On Thursday night, the Warriors and Raptors will tip-off Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals. This year’s championship series marks the Warriors’ fifth-straight title appearance, while the Raptors are making the franchise’s first-ever Finals appearance. Golden State enters the Finals fresh off of a sweep over Portland, while Toronto rattled off four-straight wins to overcome a 2-0 deficit against MVP front-runner Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. If the Warriors win the series, it will mark the first time a team has won three-consecutive championships. Game 1 tips off on Thursday night at 9:00 pm ET on ABC. Below are the hottest storylines for the upcoming title fight.
Warriors’ Injured Stars
Golden State enters the Finals missing two All-Star caliber players in DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant. Cousins has been out with a partially torn quadriceps since Game 2 of the Warriors’ first-round series against the Clippers. Durant has missed the Warriors’ past five games, and is averaging 34.2 points per game in the playoffs. Cousins’ return is questionable for Thursday night’s game, while Durant has been ruled out for Game 1 with his status still unknown beyond that.
Without Durant, the Warriors are 5-0 and have shown glimpses of the Warriors’ 2015 squad that won the Finals thanks to key contributions from Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguodala. The Durant-less Warriors have stepped up again during this year’s playoffs for a shot at a fourth title in five years. The bottom line on the injury update is that Cousins’ return seems much more imminent, whereas Durant may not play at all.
In 18 playoff games this postseason, Kawhi Leonard has dominated his opponents. He’s averaging 31.2 points per game, leads the team in rebounds and steals, and is second on the team in assists. No player in this year’s playoffs has scored more points, made more shots, or played more minutes than Leonard. In those 18 games, he has scored less than 20 points only twice, and has shot at least 41% in all but one game. His dominance goes further than just the playoffs, it also includes his dominance of the Warriors. In his only game against Golden State this season, he led the way with 37 points and 8 rebounds. In his career, Leonard is shooting 50% against the Warriors and averages 16.5 PPG and 6.5 RPG. Kawhi’s Raptors are 2-0 versus the Warriors this season.
Draymond Green’s Re-Emergence
Since Kevin Durant’s injury in the Western Conference Semis, Draymond Green has perhaps stepped up the most of any Warrior. In the past five games, Green is averaging 14.8 PPG, 11.4 RPG, and 8.4 APG, and that includes triple-doubles in the last two games. While his numbers are certainly impressive, watching him play makes him seem even better. He has consistently been a catalyst, both offensively and defensively, and has stepped up in whatever way necessary. Green is a do-it-all guy who simply wants to win. He’s a competitor. And he’s a leader. If Durant is to remain sidelined, Green is going to play a pivotal role in Golden State’s Finals success.
An Opportunity For A “First”
Regardless of the outcome of the series, a “first” is going to happen. The Raptors are making the team’s first Finals appearance, and are fresh off of only its second conference finals appearance. If Toronto can win, it will be the franchise’s first title, as well making it the first NBA team located outside the US to win a championship. If Golden State wins, they will become the first team since the Lakers from 2000-2002 to win three-straight titles. A championship for either squad would be a huge marker, however, a Golden State title would add yet another chapter to one of the NBA’s greatest dynasties.
Stars’ Impending Free Agency
At the season’s end, which could be as early as June 7th, both Durant and Leonard will be free agents. Durant’s injury status seems to make his future even more murky with the Warriors, and many believe he’s played his last game as a Warrior. The Kawhi situation seems to be much more complicated. Other teams and stars have already begun “recruiting” Leonard, and Toronto has countered with numerous other proposals.
Prior to the season, Leonard seemed set on playing in Los Angeles. Now, after this impressive run with the Raptors, there’s a chance he could stay long-term. Durant seems all-but a New York Knick, while Leonard’s future is very much up-in-the-air. Klay Thompson is another key free agent in this year’s Finals. Golden State has thrived before, with, and without Durant. Losing him wouldn’t condemn the franchise. Meanwhile, the Raptors future hopes seem to hinge on keeping the 27-year old star.
*All Stats and Info From Basketball Reference