As of today, the Toronto Raptors led by the stoic “fun guy” Kawhi Leonard, are leading the Golden State Warriors 2-1. The Warriors are in an uphill fight for not only the NBA championship but to also become a team of destiny. To be the first team since the 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers to win three NBA championships in a row, better known as the illustrious three-peat. The Warriors have been to five consecutive NBA Finals winning three and practically giving one away to the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom they had down 3-1.
What makes this series so special is it’s the classic tale of David versus Goliath. Only this time, David is armed with more than a slingshot. The Toronto Raptors have arguably the greatest defensive team assembled in recent years. As I look down their roster they have Kawhi Leonard who was a finals MVP, a two-time defensive player of the year, and 5-time all NBA defensive team selection. Serge Ibaka, another player with a reputation for playing staunch defense, was also was selected to numerous All-NBA defensive teams and twice led the NBA in blocks. Marc Gasol, the veteran big man, also has an NBA defensive player of the year accolade on his resume.
The Raptors are a team with length and so has caused Golden State problems especially since Golden State has been bitten by the injury bug. Kevin Durant’s debut in this year’s Finals is more under wrap than the UFO crash at Roswell. However, Golden State does not need Kevin Durant but it helps. Klay Thompson suffered a mild hamstring pull in a Game 2 victory. He was forced to sit out Game 3 by trainers but is slated for a return for Game 4.
Without him, defenses can either key in on the sharpshooting Steph Curry or simply let him score and shut down the rest of the team. Outside of Steph, Klay, and KD, the Warriors are lacking in firepower. Draymond Green is basically willing them to stay in games by pushing the pace. So far, Golden State’s lone victory came in a game where it seemed the Raptors missed easy shots and went scoreless in the third period of Game 2.
I believe this year is similar to the year they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers when Green got ejected and suspended one game. In the game he sat out his suspension, Andrew Bogut got injured. The Warriors lost their rhythm and succumbed to the Cavs. The Warriors look better without KD because they move the ball around and it creates a synergy. With KD they rely more on isolations being that he can shoot over anyone in the league. I think the Warriors gave up a lot to get KD. They practically gave up key players that were the 2nd team like Harrison Barnes who signed with the Dallas Mavericks in the offseason before they made the blockbuster deal to sign KD.
In order for the Warriors to win this year’s championship, they somehow have to get healthy and go back to punishing teams in the third period like they have done all season. Because so far, the Raptors have held them to 109 points in each game of the series so far. In most games during the season that was enough to win, but the lack of depth is killing the Warrior’s chances., especially with Klay and KD missing games.
In order for the Raptors to win they need to keep doing what they are doing. Playing hardcore defense and making easy shots as often as they can. Golden State lives by the three-point shot. There’s an old adage that says live by the three die by the three. Simply because a longer shot equates to a longer rebound which leads to a fast break. But Golden State is choosing not to rebound on offense but are choosing to run back and defend against the fast break. This strategy gives the Raptors the advantage of second-chance points. Also, the Warriors Big 3, Curry, Thompson and Green’s net ratings are below double digits. Net rating, for the uninitiated, is the difference between a player’s offensive rating and his defensive rating. Offensive and defensive rating are respectively defined as the number of points a team scores and concede over 100 possessions. The last time the Warriors net rating was under double digits was in the 2015-2016 season where they lost in the Finals to Cleveland. The jury is still out on who will win but my prediction is Warriors in 6 if Klay comes back and they win Game 4. If not, then its good night Irene.