It took an 82-game grind to whittle the 2019 NBA championship field to 16 teams, and three seven-game series to trim that group to the final two.

Now, all that separates the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors from the Association crown is each other.

This marks the fifth straight NBA Finals appearance for the Dubs, who’ve captured a world title in three of the past four seasons. For the Raptors, this marks their first-ever appearance in the championship round.

Will the Warriors add another chapter to their incredible dynasty? Or might the Raptors feel destiny is on their side after breaking through their previous barrier?

This Finals has a different feel to the last four for the Warriors, and not only because they’re finally facing someone other than LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

For the first time in this run, Golden State will open the championship round away from Oracle Arena. While the Warriors proved to be road, well, warriors this season by matching the Milwaukee Bucks for the best road record (27-14), the new-look Raptors have a chance to seize early control inside what’s sure to be a raucous Scotiabank Arena.

Playing in front of a home crowd often has the biggest effect on role players, who feed off momentum. That’s especially critical for this Toronto team, which hasn’t received the steadiest production around Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam.

“Their supporting players—namely Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet—have to cobble together some consistency,”’s Brian Windhorst wrote. “As a group, they have a tendency to be boom-or-bust, and there’s no margin for error against Golden State.”

Two more names worth tracking on Toronto’s side: Danny Green and Norm Powell.

The former, who captured an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs, had a strong first season north of the border, but he’s struggled to shake a frigid spell that first surfaced in the conference semis. Green has averaged a minuscule 3.9 points on 20.9 percent shooting (18.8 from three) over his last eight outings, and he went scoreless each of his last two times out.

If the Raptors can’t get Green going, they’ll need Powell to continue riding his relative heatwave. Over his last five contests, the fourth-year swingman averaged 13.6 points on 46.2 percent shooting while hitting 40.7 percent from distance. All three numbers are substantially greater than his career marks.

Those are the unpredictable variables for Toronto, but Leonard might qualify as the X-factor. The Raptors are only special if he is. So far in these playoffs, that’s been the case virtually every time out. Through 18 playoff games, the former Finals MVP has averaged 31.2 points on 50.7 percent shooting (38.8 percent from deep), 8.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals.

“It’s been pretty incredible,” veteran Warriors reserve Shaun Livingston said of Leonard’s performance. “He’s obviously done what his team needed him to do, and above. He’s a great player that’s really lifted his team up.”

Golden State, of course, will counter with multiple greats, although the exact number is to be determined.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green—the backbone of this championship run—are not only healthy, they’re firing on all cylinders.

The Splash Brothers are averaging better than seven combined triples a night on 39-plus percent shooting, while Green may have played the best series of his career in the conference finals (16.5 points on 54.2 percent shooting, 11.8 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 2.8 blocks and 2.3 steals per game).

“Over the course of my career, I’ve been able to elevate my level of play in the postseason, whether that was NCAA Tournament or playoffs,” Green told reporters. “… I think some people kind of just have that. The stakes are bigger, and you’re able to increase your level of focus; increase your intensity level. I’m blessed and thankful that I have that.”

The Warriors, though, might continue requiring Herculean efforts from their mainstays, as two of their star additions are on the mend.

Kevin Durant, the Finals MVP each of his two seasons in Golden State, will not play in Game 1 as he continues recovering from a calf strain. DeMarcus Cousins, meanwhile, is questionable for the opener after rehabbing a torn quadriceps muscle suffered April 15.

Between the opponent, the lack of home-court advantage, the injury issues and the uncertainty of Durant’s future hanging above their heads, this is unlike any Finals the Warriors have ever played. But given their firepower and experience, the result should be the same as it’s been in three of the last four years.

Courtesy: Bleacher Report


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