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NBA Finals Preview, Odds & How Each Team Can Win

NBA Finals Preview, Odds & How Each Team Can Win

Series Price and Game 1 Line

Golden State Warriors -290 vs. Toronto Raptors +235.

G1: Golden State @ Toronto (-1), 213.

What We’ve Learned in the Playoffs

Golden State

What an absolutely fascinating playoffs it has been for these Golden State Warriors. Through the Clippers and 5/6 of the Rockets series, this looked like a declining group of old stars buoyed by the ascendancy of KD as the new best basketball player in the world.

Since, they’ve rediscovered an old identity and genuinely pressed the question of whether they’re better off without him. While I believe that KD will return to this series at some point, the Warriors have earned the right to be almost a $3 favorite in this series without him.

Steph, Klay, Draymond, and co. is so much freaking better than it looks on paper.

A big issue I’ve had with the coverage of the Warriors since they signed KD is the incessant focus on their amount of talent instead of their quality of team play. While, yes, they do have the best roster in the league when fully healthy, the pace-and-space/splash-brothers/Draymond era has always been about a system that uplifts the players within it and puts an incredible amount of pressure on any opposition.

They are just so damn hard to guard. The key thing to remember going into this series is that the Warriors are better than the Raptors not because they are more talented (it’s a genuine question of whether or not they are without KD), but because they have incredibly smart players in perfect roles in the perfect system.

Toronto

These have been Kawhi Leonard’s Playoffs. The dude has been absolutely magnificent on both ends and rides into the Finals fresh off of a dominant performance against Milwaukee.

What we’ve learned so far in these playoffs about Toronto, then, is that they have a dude who has a legitimate chance to be the best player in a series against the best team of the last 20 years.

Toronto’s pathway to this point has been poetically opposite to Golden State’s, who started the Playoffs with KD just going nut and are now doing the same as a group without him. Toronto, meanwhile, is/was trying to emphasize Nick Nurse’s movement style but is coming into this series (admittedly) completely on Kawhi’s shoulders.

For an underdog like Toronto, your best chance to win this series is to hope that Kawhi can be the best player on the floor at least 4 out of 7 nights. He’s proven that he can be that guy.

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Matchups

Golden State’s offense vs. Toronto’s defense

Who does Kawhi Leonard guard? That, to me, is the biggest question hanging over this matchup.

While it would be a very tough ask for him to both guard Steph and be superhuman offensively, I really don’t think Kyle Lowry or Danny Green have the foot-speed to keep up with Steph, especially if he’s coming with the same energy that he brought during the Portland series.

If you’re Toronto and you think Kawhi-on-Steph is a card you want to play at some point during the series, you can’t afford to wait past the second half of game 1. These first two games are absolute must-wins for Toronto; there isn’t enough time to wait for your mid-series adjustment to kick it into high-gear.

Holistically, the Warriors present far different challenges for Toronto than they have faced thus far in these Playoffs.

Anchored by Gasol’s physicality, the Raptors have done a fantastic job protecting the rim against the Bucks and Raptors, two teams who prioritize such shots. However, the magic of Steph Curry is a far different animal than the freakiness of Giannis or the strength of Embiid.

Though this backcourt lacks the true quickness on the perimeter to keep up with everything the Warriors do, Toronto is the rare team that has the defensive IQ to mentally process and adequately react to Golden State’s actions. If Toronto can just manage to be in the right position at all times, that’s a good start. They will have to be airtight in their rotations and avoid the mental lapses that create the wide-open dunks and 3’s that the Warriors always seem to mentally will their opponent into surrendering.

Gasol’s rim protection is key to the Raptors defense but what makes him so great is his communication, leadership, and toughness. The more I process these games, the more I think that Draymond Green and Marc Gasol are really their team’s MVPs.

The question is whether Gasol, known to be one of the slowest players in the league, can hang on the floor against Golden State’s style, especially when they downsize to Draymond at the 5. Gasol’s effort was incredible in the Bucks series, though, and sometimes an elite effort level is good enough to be just good enough, even without the requisite athleticism.

The Raptors can also help their big guy out by really controlling the pace and keeping the Warriors off the turbo button. Gasol getting played off the floor would be a really bad sign for Toronto, but if he can hang, that’s probably a good sign that the Raps are at least keeping the lid on top of things.

Toronto’s offense vs. Golden State’s defense

I’m really wary of Toronto’s ability to score in this series. Even without Durant, an incredible defender, the fact that the Raptors don’t really have a guy who can truly punish Curry sets up very well for what the Warriors bring to the table.

I cannot overstate how fucking good of defenders Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are. It’s just insane at this point; they were both pretty much perfect in the Portland series. Golden State is comfortable against a team whose primary scorer is on the wing.

When Lowry is on the floor, you put Klay on him and hide Curry on the off-guard. When Lowry is off the floor, it doesn’t matter in the backcourt. When Iguodala is on the floor, you give him Kawhi, and when Iggy sits, you give Kawhi to Draymond or Klay.

Golden State has also shown an extreme willingness to double, gearing their defense towards a #1 option and forcing other guys to beat them.

Kawhi Leonard will have to become a playmaker in such a scenario, something he hasn’t succeeded at in the past but did well to close out the Bucks series. Guys like Siakam, Danny Green, and Gasol will have to be able to hit 3’s off the catch in the face of a closeout. If not, and Draymond can start free-safetying in an over-helping role, the Warriors become insanely hard to score on.

Toronto will also have to exploit Golden State on the offensive glass. Even though the emergence of Looney and the potential return of Boogie make this Warriors team feel a little bit bigger, the Raptors have shown an ability to pound the offensive glass and will have to continue to do so. Leonard and the guards should also be especially frisky and force Golden State to work for the entirety of every stop they get.

Intangibles

Toronto has not been a mentally tough team until the Playoffs.

Kawhi, Gasol, and Danny Green (and Lebron going West) have brought a different attitude to this group. They must get nasty early in this series. Golden State is only beatable when you start to unravel them mentally; if you allow them to operate smoothly, they will not lose. Toronto needs to be the more physical team, the louder team, and the hungrier team.

Golden State, meanwhile, must carefully navigate the waters of Boogie + KD’s return.

While it looks like Boogie will definitely play early in the series, Kerr must think through every minute he gets. Marc Gasol is not the kind of big you can just get buckets on and Boogie’s style does not fit with how the Warriors have been playing post-KD. Boogie has a role in this series as a bucket-getter at times, but it isn’t a big one.

Toronto Wins if…

They go up 2-0; Kawhi is the best player in the series; someone brings out the worst sides of Draymond; Steph has a bad series.

GSW Wins if…

They protect home court; Steph gets at least his averages; they protect the defensive glass.

Pick

Warriors in 6.

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Zach is currently a law student and loves to write about all things hoops. Follow him on twitter @NBAZachB for all of his articles and daily NBA picks.

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