With the Golden State Warriors asserting their dominance on the NBA the last four years, the Toronto Raptors might have what it takes for the upset.
The big picture: After four years of Golden State facing the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors seem primed to take down the weary Warriors in 2019 — the first meeting in the Finals between the two teams.
The Raptors are flying high: In the last four NBA Finals, the Warriors have battled the LeBron James-led Cavaliers, taking three of four. If it weren’t for a Kyrie Irving miracle 3-pointer in game seven of the 2016 Finals, the Warriors would be four-time NBA champions.
As James led the Cavs, they were always good on the offensive end. But the defensive end is where they struggled as they:
- Were seventh, ninth and tenth in defensive rating in 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively, in the playoffs
- Had their best defensive playoff run in 2015, when they were fourth in defensive rating.
- Allowed opponents to shoot almost 51 percent from the field.
Meanwhile, the Raptors seem to be rising above that trend.
- They are barely second in defensive rating at 102.8. The Bucks are first at 102.5.
- Opponents are shooting 49 percent from the field.
- Opponents are shooting a dismal 31 percent from 3-point land.
- The paint is completely shut off from opposing players as they are shooting 32 percent from 3-10 feet.
Although it’s a small sample size, the Raptors’ suffocating defense has made it nigh-impossible to get a good shot. If Danny Green, Paskal Siakam, Serge Ibaka or even Kawhi Leonard — all good defenders — get beat on the perimeter, Marc Gasol is there for backup protection.
Can the Warriors get the dubs? Golden State has been riding high the last four years, defeating teams with ease. Adding Kevin Durant has only made it easier and bringing in DeMarcus Cousins should have made the Warriors unstoppable.
Except, it hasn’t.
- Both the Los Angeles Clippers and the Houston Rockets were able to take the Warriors to six games.
- Both series saw a starter go down: Cousins against the Clippers and Durant versus the Rockets.
- Because of the injuries, Andre Iguodala was pushed into the starting lineup, depleting an already weak bench.
- Then, Iguodala left game three early against the Portland Trailblazers with an injury.
In spite of the fact that Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have played well against the Trailblazers, they have a lot of work to do. Facing the Raptors in the Finals with three-fifths of the starting lineup and an inexperienced bench will only make things tougher.
The bottom line: 2019’s version of the Warriors appears to be the weakest so far. Though the team signed Cousins in free agency, he has been a non-factor in the playoffs thus far.
Depending on the severity of Durant’s injury and considering all the bodies that the Raptors can throw at the “Splash Brothers,” with a little luck, Toronto might have just enough to dethrone the Warriors. It would only be fitting considering the Raptors’ Cinderella run.