-game series with the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the line. By the time the dust settles, either the Raptors will win their first championship in franchise history, or the Warriors will complete their coveted three-peat.
Our staff came together for its second Finals-specific roundtable of the week. You can read yesterday’s edition right here, and today, we tried to answer a simple question: Who ya got?
If the Raptors win, it’s because…
Jeff Siegel: …their defense holds up from the Milwaukee series. Toronto was downright terrifying on that end of the floor, especially in the last four games, but Golden State is an entirely different challenge. While Toronto’s sole focus was walling off the paint on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s drives, their focus has to shift entirely to the perimeter, especially in the early part of the series, when Kevin Durant won’t play.
Chris Barnewall: …Kawhi Leonard has been the best player in the NBA Playoffs by far. The only time we’ve seen any version of the the Steve Kerr era Warriors get taken down is when the best player was on the other team.
Mike Zavagno: …of their defense. Even with Draymond Green’s resurgence on the defensive end, Golden State has largely won in these playoff with their offense. Toronto is coming off a series where they successfully prevented Giannis Antetokounmpo from hurting them as a scorer. But Golden State’s offense is much different, especially without Durant. Toronto has to alter their strategy to better contain the world’s best off-the-bounce shooter in Curry.
Robby Kalland: …their defense adjusts from “Form A F*cking Wall” to, well, whatever it is you do to take away Steph and Klay and stays just as dominant, and Kawhi Leonard is the best player in the series. Leonard has been unreal and getting some time off to heal whatever knee/leg injury was bothering him late in the ECF is huge. The thing with the Warriors is you have to play your best ball for at least five games to beat them in a seven-game series, because one game they’re gonna shoot so well it won’t matter what you do. Toronto’s defense is going to have to press up on shooters and rotate like mad men, but they’re as capable a group on that end as there is in the league. Oh, and their role guys have to be as good as they were against the Bucks. It takes a lot to beat the Warriors.
Brad Rowland: …Kawhi was the best player in the series. Yes, Toronto’s defense is probably the biggest factor in whether the Raptors can hold up against the Warriors but, in short, it is very, very difficult to see Golden State losing if Leonard isn’t elite. He’s been absolutely tremendous to this point in the playoffs but he’ll need to summon more of that superhuman play both both ends to bring a title to Canada.
Jamie Cooper: …the Warriors’ shooters go cold at the wrong time, Kevin Durant does not return, and Kawhi continues his LeBron-lite run through the postseason. Everything will have to go right for the Raptors, and they’ll need some help from the Warriors while they’re at it.
Nekias Duncan: …the Raptors play the type of defense they’re capable of. They have the wing defenders to bother the Splash Brothers, plus Kevin Durant whenever he comes back. They have the bigs good enough to protect the paint whenever the Warriors play a true center. Pascal Siakam especially is switch-y enough to hang on the perimeter if it comes down to it. If the Raptors can turn the series into a slugfest in the half court, they could very well win this thing.
Martin Rickman: …Kawhi continued his tour de force this postseason, and the Raptors rally around him. We know what the Warriors are capable of, with or without Kevin Durant. But much like Alabama football, mystique contributes to their success, albeit slightly. Teams can build leads against them, and then the fear factor sets in. They stop playing their game, get tentative, or press, and the Warriors — due to their overwhelming dominance, continuous calm, and trust in each other — take advantage. The Raptors win if Leonard sets the tone, brings a steady presence along with his supreme gifts, and they don’t let up when they get a lead.
Bill DiFilippo: …they’re able to muck up the Warriors offense and win four rock fights. If Golden State can get out, run, and play themselves into a rhythm, they’re going to win. But Toronto’s defense is very, very good, it has a bunch of dudes who can switch on the perimeter and be physical with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Drag them through the mud, slow things way down, and put Kawhi Leonard into positions to win games.