For the first time in nearly a decade (2010!), we will not see LeBron James in the NBA Finals. The new King in the East may soon leave Canada for more (purple and) golden pastures but for now, he’s given Toronto the World Title shot that LeBron always took away. The question now remains: can the East beat the best in the West this year? Here’s my preview of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors.
The Bucks racked up the best regular season record in the league this year and the likely League MVP (voting ended before the playoffs) in the astonishing Giannis Antetokounmpo but The Klaw snatched it all away leading Toronto to 4 straight wins after facing a daunting 2 games to none deficit in one of the all time performances in playoffs history. To wit:
Not only did Toronto lose LeBron James as their main obstacle in the East, they got perhaps the next closest thing to him as Leonard averaged 29.8 ppg and 9.5 rebounds per game to become the only player other than the King to average a 29 and 9 in the Eastern Conference Finals since rebounding stats were recorded in 1963.
Another telling stat from this Ringer article:
What Leonard is doing in this postseason is timeless. Prior to 2019, only three players in NBA playoff history—Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller, and Rolando Blackman—had averaged at least 30 points on at least 51 percent shooting from the field, 38 percent from 3, and 85 percent from the free throw line. Jordan played only three games; Miller and Blackman played four; Kawhi has played 18.
Those are pretty eye opening stats that should have Lakers and Clippers fans in Kawhi’s hometown salivating while Raptors fans may be ready to sacrifice Drake if it means Kawhi signs with them. But to most expert NBA bloggers like yours truly, this looks like the best shot Toronto may ever get at winning it all (at least for the near future).
Their foes, and Champions of the Western Conference, are the familiar Golden State Warriors who’ll be making their 5th straight Finals appearance. This should be the last year of this particular rendition of the Warriors as Kevin Durant will most likely move on, needing to win a chip on his own to cement his legacy. The Warriors have struggled more at times this year than in previous years and some claim to see ways to beat them.
But the only surefire strategy to beating this Durant and Boogie rendition of Golden State was always “Hope one of their best players gets injured”. But even that may no longer work with Kevin Durant ruled out for Game 1 of the Finals and DeMarcus Cousins listed as questionable. These Warriors are 33-4 when Durant is out but Steph Curry plays (31-1 recently). There’s the media driven talk about rift issues because Durant might be sitting out to prevent further injury and the Warriors wanting to prove they can win one without him. But I don’t think these Warriors will let petty distractions take away from a 4th championship in 5 years and bona fide dynasty status..
I kind of have a feeling Toronto might steal Game 1 but if it gets too close for the Warrior’s comfort, I do believe Kevin Durant will return to save the day/be an afterthought. Also looking forwarding to Boogie getting to play in the Finals. It will be interesting to see how much time Kawhi spends chasing around Steph Curry and if Toronto’s vaunted defense gives the Warriors trouble. I see a monster series from future Laker Kawhi Leonard but I just don’t think Kyle Lowry is enough. Warriors in 6.
Ben Galli files all his reports just before last call on his phone. Follow him @bengalli33