The conference finals are done and dusted in the NBA and the two finalists have been decided! The Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors will kick off the 2019 NBA Finals series this Friday (AEST) with Game 1 to be played in Toronto.
We will be focusing on Game 1 in our preview today but you can check out our full series preview and betting tips here.
After finishing the season with a 58-24 record, second to only the Bucks, the Raptors earned the right to host the first two games of the finals. Game 1 will kick off at 11am on Friday (AEST).
The big story heading into the finals is the injury cloud surrounding the Warriors star forward and back to back finals MVP Kevin Durant. Durant suffered a calf injury in Game 5 of the Warriors second round matchup against the Rockets and missed the entire Western Conference Finals sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. Durant is expected to be out for the first two games of the finals, but that could change if the Warriors lose Game 1 by a big margin.
Golden State didn’t really miss Durant in the Western Conference Finals as they breezed through the Portland Trail Blazers, winning 4-0 in dominant fashion. Two time MVP point guard, Stephen Curry, averaged a monster 36.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.3 assists in the series while Draymond Green looked back to his defensive best.
Without Durant, the Warriors ball movement and team defence looked like it did in the first two seasons of the dynasty and many argue that they are actually a more rounded team sans the superstar forward. Durant won’t be back for Game 1 on Friday but another all-star could be in centre DeMarcus Cousins, who hasn’t played since Game 2 of the first round matchup against the Clippers.
Klay Thompson will have a massive job this series as he attempts to stem the production of Kawhi Leonard. Andre Igoudala is also battling a calf injury that currently has him listed as a game time decision for Game 1. He could help carry the load defensively on Leonard, but expect Thompson’s offensive production to take a hit early in the series.
The Raptors looked down and out of the Eastern Conference Finals after losing the first two games away from home to the Milwaukee Bucks. They pulled out a miraculous overtime win in Game 3 and then went on to win the next three games in a row to advance to their first ever finals series.
Kawhi Leonard has dominated throughout the playoffs, averaging 31.2 points and 8.8 rebounds in 18 games. He has been the driving force for the Raptors on both offence and defence and without Durant in the line-up for Game 1, should run rampant on the defensive end.
While the Warriros and Raptors faced off twice in the regular season, with Toronto winning both games, Kawhi Leonard only played in one of the matchups. In that game, he scored 37 points on 14/24 shooting for a monster night.
The Raptors start as slight favourites at home for Friday’s game, which is justified given their two regular season wins over the Warriors and their great form in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors shouldn’t be overawed by the situation either, both Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard have been to and won a finals series before while the rest of the team boasts real playoff experience.
Incredibly tough match to call here. Without Durant, we think these two teams are so evenly matched. The one thing we keep coming back to is the defence of Kawhi Leonard. He has the ability to guard whichever Warriors star is hot at the time, and will no doubt help put the clamps on Stephen Curry at times throughout the series.
The last time Leonard played the Warriors in a playoff game was back in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in 2017. He played just 23 minutes before injuring his ankle and had a +21 plus/minus in that short span. We think he has a similar impact on defence here and leads the Raptors to a Game 1 win.
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