The 2019 N.B.A. finals will be a clash of a dynasty and a team that rebuilt itself into a formidable challenger.
The Golden State Warriors are in search of the league’s first three-peat since the Shaquille O’Neal-led Los Angeles Lakers pulled off the feat from 2000 to 2002. The Toronto Raptors, with a suffocating defense led by Kawhi Leonard, represent a significant regime change as the first Eastern Conference champion since 2010 without LeBron James, who made eight consecutive finals appearances in tenures with two different franchises.
Game 1, which tips off Thursday in Toronto shortly after 9 p.m. Eastern Time, will end a stretch of four days without an N.B.A. playoff game and will feature several story lines worth keeping an eye on.
Draymond Green is on the edge.
Green, the Warriors’ volatile big man, has been receiving praise for having stepped up his game a great deal in these playoffs following a late-season decision to lose weight, but he has also been much more measured, on and off the court. He comes into the series with four technical points — just three away from a mandatory one-game suspension — but he has not received one for arguing with officials since Game 1 of the conference semifinals, a span of nine games.
“It’s been entertaining,” Curry said. “I know it’s a tricky situation with him being right there on the court, but at the end of the day, he’s having fun, having — you can’t hate on nobody having fun.” After considering his answer, Curry added: “Well, I guess in this life everybody hates on people having fun. So it’s par for the course on that one.”
Stephen Curry is back (but he never left).
Remember earlier this month when people started openly wondering if it was time to talk about Curry disappearing in the playoffs? The two-time most valuable player has temporarily ended that discussion by scoring 30 or more points in each of his last five postseason games. In 2015 he had a streak of four playoff games with 30 or more points, but the addition of Kevin Durant changed things considerably; Curry’s longest streak in the last two postseasons was just two games.
Toronto has discovered a new weapon from long range: Fred VanVleet.
No one in the league can claim to be on a hotter shooting streak than VanVleet. The backup point guard shot 82.4 percent from 3-point range (14 for 17) in the final three games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Up until that point he had been shooting 19.5 percent (8 for 41) from long distance.
DeMarcus Cousins could make the difference for Golden State.
Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins, who has been out since April 15 with a severe quadriceps injury, will be active Thursday night for Game 1 of the N.B.A. finals between the Warriors and Raptors in Toronto, according to Golden State’s coach, Steve Kerr.
Cousins, who came to Golden State last summer amid great fanfare — and ample derision from people who thought his addition made the team even more unbeatable — has proved to be a significant liability on defense. His limitations could be more pronounced as he works his way back into shape, but there is also the chance that he will pay dividends by providing a different look on offense.
Historically, Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have done a solid job of limiting the impact of Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. With Kevin Durant still out because of an injured calf, if Cousins can provide scoring inside, he could take the pressure off Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green to be the Warriors’ third scoring option.
Kawhi Leonard gives Toronto its best shot in years.
Leonard barely played in the 2017-18 season, and Toronto paid a hefty price to acquire him from San Antonio, but he has responded by not only playing the best all-around basketball of his career, but also by elevating the entire Raptors franchise. Los Angeles Clippers Coach Doc Rivers recently compared him to Michael Jordan, and teams are already lining up to recruit him this summer.
The Warriors have seen everything.
Of the players expected to be active for Golden State tonight, nine have combined to play 129 finals games, including five (Curry, Thompson, Green, Iguodala and Shaun Livingston) who have each played in all 22 finals games of the previous four seasons. Toronto’s roster has four players with finals experience, and that group has played a total of 38 games. Leonard made his 12 finals games count: He was named finals most valuable player in 2014 (making him the last player not from the Cleveland Cavaliers or Warriors to win one). –ZonaHD