The Golden State Warriors were red-hot going into the NBA Finals. Even with the loss of star forward Kevin Durant, they dominated the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals. The prevailing feeling many had is the Warriors would continue to dominate against the Raptors, who were the champions of the Eastern Conference, which many view as an inferior conference compared to the Western Conference. Well, someone forgot to tell the Raptors they were supposed to lose tonight to the Warriors. The Raptors controlled most of Game 1 as Toronto took a 1-0 lead against Golden State. Pascal Siakam was huge for Toronto, scoring 32 points while grabbing eight rebounds and dishing five assists, but the story was about who was missing in this one. And it was also about the effect he has when not on the court.
Kevin Durant has not played in some time now and from the words that were said, it would not be a surprise to see him not play in Game 2. And while the ball movement was one thing that was lauded without Durant on the floor, what was noticeable is how hard others had to work in their halfcourt offense at times. Draymond Green was facilitating and in this game, he got a triple double. Where they failed though, however, is when the offense broke down. People have often criticized the Warriors offense with Kevin Durant because of the lack of movement at times, but the thing he does for Golden State is eliminates good defense. How he does that is because he is a unique blend of size with the ability to shoot over everyone he faces. So even when he isn't open on the court, Durant is and he makes teams pay for that with his silky-smooth stroke from mid to deep range. The Raptors defended the Warriors well, but no one in the NBA has any defense for when Kevin Durant wants to take over games.
Another place Durant could be missed is the lineups the Warriors have. The best lineup the Warriors have is the Hamptons Five, which features Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson. When they play this lineup, they usually press tempo and they create mismatches as well. With DeMarcus Cousins not being the same as he was and essentially being ineffective Thursday night, the lineup would have definitely been an option for an adjustment. Unfortunately, that option is now not there and it hurts them. With Durant and that lineup, anyone who rebounds the ball can press the tempo with no problems at all. Instead, they have guys like Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney and Alfonzo McKinnie fitting in where Durant usually would and the synergy isn't quite there like it would be with Durant there. All three players make contributions, but they all three don't do something special like Durant can every time he touches the ball. That lineup also is special defensively because like Draymond Green, Durant can cover multiple positions and he can make up for people getting beat defensively with his length and defensive intelligence.
Going into Game 2 more than likely without Kevin Durant is going to be a challenge for the Warriors. With the Golden State though, they seem to excel when the challenge is laid before them. It will be interesting to see what they come up with and how they respond to the loss in Game 1 the next time out.