Game 1 of the NBA Finals premiers tonight and will feature the Golden State Warriors versus the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors have home court advantage, and Kevin Durant will not be available for Game 1 and likely won’t be available in Game 2.
With Durant gone, the Warriors are looking at two-time MVP Stephen Curry to lead them on their quest for the three-peat.
Both fans and media personalities questioned whether or not the Warriors would even make the Finals, believing that they had lost the series against the Houston Rockets the moment Durant went down with his injury.
Nevertheless, the Warriors relied on their star point guard who would drop 33 points, all in the second half of Game 6, to put away the Rockets and advance to the Conference Finals.
Yet, even after Curry’s Game 6 performance, many doubted he could lead the Warriors past the scorching Portland Trailblazers who upset both the media favorite Oklahoma City Thunder and second seed Denver Nuggets.
NBA Hall of Famer and TNT Analyst Charles Barkley predicted that the Trailblazers would make the Finals, and even went as far to say “the Warriors have no chance of winning without Kevin Durant.”
Curry’s legacy has been in question since Durant joined the Warriors, which caused his scoring to take a minor drop.
As such, analysts and fans believed that Curry’s time as the greatest point guard in the NBA has gone, having been surpassed by Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, to name a few.
To silence his naysayers, Curry played monstrously in the Conference Finals averaging 36.5 points per game along with 8.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists in a 4-0 series rout of the Blazers to reach the NBA Finals.
The Warriors will be in the Finals for the fifth straight time being only the second team to do so, since the Boston Celtics, led by Bill Russell, did back in the ‘60s.
Curry has played the previous four, but has never won an NBA Finals MVP. While Curry has mentioned that he prefers to win the championship over the award, it’s precisely his lack of a Finals MVP that people question his legacy.
With Durant out for the first game and possibly the second (or longer), it’s up to Steph Curry to once again carry the load and remind the rest of the NBA why he was the first to ever be awarded MVP unanimously.
This is Curry’s opportunity to showcase his offensive arsenal and prove to the world that the Warriors are still his team.
Curry has a chance to once and for all shut up his critics, and claim the award that’s rightfully his.
Between Leonard, Lowry, Curry and Thompson, the NBA Finals has more than enough all-stars to keep an eye on this Thursday. Besides these players and the rest of the Raptors’ and Warriors’ starting lineups, however, is a bench full of players equally crucial to securing a championship ring.
Traditionally, the Toronto Raptors have been known for having a deep bench and relying heavily on rotations. But, as we know, this year is not like the rest for the Canadian franchise. As showcased in the Eastern conference finals, Coach Nick Nurse has stuck to a steady eight-man rotation, which includes Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell.
Most outstandingly, the trio’s combined 48 points during Game 4 against the Bucks attests to their newfound place in the Raptors’ lineup. Powell and VanVleet make up the first- and second-highest marks in three-point shooters off the bench in the playoffs.
Since the birth of his second child prior to Game Four, VanVleet’s performance has improved greatly. Coincidence or not, his average three-point percentage over Games 4, 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals stands at 85.9% — significantly higher than it’s been all season — going 3-3, 7-9 and 4-5, respectively. His recent success may even open up a spot for him as starting point guard in the upcoming finals.
Serge Ibaka’s defensive game has been consistent for the Raptors come postseason. With his steady inside coverage, mobility and acute eye for rebounds, the 6’10” center can be very useful going against a strong offensive team like the Warriors.
Norman Powell’s minutes and shooting percentage from the field have nearly doubled since the conference semifinals back in the beginning of the month. Powell will enter the NBA Finals this Thursday on a hot streak after marking a lofty 74 points during the Eastern Conference Finals — a tremendous improvement to the mere 21 points he tallied in the semifinals.
As for Golden State, their bench remains a bit more unpredictable. After a calf injury took out Kevin Durant back against the Rockets, the Warriors have had to lean on their bench more than anticipated this postseason. Now giving more starting time to players like Kevon Looney, Coach Steve Kerr relies more heavily on bench rotations; consequently, Alfonzo McKinnie, Jonas Jerebko and Shaun Livingston have been spending more time on the court.
In the conference finals against Portland, McKinnie really stepped up his game. Though inconsistent throughout the majority of regular and postseason, McKinnie’s shot has gradually become more reliable, scoring 12 points in Game 4 versus Portland — the most he’s racked since nearly October.
The star of the Warriors second unit so far however has been center Kevon Looney.
Looney has been a stabilizing force on both sides of the ball, gobbling up rebounds and finishing at the rim like an elite big man. His matchup with Marc Gasol will be pivotal, and if he continues to play with the intensity he had last year the Warriors will be in good position to win.
It may be, though, that ultimately the Raptors have the edge when it comes to their bench. Equipped with three key players who have demonstrated their ability to compete and change games at the very least threatens the defending champs.