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SportWarriors vs. Raptors: Predictions, picks, TV schedule for 2019 NBA Finals

06:30  26 may  2019
06:30  26 may  2019 Source:   sportingnews.com

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Warriors vs. Raptors: Predictions, picks, TV schedule for 2019 NBA Finals © Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited

Warriors vs. Raptors: Schedule, time, TV channel

Date Matchup Time (TV channel)
May 30 Game 1 at Toronto 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
June 2 Game 2 at Toronto 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
June 5 Game 3 at Golden State 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
June 7 Game 4 at Golden State 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
June 10* Game 5 at Toronto 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
June 13* Game 6 at Golden State 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
June 16* Game 7 at Toronto 8 p.m. ET (ABC)

(*if necessary)

Warriors vs. Raptors: The backstory

Even by today’s rumor-centric standards, there has never been a series that will end in June but be so thoroughly dominated by what might happen in July. It’s the NBA Finals, after all, the league’s signature event, the time of year when one team will walk away with a championship trophy, only one of 70 NBA teams to do so. And yet, the specter of July 1 will loom over two of the biggest stars in this series.

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We’ll get back to that. On the floor, this Finals will be historic for many reasons. It’s the first appearance for the Raptors, the first time the NBA will play championship games outside of the U.S. For a team that struggled so badly with playoff failures in recent years, this is an enormous milestone.

It’s also the fifth straight appearance for the Warriors, giving them a chance to join an elite group of teams that have won three in a row: the Lakers of 1952-54, the Celtics of 1959-66, the Bulls of 1991-93 and 1996-98, and the Lakers of 2000-02.

The Warriors did not cruise through the first two rounds of the postseason, twice losing games at home to the Clippers to open the playoffs, and losing twice to Houston in the conference semis. They did sweep Portland — though that was not easy, either — in the conference finals and are carrying a six-game winning streak into the Finals.

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The road was a lot tougher for the Raptors, who went seven games against a beat-up Sixers team in the East semifinals and won the clincher on a dramatic buzzer-beater in the corner by Kawhi Leonard. Toronto lost the first two games of the conference finals to Milwaukee before rallying to knock off the Bucks with four straight wins.

Neither team, then, has been finely tuned coming into the Finals. But wait — there are more subplots.

Start with Golden State, which lost Kevin Durant to a calf injury back in Game 5 of the conference semis. Durant missed Game 6 against Houston and all of the conference finals, and the Warriors won every game.

Naturally, with Durant heading into free agency on July 1, the story has become whether the Warriors’ success is a message to him that they can win without him. Or maybe that they’re a better, more fun team without him. Or maybe they don’t want him and his sore calf back, anyway.

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It’s all nonsense, of course. Maybe Durant has, on some level, already decided he wants to leave the Warriors, but there’s no way Golden State does not want him back as it tries to make history with a third straight championship.

Maybe Durant would like to see his teammates squirm trying to contain Leonard without him, to remind them of his value. But he wants a third ring, too, which means he wants to play, which means he doesn’t really want to see anyone in a Golden State uniform squirm.

On the other side, the entire season in Toronto has been designed around proving to Leonard, who is also a free agent on July 1, that he should stay with the Raptors. Toronto took an enormous gamble when it traded for Leonard last summer, giving up All-Star DeMar DeRozan and taking on a player whose representatives had let it be known he wanted to play in Southern California.

The question will be asked ad nauseam over the coming two weeks: Does a trip to the NBA Finals make Leonard more likely to re-sign? Do the Raptors need to win the trophy to cinch a long-term contract with him? Don’t expect the ever-reticent Leonard to offer up any answers on those questions, but they’ll certainly be asked among the NBA’s chattering classes.

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This is a series stocked with both prime and aging stars — Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins (himself a free agent-to-be returning from an injury) — but it will still be the drama around the two impending free agents that carries the early storylines.

Warriors vs. Raptors: The key matchup

Game 1 will mark the 20th time that Durant — should he take the floor, that is — and Leonard have matched up in the playoffs, and Durant has pretty much owned the matchup, outscoring Leonard in all but three of the games and winning three of the four series in which the two faced off.

But some context should be added here. The first time Durant and Leonard matched up in the playoffs was in 2012, when Durant led Oklahoma City past San Antonio in the Western Conference finals, back when Leonard was just 20 years old and a rookie.

The Spurs got revenge in 2014, beating OKC in six games in what was the prelude to Leonard’s breakout performance in the Finals win over the Heat, for which Leonard won Finals MVP. Durant did lead the Thunder to a conference semifinal win over Leonard’s Spurs in 2016.

Of course, 2017 remains a sore spot for Leonard and Spurs fans. San Antonio faced Durant and the Warriors in the conference finals that year, and in Game 1, Warriors center Zaza Pachulia planted his foot in Leonard’s landing area on a midrange jumper, causing Leonard to sprain his ankle and putting him out for the series. It was a dirty play, and the NBA created a rule to try to eliminate defenders sliding a foot into a shooter’s space.

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No one knew at the time that Leonard would play only nine more games for the Spurs before forcing a trade. He’s in Toronto now, but Leonard surely is out for some revenge for the Pachulia play — as well as to pull closer in his personal matchup with Durant.

Certainly, the two will set the tone for the series — Durant leads the playoffs with an average of 34.2 points per game, and Leonard is third, with 31.4 points.

Warriors vs. Raptors: The key player, Part I

The numbers that Curry posted in the conference finals were astounding: 36.5 points, 46.9 percent shooting, 42.6 percent 3-point shooting, 8.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists, an average of 15.3 3-pointers taken per game.

It was that offensive explosion that reminded fans and folks around the NBA why the Warriors had been such a compelling, fun group to watch from 2014-16, before they signed Durant and sapped all the joy and suspense out of the sport.

But Portland was in over its head against Golden State all along and did not have firepower on either side of the ball to keep up. The Raptors, with Lowry, Danny Green and Fred VanVleet, have much stronger defensive options in the backcourt, and Curry can’t expect to get the kind of open looks he did in the conference finals.

With Durant hurting, the Warriors will need Curry to continue to carry a hefty scoring load, and his recent hot streak is not the only sign he could do that. Curry, remember, lived in Toronto for a year as a kid, when his father, Dell, was a Raptors guard. Curry has always liked facing the Raptors — he has averaged 28.6 points and 7.8 assists against them, on 52.1 percent shooting.

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All three of those numbers are the most he’s averaged against any team in the league.

Warriors vs. Raptors: Predictions, picks, TV schedule for 2019 NBA Finals © Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited stephen-curry-getty-050719-ftr.jpg

Warriors vs. Raptors: The key player, Part II

The Raptors have had to scramble from game to game to find a No. 2 option to support Leonard. On some nights, it has been Lowry. It was Serge Ibaka in Game 7 against Philadelphia. More recently it was VanVleet finally finding his shot off the bench.

But in the postseason’s early going, Toronto’s most reliable second option was budding young star Pascal Siakam, who averaged 21.6 points on 48.9 percent shooting (32.1 percent from the 3-point line) in Toronto’s first 11 playoff games. He then hit a wall of sorts, because in the next six games, he averaged just 13.3 points on 39.2 percent shooting (22.2 percent on 3s).

Siakam is an athletic, versatile threat who has the potential to create matchup problems for Golden State. But he needs to get his offensive rhythm back for the Raptors to have a shot in this series.

Warriors vs. Raptors: The big number

110.2. That’s the Warriors’ defensive efficiency in the playoffs this year, which is ninth among the 16 playoff teams and would represent the worst of Golden State’s postseason defensive efficiency ratings during its run of five straight Finals.

It would do so by a wide margin, too — Golden State’s worst defensive rating in that span was 105.3 points per 100 possessions, in 2017. All of the Warriors’ three recent championship teams were either No. 1 or 2 in defensive efficiency in the playoffs.

Whether it is age, fatigue or the offenses of the competition, the Warriors have not been the same defensive team they’ve been in the past at this time of year. And if they stay where they are defensively while still winning a championship, they will defy some odds — not since the 2000 Lakers has a team finished ninth or lower in postseason defensive efficiency and won a championship.

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Warriors vs. Raptors: Xs and Os

Let’s talk about the Warriors’ performance in the clutch in these playoffs.

It’s obvious that Golden State is having more of a grind this postseason because they’ve already played 10 clutch games — meaning the score was within five points in the final five minutes — out of 16. The Warriors played only seven of 21 clutch games in last year’s playoffs, four of 17 in 2017, nine of 24 in 2016 and 11 of 21 in 2015.

This year, they’re 6-4 in the clutch, and the numbers are not good: 37.8 percent shooting from the field and 36.8 percent shooting from the 3-point line. They’ve been very good defensively in the clutch, so they’ve been able to survive those games.

But what’s been notable about the Warriors has been the poor late-game play of their three best offensive stars, Durant, Curry and Thompson, especially when contrasted with the way the others have performed in the clutch.

Warriors in clutch time Points FG-FGA 3PT FG-3PT FGA
Stephen Curry 30 7-27 5-14
Klay Thompson 19 6-21 5-15
Kevin Durant 19 6-17 0-4
Draymond Green 14 5-10 2-2
Andre Iguodala 12 4-5 2-2
Kevon Looney 12 5-8 0-0
Alfonzo McKinnie 2 1-2 0-1

Now, Durant missed the Warriors’ last four games in the clutch, and they were 4-0 — they had been 2-4 with him in clutch games. When he’s not on the floor, the Warriors have done much better getting others involved. Of the 41 points scored by Iguodala, Green, Looney and McKinnie, 28 of them came in the four games that Durant missed.

That is a dilemma for coach Steve Kerr. When Durant returns and there is a close game, should he stick with the script of getting the ball into Durant’s hands and leaving it to him to either shoot or get it to Curry or Thompson? Or should he find looks for the others?

It’s less of a dilemma for Nick Nurse. Heading into the clincher on Saturday, Leonard scored 43 points in eight clutch games (the Raptors were 5-3 in those games), and the rest of the team combined to score 49 points. Leonard was not very efficient, shooting 41.9 percent in clutch situations, but his teammates shot just 38.9 percent, so there’s still no question he’s the best late-game option.

Warriors vs. Raptors: The prediction

In less than a year, Leonard has resurrected his reputation, grinding through a very good season with the Raptors before re-emerging as one of the five best players in the league over the course of this postseason. For his efforts on both ends of the floor, you’ve got to figure the Raptors can get two games in this series, at least. That would represent more than Cleveland got against the Warriors in the past two Finals.

If the calf problem persists and Durant can’t play, the series nudges a bit more toward the Raptors. If Cousins returns but is rusty and ineffective, that could also bolster Toronto.

But if it falls to Curry to win this series, he can carry that load. He’s never been off-the-charts in the NBA Finals the way he was in the conference finals against Portland, and maybe it’s time for him to put forth that kind of effort with those kinds of numbers on this stage.

The guess here is we’ll see something along those lines.

Warriors over Raptors, 4-2

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