The average observer already knew that Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant was the biggest X-factor heading into the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors.
If Durant were healthy and 100% throughout the series, it would help mitigate the impact Kawhi Leonard has had. Unfortunately, we only saw about 10 minutes of that matchup through the first five games.
After sitting out the first four outings with a calf injury, Durant returned Monday night. He played into the beginning stages of the second quarter, suffering an Achilles injury in the process.
Now heading into Game 6 in Oakland with the Raptors up 3-2, it’s time to look at the 10 biggest X-factors remaining in the series now that KD is out for the count.
There’s still a ton to look at. Key matchups will play major roles in Game 6 and potentially moving forward. Both the officiating and home-court advantage will be major X-factors. We look at all of this here.
Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors
Gasol has been an absolutely godsend for the Raptors thus far in these Finals. After struggling through the conference finals, he’s averaging 13.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. The veteran has also played some tremendous help defense against Stephen Curry, something that should continue in Game 6. All said, the Raptors are plus-21 with Casol on the court thus far in the series. That makes him a major X-factor.
Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
Five years after winning the NBA Finals MVP, primarily because of his defense against LeBron James, Iggy is back at it again this year. He’s held Kawhi Leonard to 38% shooting with the Raptors star hitting at a 61% clip against all other Warriors defenders. Iguodala played locked-down defense at the end of Game 5 after it looked like Leonard was going into takeover mode. He’s also hit multiple big shots throughout the series, including the clincher in Game 2. With Durant out, this three-time NBA champ will have to continue this moving forward.
Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
This youngster’s struggles have coincided with Warriors wins throughout the series. In the three games Toronto has come out on top, Siakam is averaging 23.0 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 50% from the field. In the Raptors’ two losses, Siakam is going for 12 points and six boards on 33% shooting. He must up his game against Draymond Green moving forward. Given what we saw from Green defensively in Game 5, that’s not going to be easy. We’ll see if the 25-year-old Siakam is up for that task.
The one problem with officiating in this series is that we have no idea how the game is going to be called. One game will see officials let the likes of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet get away with grabbing and holding Stephen Curry. The next game will see Andre Iguodala’s hands in the cookie jar more often than not against Kawhi Leonard — only to go uncalled. Another game will see all of it called. How the games are called from here on out, including the physicality in the paint, could more than help determine the outcome of the series. It’s the sad truth.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
More than anything, it’s now all about Green minding his Ps and Qs. The forward is one technical away from being suspended for a game. If that were to happen even in a Warriors win Thursday evening, it would come close to sealing Game 7 for the Raptors. Remember the 2016 NBA Finals? It’s almost a carbon copy of that. From an on-court perspective, Green has been brilliant in the Finals. He’s averaging 12.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game. Golden State will need this and more from him moving forward.
Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
Some will blast Leonard for passing off the last shot of Game 5. That’s absurd. If you saw the way Golden State was honing in on him with Thompson and Iguodala, Leonard made the right play. It just didn’t work out. Outside of that, this dude has put up one of the finest NBA Finals performances in recent history. He’s averaging 29.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per outing. Leonard also hit dagger after dagger the last time Toronto was in Oakland to help the team to a 3-1 lead. If he plays the role of killer with Durant out, Toronto will take one of the final two and the series.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
At some point, we are going to have to start giving Curry credit for being a big time player in big time games. For some reason, that narrative has not stuck. Game 5 saw him hit the tying three-pointer with less than two minutes left. Curry did so after struggling earlier in the final stanza. Here’s a dude that’s now averaging 33.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in his past 12 games. With Durant out, the onus is going to be on Curry to continue this domination. He’ll need to come up big in Game 6. And if the Warriors come out on top, Curry must have a performance for the ages in Game 7. It’s that simple.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
On the other end, VanVleet had done extremely well against Curry over the course of the first four games of the Finals. That changed big time Monday evening. He fouled Curry on multiple three-point attempts, lagged behind him on other wide-open shots and was in foul trouble. Offensively, VanVleet needs to be more aggressive. He’s shooting 38% from distance but is averaging less than 10 total shots per game. If the Raptors are going to turn this series around, VanVleet needs to be smarter on defense and more aggressive on offense.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Here’s a resounding stat for you. In the first four games he’s played in this series, Thompson is shooting at a 57% mark from three-point range. Those are some astronomical numbers right there. And whether it’s fair or not, Thompson must continue to dominate from the perimeter if Golden State is to make history here. Interestingly, Thompson’s potential ability to be an X-factor also includes him being consistent from inside the arc. He’s shooting just 47% from two-point range in the series.
The road team has won each game in the series since the Raptors took the opener in Toronto. Given that Golden State and Toronto combined for a 62-20 home record during the regular season, this is an amazing stat. For the Warriors, Game 6 is also going to be their final outing at Oracle Arena in Oakland before they relocate to San Francisco. Thursday night is going to be absolutely electric. And if the Warriors come out on top, Sunday evening in Toronto will be much of the same. The home crowds. The home arenas. These are major X-factors heading down the stretch in the Finals.