Hot Takes Network Presents: The 2019 NBA Finals
The 2019 NBA Finals are here! After three rounds of intense matchups, buzzer beaters, heartbreaks, and triumphs, two teams remain. The Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors will face off in a seven game series in an attempt to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. With a record of 58-24, Toronto finished with a better regular season record than Golden State (57-25), and will have home court advantage throughout the finals.
How did Toronto get here? Entering their first postseason with Kawhi Leonard as the 2nd seed, the Raptors faced questions on whether their team chemistry was strong enough with the trade for Marc Gasol. New faces this year in Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard while saying goodbye to fan favourite DeMar DeRozan posed plenty of questions for the Raptors. Could first year head coach Nick Nurse be able to manage the weight of the playoffs? Once the Raptors breezed through Orlando, they met a formidable foe in the Philadelphia 76ers. This series led to the biggest shot in Raptors history, with Kawhi Leonard hitting a buzzer beater as time expired in game 7 to clinch the series for Toronto, creating one of the greatest moments in Toronto sports history. Then, in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Raptors dropped the first two games in Milwaukee, before winning game 3 at home in double overtime. After a blowout win in game 4, the Raptors mounted comebacks in game 5 and game 6 to take the series and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Here is how each series played out:
2. Toronto Raptors vs 7. Orlando Magic: Toronto wins 4-1
2. Toronto Raptors vs 3. Philadelphia 76ers: Toronto wins 4-3
1. Milwaukee Bucks vs 2. Toronto Raptors: Toronto wins 4-2
How did Golden State get here? After advancing to the finals for the last 4 years and winning 3 of them, Golden State was a favourite to get here. With the addition of Demarcus Cousins this year, Golden State looked like a train no one could stop. However, with Cousins injuring himself early on, and with Golden State blowing the biggest lead in NBA playoffs history, the Warriors didn’t get here without a scare. After handling the Clippers in 6, they faced their toughest playoff opponent in the Rockets, whom they defeated in 6 games. However, Golden State lost Kevin Durant to a grade 2 calf strain in game 5. Without Durant and Cousins, the Warriors faced a scrappy Portland team, who they swept in 4 games. Here is how each series played out.
1. Golden State Warriors vs 8. L.A. Clippers: Golden State wins 4-2
1. Golden State Warriors vs 4. Houston Rockets: Golden State wins 4-2
1. Golden State Warriors vs 3. Portland Trail Blazers: Golden State wins 4-0
Now that is settled, and with the finals tipping off tomorrow, we have asked several Hot Takes Network contributors what their predictions are for the finals. Here is what we feel will happen:
Its tough for me to make an honest prediction given the rooting interest I have in the fight. Unfortunately, the Raptors’ best run ever is about to run into a buzzsaw. The Warriors are more talented, more experienced, and deeper than the Raptors at almost every position. Toronto has overcome a lot of adversity this playoffs, they have home court advantage, and they have Kawhi, but it still won’t be enough to overcome the greatest team ever assembled. The caveat to this is KD missing the whole series, but the news that he is travelling to Toronto makes this unlikely. If he does, Warriors in 5, if not... Warriors in 6. I sure hope I’m wrong.
Prediction: Warriors in 6
As a die hard Raptors fan for at least 15 years, the Raptors making it this far means a lot, and I’d love nothing more than to see them win the finals. However, this Golden State team is a monster, and the Steph Draymond pick and roll has been wrecking havoc. A lot of people don’t give the Raptors a chance. HOWEVER, the Raptors have played the best defense of any team in the playoffs. With Durant and Cousins both out to start the series, the Raptors have a chance to protect home court and potentially steal one in Golden State. The key to this series will be Toronto taking advantage of their size, and playing strong help defense while chasing the Warriors off the three point line.
I feel that the Raptors have the best team the Warriors have faced in the finals, and Toronto will steal a game in Golden State after dropping one at home. This means the series will be knotted up at 2 coming back to Toronto. I have a strong feeling that each team will protect their home court in games 5 and 6. This means, it comes back to a Game 7 in Toronto…..
Prediction: Raptors in 7
Call me a dreamer… call me a fool… I believe the Raptors can surprise us all and go the distance. The Raptors match up surprisingly well against Golden State and have a lot of things working in their favour. In my opinion the Raptors currently have a more balanced starting lineup and better depth than Golden State, as DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant are hobbled with injuries. The Raptors will need to take advantage of this early in the series and capitalize on home court in Games 1 and 2. Even if Cousins returns, he hasn’t played in over a month and everyone saw the way Gasol effectively handled Joel Embiid and Nikola Vucevic. Even if Durant returns, the Raptors are one of the only teams in the league who have an elite defender capable of guarding him. Cue Kawhi Leonard. The series will ultimately come down to whether Danny Green, Fred Van Vleet and Norman Powell can sustain any form of consistent shooting success. If even two of those three can rekindle their offensive spark, I can see Nick Nurse whipping up some lineup magic and the Raptors winning in front of a home crowd. However, you can never count out a team stacked with Steph, Klay and Draymond, and the Raptors could also very easily get buried in a barrage of three-pointers and a few Draymond pokes to the eye. This series could very well come down to the wire, so let’s see if the 2018/2019 Raptors have a few more tricks up their sleeve.
Prediction: Raptors in 7
Toronto needs to take a page from Mike Babcock’s book and break this series down into multiple subseries. As ideal as it may seem, I find it almost impossible to believe the Raptors go to Oakland up 2-0. Their path to success should be to go into Oracle Arena tied 1-1, leave California tied 2-2 and take Game 5 at home. From there, you’ve earned yourself two chances to win a championship in two different locations. In all likelihood, the Raptors are going to need to win one game in Oakland, but they can’t leave themselves needing to win anymore than that.
Kawhi Leonard will need to put Toronto on his back, similar to LeBron in 2016. Following the same path as James in 2016, Kawhi doesn’t need to come up with seven inhuman performance, he only needs four of them. Just like the 2016 Cavaliers, the Raptors can’t waste any Titanic efforts from Kawhi. If he only has four great games, they need to be four wins.
Toronto’s advantage will come defending the perimeter. They have the outside, athletic defenders that can cause issues for the three-point Golden State assault (especially if OG Anunoby can play any part of the series), but everyone needs to be locked-in. Golden State will make their runs and it will be up to the Raptors to respond with their own. The defensive assignments will be critical and the Raptors will have to balance trying to get over-top of screens (they can’t go underneath screens in this series) with switching where appropriate. The matchup decision-tree starts with “Can Kyle Lowry guard Steph Curry?” and depending on a yes or no, all assignments stem from there. In my opinion, the answer is yes and the Raptors actually matchup really well with the Warriors with Serge Ibaka playing a more prominent role than Marc Gasol (assuming Boogie doesn’t play a ton of minutes).
Health is the only thing holding Golden State back in this series. If Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Iguodala are 100%, the Raptors might extend this series, but they’re in too tough to win in my opinion. The craziest part about this Golden State team is even a 75% Durant, Cousins and Iguodala should result in Golden State being favoured. All signs point to all of them playing in Toronto at some point in the first two games. Assuming they aren’t fully healthy, Toronto should be able to steal some games, but Golden State also has two of the greatest shooters of all-time who are absolutely cooking right now. The Raptors have a chance, but we’re talking about the greatest NBA team of all-time. Toronto will get it to a game seven, but Durant and Cousins will be healthy enough to support Curry and Thompson on their way to a three-peat, and Curry’s first Finals MVP.
Prediction: Warriors in 7
So, there you have it. We have two authors for the Raptors, and two for the Warriors. Who will be crowned champion? Will each team defend home court? Will Kawhi continue to roll through his opponents? Will injuries play a huge role in this series? We find out tomorrow, as game one tips off in Toronto.