It’s been a long five days without NBA basketball, and we now have a full two-and-a-half weeks between us and the quadruple doink shot that ended the Sixers’ season. I, for one, am fully ready to dive back into these playoffs as an impartial observer.
For the first time since 2014, the NBA Finals will feature a matchup other than Warriors-Cavaliers. With LeBron choosing to focus on Space Jam 2 by joining a Lakers franchise where the top-two decision-makers were either bummed about missing movie night on Sundays, or fabricating dinners that took place with deceased actors, the Raptors will be filling the role of ‘Eastern Conference team trying to knock down the Golden State juggernaut’.
That’s not to say there won’t be plenty of familiar faces for even the casual fan tonight. Golden State is looking to put a stamp on a half-decade of dominance that would place the franchise in elite company. A Warriors victory would mark four championships in the last five seasons, and only three organizations have ever pulled off three straight titles: the Lakers (both while in Minneapolis in the 50s and Los Angeles in the early-2000s), the Celtics with their incredible run of eight straight titles from 1959-66, and the Bulls in securing two separate three-peats in the 90s.
Meanwhile, although the Raptors are making their first Finals appearance, Kawhi Leonard is no stranger to the big stage, having won Finals MVP following the Spurs’ title in 2014. With Kevin Durant sidelined by a calf injury since Golden State’s second-round series against the Rockets, the most-scrutinized free agency watch has shifted to Kawhi’s future. Will the outcome of this series play a role in whether Kawhi Leonard stays with the Raptors or heads out west? For what it’s worth, Kawhi has been very impressed with the people of Toronto “wearing hats and stuff.” I guess San Antonio was headwear-averse.
Remarkably, the Warriors are 31-1 in their last 32 games with Steph Curry, but without Kevin Durant. Durant is officially out for tonight’s game, and isn’t expected to play until at least Game 3, although he did travel with the team to Toronto. The Warriors will have one player back from injury tonight, as DeMarcus Cousins was announced as active for Game 1 earlier today. Even a rusty Cousins has to be an upgrade over Andrew Bogut-Damian Jones rotation minutes. Boogie represents one more weapon for a Warriors offensive machine that was firing on all cylinders before the team’s extended layoff, and everything appears to be pointing towards Curry finally earning his first Finals MVP award.
Still, even amidst all the “Warriors are more fun without KD” talk, his absence has to be a point in the Raptors’ favor. I’m sure Toronto also draws some confidence from going 2-0 against Golden State in the regular season, as well as the fact that Kawhi Leonard was crushing the Warriors the last time he faced them in the postseason, before Zaza Pachulia’s foot forever altered the NBA’s trajectory. Nevertheless, the Warriors remain heavy favorites, despite starting this series on the road.
Sixers fans, who are you rooting for in this series? Do you want Toronto to lose because you think that will make it more likely Kawhi leaves the Eastern Conference? Are you of the opinion that the Sixers’ buzzer-beater Game 7 defeat would look even better if it came at the hands of the eventual NBA Champion, and want the Raptors to win accordingly? Or maybe you still hold bitterness in your heart over that shot, and want nothing more than to see Golden State to wipe the floor with the Raptors and erase any semblance of joy in Jurassic Park. As Olmec would say, the choices are yours and yours alone.
Even if you’re ambivalent about the final outcome, we should be in for some high-level, entertaining basketball. Follow along with us here for tonight’s Game 1 action.
Who: Toronto Raptors vs. Golden State Warriors
When: 9:00 pm EST
Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, ON
Listed: ESPN Radio