The NBA Finals start today, as the Golden State Warriors head North of the border to take on the Toronto Raptors. The Warriors are competing for their fourth championship in five seasons and their first-ever three-peat. The Raptors are appearing in their first-ever NBA Finals and are also the first non-American team in the NBA Finals. If they were to win, they would be bringing home a title and it would definitely be one that isn't much expected from anyone.
If the Raptors are to win, they must play sticky defense on the perimeter. The Warriors are without Kevin Durant in Game 1 and his status for this series is unclear right now. With that being the case, look for Draymond Green and the Splash Brothers to take main stage. In this case, Green has been the point man and the Splash Brothers have been knocking down the shots on the regular. Guys like Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby (if he is able to come back this series), Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka will be key in switching picks and also contesting three-pointers. A shooter can knock down an open shot, but contesting a shot considerably lessens the chances of making the shot. If they are able to defend the three-point line and eliminate the air space, then that increases their chances along with either Siakam or Leonard disrupting Green on the offensive end of the court.
On the offensive end, the Raptors need Kawhi to be what he has been so far, but they also need the supporting cast to be what they were in the last four games against the Milwaukee Bucks. Pascal Siakam has to step up in support of Kawhi along with Kyle Lowry being solid, but they aren't the only ones. Guys like Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka have to be consistent and Marc Gasol has to be consistent as well for whatever minutes he is on the court (may not get much playing time due to lineups Golden State can throw at you). One guy that absolutely has to show up for the Raptors is Danny Green. In the series against the Bucks, he couldn't buy a bucket. In this series, they need him to buy out the store in buckets. He has to be able to be a weapon on the offensive end shooting the basketball or else his contributions are very, very limited. The more the supporting cast around Kawhi Leonard plays well, the more Golden State has things to think about.
As far as Golden State, on the offensive end they just have to continue to move the basketball. With Kevin Durant out, they have moved the basketball at a much better rate. And that is no slight to Kevin Durant because they move the ball with him well, but the thing with him on the floor is they tend to use him to bail them out when the offense is not running smooth and that isn't conducive to good offense. The more they are able to move the ball, the more the Raptors will be in scramble mode and the more open shots people like Klay Thompson or Steph Curry will get. With or without Durant, the Warriors are talented enough to win this series, it just ups the degree of difficulty with him not on the court. And with the addition of DeMarcus Cousins this series for the Warriors, they honestly could slow down their offense more with him out there. Kerr would be best to play him in limited minutes because the goal is to win and not appease people with minutes.
Defensively, the Raptors have to make other people beat them besides Kawhi Leonard. The thing with Kawhi Leonard is you cannot speed him up when he plays because he is going to play at a certain pace all game long. What the Warriors can do, however, is get the ball out of his hands with quick traps. The more the Warriors are able to do that, the more you force guys like Siakam, Lowry and others to hit open shots that they are essentially being forced to take because of the Warriors taking away Kawhi. The Warriors definitely increase their chances of winning if they do that. Another thing the Warriors have to do is keep the Raptors off the boards. During the Bucks series, the Raptors had some games where they gave the Bucks , who were the bigger team, problems when it came to cleaning the defensive boards. Siakam and Ibaka caused the Bucks issues because they are always active and working to pursue the basketball. The Warriors must box out and pursue the basketball once they have boxed someone out. That will not only help them limit the opportunities of the Raptors on the offensive end, but it will also help them ignite the fast break for easy baskets they will need.
Both teams have things hey have to handle in order to win this series, but in the end, it will come down to the Warriors and their championship pedigree. As tough as Toronto can be defensively, the Warriors present a unique set of challenges that no one else does in the NBA and that's even without Kevin Durant. The Raptors have been depth and that has to be a concern for Golden State, but the Warriors have star power and I presume Durant comes back at some point and the Warriors win this series in six games, giving them their fourth title in five years.