To put it simply, the Golden State Warriors have been very unlucky when it comes to injuries during the playoffs. Both Kevin Durant, known as KD, and DeMarcus Cousins, known as Boogie, went down with a calf strain and a torn left quadricep, respectively, while Andre Iguodala has been dealing with a calf injury as well.
When Durant in particular went down with his injury in game five of the second round of the playoffs, hope was at an all-time low amongst the Golden State Warriors fans when it came to the prospect of winning their third-straight championship. Fast forward two weeks, the narrative has now shifted to “The Warriors don’t need KD.”
How have the Warriors been able to win without their big guns? There are a couple players that have kept them on the right track.
Stephen Curry. After KD’s injury, Curry has averaged 36 points, seven assists and eight rebounds per game. More impressively, he is shooting 47% from the field, including 41% from behind the three point line.
One of the reasons why Steph has been able to play at this high of a level is because he is constantly moving without the ball. As soon as he crosses half court, he swings the ball to one side and immediately goes to the other.
Once on the other side, he comes off of a couple screens, similar to how a running back follows his blockers. This has made it difficult for opposing teams to guard Curry, as their primary defender at the beginning of the play is never the one that is guarding him one-on-one toward the end of the shot clock. Usually, it is a power forward or center that is forced to switch onto him, giving Curry a tremendous advantage.
The second player, who has had arguably the most impact on the team during this run, is Draymond Green. Green is averaging 15 points, eight assists and 11 rebounds in his last five games. More importantly, he has been the anchor on the defensive end of the floor, whether that be drawing charges or contesting shots.
Golden State is starting to revert back to their fast-paced style, which led to a 73-9 record in the regular season just two years ago, prior to the arrival of KD and Boogie. It is clear that their confidence is growing and that the older members are trying to prove that they can still win despite the injuries the team has suffered.
If Durant and Cousins do end up returning at some point in the NBA finals, it will be important for Head Coach Steve Kerr to continue to push this fast paced offense.
This style of play allows players such as Klay Thompson to be not only more involved in the game plan, but also remain engaged throughout the game.
While it is a luxury to have isolation scorers such as KD, it should not change the strategy that has been working recently. The Warriors are harder to guard now because every player on the floor is either moving without the ball or setting screens for their teammates.
It will be interesting to watch whether the Warriors play a different style if their star players return in time during the finals. That being said, Curry and Draymond will look to send a message to the league that their squad is more than capable of winning the finals regardless.
The Toronto Raptors have fallen behind in each series they’ve played so far during these playoffs and have been forced to dig deep into their bag in order to successfully pull each one out (maybe the Orlando series wasn’t that tough, but you get what I’m saying).
Whether they were tasked with disrupting Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nick Nurse’s squad has adjusted well and relied on their defense to lead them to victory.
The Raptors are led offensively by the future Hall-of-Famer Kawhi Leonard, but at points throughout the playoffs some of their main scorers and playmakers have shown their inexperience (Pascal Siakam) or shown that they are Kyle Lowry (Kyle Lowry).
Marc Gasol is also no longer the dominant offensive presence that he once was, and guys like Danny Green and Fred VanVleet are not the kind of multifaceted threats that can consistently make a difference in the playoffs. It is in times like these that Nurse’s squad must rely on their lengthy and disciplined defense to propel them to win.
The defensive dominance of the Raptors’ playoff run can easily be characterized by their opponents’ shooting percentages, as they have allowed the second lowest field goal percentage (41.7%) and the third-lowest three-point percentage (31.3%) out of all the playoff teams.
Interestingly however, they have allowed the fourth-highest percentage of three-point shots to be taken against them (40.5%). These stats put together show that Toronto is exceptional at forcing teams out of shots near the hoop and making them take bad, highly contested shots from behind the arc. This is a strategy that worked wonders for them against Milwaukee, as their length bothered Antetokounmpo on his drives and forced him to kick the ball out to shooters at the three-point line, who were then forced to shoot under duress as the Raptors’ length also allowed them to recover and contest those shots.
Toronto’s exceptional defense has only improved in the playoffs, as their 102.8 defensive rating through 18 postseason games is sizeably better than their 107.1 regular season defensive rating.
This is most likely due to the fact that Nurse has cut down his rotation to only his most productive players, and also because Leonard is now playing every game, which he did not do throughout the regular season.
The Raptors have been known for having a strong bench with a deep rotation of quality players, but throughout this season and aided by the Marc Gasol trade, it has been the starting lineup that has set the tone on the defensive end.
In fact, the starting lineup of Leonard, Gasol, Green, Lowry and Pascal Siakam has a playoff defensive rating of 99.7 over 314 minutes played. This is the only five-man unit of the playoffs to have a defensive rating under 100 and have over 200 minutes played. Since this unit has been on the floor for over 300 minutes, it has allowed the Raptors to achieve sustained dominance over the course of several grueling playoff series.
Defense will be key against one of the best offensive teams ever — Golden State — and with KD likely missing time early in the series, the Raps might have the personnel to slow down the Splash Brothers and make this series interesting.