Editor’s note: this column was written Thursday prior to the start of Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
We’re finally here. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.
No surprise, the Golden State Warriors reached the NBA Finals.
Golden State didn’t exactly roll its way to the final in this tournament run, but the Warriors are here nonetheless. And everyone, except maybe Houston Rockets fans, didn’t expect any other outcome.
But perhaps a bit of a surprise was that the Toronto Raptors have reached the finals for the first time in franchise history.
The Raptors to my knowledge is historically significant for showcasing great individual talent — Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and DeMar DeRozan — rather than having teams that made deep tournament runs.
But Toronto has reached the finals on the back of undoubtedly the hottest player in this year’s playoffs in Kawhi Leonard. (Side note: Kawhi sounds like Kauai. So if he wins, we win? Hehe.)
So, let’s review how we got here.
Golden State more or less coasted through the regular season. In the last 10 games of the regular season, the Warriors were 8-2 to clinch the West top-seed.
The Warriors took care of the L.A. Clippers in six games in the first round to get a conference semifinal series matchup against the Rockets.
Despite the best efforts of James Harden, last year’s MVP and a finalist this year, the Warriors got by them in six games. (Another side note: Rockets-Warriors should have been the Western finals matchup. It would have been an even more epic series, especially now because it looks like the Rockets are planning to blow up the team and start over.)
And then, though Golden State had to come from behind a couple of times, the Warriors swept the Portland Trail Blazers to clinch their third straight conference championship even without perennial all-star Kevin Durant.
Even though it looks like Durant is still on the bench, it was reported Thursday that Golden State gets DeMarcus Cousins back for Game 1 of the finals, who was M.I.A. since suffering a leg injury early in the first round against the Clippers.
Toronto, meanwhile, clinched the No. 2 seed in the East after going 58-24 in the regular season.
A couple of things can be used to define Toronto’s historic postseason run:
One: Leonard’s three-point buzzer beater in Game 7 of the conference semifinals to get past the Philadelphia 76ers.
And two: After going down, 2-0, in the Eastern finals series to heavy favorite Milwaukee Bucks and MVP finalist Giannis Antetokounmpo — who in my opinion should win MVP after leading the bucks to an NBA-best 60-22 regular season record — the Raptors rally to win the next four games to clinch the series in six.
Well, a third can be added to define Toronto’s magical run, and one word is all that’s needed — Drake.
So, who do I got winning the series?
Golden State is a heavy favorite over Toronto in this series, and deservedly so.
If Durant was available, I’d believe that the Warriors win in five. If Durant wasn’t to play a single minute during the series, I’m still inclined to believe Golden State will eventually win.
One thing that I feel will determine this series is rebounding, particularly on offense. More possessions, more points, yes?
Between the two teams, Draymond Green is the best rebounder, averaging 9.9 a game according to ESPN. Surprisingly, Stephen Curry is Golden State’s second-best rebounder at 6.3 a game.
But Warriors centers Andrew Bogut and Kevon Looney only averaged about five a game.
Toronto, meanwhile, has the likes of Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol crashing the boards. Leonard is the best of them, averaging 8.8 a game.
If Toronto is to pull an upset, it will because the Raptors will have won the rebounds battle to take away possessions from the Warriors.
Perhaps, though, the return of Cousins could help Golden State in that department. But even if that weren’t the case, I can’t think of another reason of how Golden State would lose this series.
The Warriors will probably win behind the three-point shooting of Curry and Klay Thompson. They seem to have the ability to turn it on at any time.
If Toronto finds itself trailing late in games, it will be an uphill battle to come from behind.
In addition, I do believe the Warriors are motivated to close out their tenure at Oracle Arena by completing a three-peat before moving to the new stadium in San Francisco.
And, I do believe Durant will see the floor at some point during this series. I peg he wants to leave behind one more lasting memory and close his time with Golden State with another championship before departing for free agency.
It won’t be a sweep. I have too much respect for Leonard and the kind of postseason run he’s had to think that.
But, ultimately, Oakland will host one more championship parade before seeing its team take off for the city across the Bay.
Golden State in six games.
Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.