It’s time that the basketball world and those without a rooting interest in the NBA Finals come to an agreement.
The narratives we’ve seen thrown around during the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors series need to die a slow death.
The Warriors aren’t down 3-1 because Kevin Durant is injured. Durant’s absence and potential departure in free agency has not created drama in Oakland. Stephen Curry has not, “once again,” bombed out on the game’s grandest of stages.
The Raptors are not suddenly darlings after heading into this series as overwhelming underdogs. They were always going to be a tough out for the two-time defending NBA champs.
If Toronto’s Game 4 win in Oakland Friday night taught us one thing, it’s clearly that these Raptors are better than their west-coast counterparts.
Kawhi Leonard: Best player in the series.
- Would Durant’s presence over the first four games have slowed Leonard down some? Sure. But it’s not like Kawhi was dominating bad competition in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
- He averaged 34.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists in the semifinals against Philadelphia. That was with the likes of Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris guarding Leonard.
- In the conference finals, Leonard went for an average of nearly 30 points and 10 rebounds while locking down MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Durant could have mitigated Leonard’s impact by dropping the 30-plus points he was averaging in the playoffs prior to suffering the calf injury.
Even then, these Raptors have outplayed the Warriors in all but about 18 of the first 192 minutes of the series. Durant isn’t a deity. He’s not from another planet. He couldn’t have made that big of a difference.
No fluke: Toronto won more games than Golden State.
- This is lost in everything. There’s a reason why the Raptors have home-court advantage in the Finals. They won one more game than Golden State during the regular season.
- In fact, the Raptors were 2-0 against Golden State during the regular year. That included an overtime home win in a game that saw Durant drop 51 points.
- We have to start simply giving this team the credit it deserves. It’s that simple.
Not the same Warriors: Defensively and offensively.
- Some point to the Warriors’ first title under Steve Kerr as the reason why Golden State should win without Durant. That’s foolish.
- Andre Iguodala is injured and five years older than when he won the MVP against LeBron James and Co. Leonard is in his prime. It’s a mismatch.
- The Warriors’ defensive rating in this year’s playoffs has dropped by 23% compared to that first championship run.
- Klay Thompson is banged up. Andrew Bogut is not the same defender. Shaun Livingston is on his last legs. And as mentioned above, Iggy is much older.
Can Golden State come back and win the next three games? Sure. They even seem a bit confident.
That’s no surprise. We’re looking at the first team in over a half-century to earn five consecutive NBA Finals appearances. The Warriors have (and will remain) a confident bunch. They can dig themselves out of this hole.
But it’s unlikely to happen.
With those fives years of championship experience comes a sense of tiredness. Long seasons. Emotional seasons. Emotional stress and the like.
These are not excuses. It’s the NBA Finals. Tired legs shouldn’t matter. Emotional stress should be thrown out the window. But that has not been the case with these Warriors. Meanwhile, the Raptors’ first foray into the limelight of the Finals has been met with the refreshing appeal of young legs and youthful passion. It’s something the Warriors have not duplicated.
They went into Friday night’s game knowing it could be the final one at Oracle Arena. The crowd was pumped. A win would have evened the series. We’ve seen the Warriors react countless times in the past to this type of adversity.
- 2015 Western Conference Semifinals: Down 2-1 to the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State won the next three games by a combined 50 points.
- 2016 Western Conference Finals: Down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, won three consecutive games incluing a brilliant Game 6 performance in OKC.
- 2018 Western Conferene Finals: Down 3-2 to the Rockets, went into Houston and won Game 6 before wrapping it up in Oakland.
At least initially, it looked like the Warriors were going to do the same thing Friday night. They found themselves up by double-digits in the first quarter.
Then, something happened. Leonard went into full-scale Warriors championship mode in front of their home crowd with the series pretty much on the line.
Following the game, Klay Thompson did not like the idea of Leonard being referenced in comparison to his Warriors.
But is that too much of a reach? We certainly don’t think so.
Toronto’s strength in numbers — a term the synonymous with the Warriors — has come out in full force during the NBA Finals. Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. Some of these names are not of the household variety. But each have stepped up in their own way.
On the other hand (and despite the narratives), Golden State’s stars have played well.
Stephen Curry: 32.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.5 APG
Klay Thompson: 24.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 59% three-point
Draymond Green: 13.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 8.8 APG
It’s the rest of these tired Warriors that have not stepped up. Iggy is shooting 38% from the field. He’s the only other Golden State player averaging more than six points per game in the series. This is not the definition of strength in numbers that had come to define the Warriors’ run.
It’s in this that Durant’s unlikely return to the court in Game 5 might not mean much in the grand scheme of things. He’s not going to put on that Superman cape or go Willis Reed. Kawhi Leonard won’t let that happen. The Raptors’ strength in numbers and composure during crunch time won’t let that happen.
As of right now, the Raptors are simply a better team. Golden State can change that by going back to its roots. Steve Kerr can change that by actually running the offense through Stephen Curry — the game’s most impactful player since Michael Jordan.
But until that happens, excuses and narratives will only get you so far. These Raptors are a better team. Can’t we just leave it at that while tipping our hats to them?