They say change is as good as a holiday, but there’s certainly nothing relaxing about this year’s NBA Finals.
It was around this time last year the NBA landscape changed for good as LeBron James picked up and moved to Los Angeles. After four straight June’s of a stale Warriors/Cavs rivalry, we were finally promised something new as the Eastern Conference transformed into a level playing field minus The King.
With promise came reward as we’re now being treated to not only one of the most anticipated Finals series between the Raptors and Warriors, but also a script of cliffhangers on and off the court.
Is this Kevin Durant’s final swansong before a move to New York? Does Kawhi stay or go? And most importantly, who’s winning this thing?
We’ve previewed each team, each key market, and everything else in our 2019 NBA Finals Preview below.
The Raptors prepare for their first Finals appearance since joining the league in 1995. Toronto was a popular dark horse pick to win the East at the start of the season, opening at $41.00 odds to win the Championship back in July.
- How They Got Here: defeating the Magic and Bucks was nice, but it was Kawhi Leonard’s brilliant Game 7 buzzer-beater in between that got the job done. Toronto is currently 12-6 straight-up in this year’s playoffs, largely thanks to one shot, and three rim doink’s from the $20 million man.
- Key to the Finals – The Bench: All that stands between the Raptors and the chip is one of the NBA’s greatest dynasties, as well as the Drake curse. But seriously, Toronto’s biggest key to upsetting Golden State goes way beyond anything Kawhi can do with the ball. The Raptors’ bench is currently averaging only 25-points a game, the third-lowest total of the 16 teams that made the playoffs. Despite featuring one of the best pure shooters in the game, head coach Nick Nurse needs to find a way to get the most out of his rotation to ensure Leonard and Kyle Lowry – both of which are still nursing injuries – make it through the series.
- Against the Line: The Raptors are 10-8 against the spread during the postseason.
- Over/Under: 66.7% of Toronto’s games have gone Under the Total during this year’s playoffs.
Golden State Warriors
The defending champs are back again, this time with a point to prove. Golden State was the firm favourite at $2.30 back in July to win this year’s championship, and after a year that saw them finish 57-25 atop the Western Conference, it’s no surprise to see this generations greatest NBA dynasty back in the driver’s seat to win their sixth title.
- How They Got Here: The biggest question surrounding Golden State’s 2019 season was depth, and boy have they proved everyone wrong. Andre Iguodala once again played a key role in the lead up to a fifth straight Finals appearance, while fringe guys like Quinn Cook and Andrew Bogut have chipped in off the bench. Really though, Steve Kerr’s versatility has paved the way. The Warriors are the best team when it comes to making off the cusp adjustments, and of course, it helps having the games best fourth quarter general, Steph Curry.
- Key to the Finals – Returning Faces: Kevin Durant will miss Game 1 and potentially Game 2 with a calf strain, leaving the original Warriors core with plenty of points to make up on the road. So far so good for though, because believe it or not, the Warriors are actually 31-1 with Curry on the floor and Durant off. Even so, there’s no doubt Golden State would prefer the back-to-back Finals MVP out there creating space. The same also goes for DeMarcus Cousins, who is reportedly fit and ready to play in Game 1. Head coach Steve Kerr doesn’t think Boogie is ready to start, but if the Warriors were smart, they’d gradually increase Boogie’s minutes to throw a spanner in the works come Games 3 and 4.
- Against the Line: The Warriors are 7-8-1 against the spread during the postseason.
- Over/Unders: 62.5% of Golden State’s games have gone Over the Total during this year’s playoffs.
NBA Finals MVP: Draymond Green @ $7.50
There’s plenty of value in this market if you’re willing to back against Stephen Curry.
If we learned anything from the Warriors’ 4-0 series sweep over the Blazers, it’s that Golden State’s pick-n-roll is virtually unstoppable. But for the Dubs to win their third consecutive championship, head coach Steve Kerr is going to have to think outside the box.
That’s where Draymond Green comes in. The eighth-year starting forward has averaged 13.6 points-per-game so far in this year’s playoffs to go along with 8.2 boards, including a whopping 10 combined blocks against Portland alone.
Green will be tasked with Pascal Siakam in this series. It’s a big ask against a 6-foot-9 forward capable of scoring, rebounding and hitting threes, but if Kerr is smart, he’ll be watching tape from Toronto’s series against the Sixers to emulate a similar plan to the one coach Brett Brown used on Siakam.
Despite losing the series, Philly kept Siakam quiet in Games 4 and 7 by respecting his jump-shot but also boxing him out in the paint. Long story short, all of that is now Green’s job, while on the flip side, Siakam himself will be tasked with stopping Green in the pick-n-roll – something the Blazers failed to do.
In all, this is basically one experienced player vs. a future All-Star that could be in for a learning curve. And if nothing else, what a story this would be for Green after his November row with Durant.
Correct Series Result: Golden State 4-2 @ $3.50
Perhaps the most exciting part of this year’s Finals series is Toronto’s home-court advantage.
The Raptors are 8-2 at home during the playoffs so far, but there’s something to be said about this Warriors team after closing out the series in Portland with two straight wins on the road.
Looking at the schedule, it’s reasonable to assume the Warriors could earn at least one win on the road in Toronto before heading back to Oracle all square at 1-1. That’s where Toronto’s meagre 4-4 record on the road during the playoffs could come back to haunt them.
From a betting perspective, the Dubs have been a nightmare. Against the spread on the road, Golden State are just 23-25-1 overall and 17-21-1 as the away favourite.
Betting on Toronto has been just as bleak. The Raptors are 22-26-1 on the road, while both sides have also allowed well over 100 points-per-game to opponents away from home.
Three of the last 10 Finals series have gone to a Game 7, while all three of Golden State’s wins have been wrapped up in six games or less. Oh, and just for some added spice, Game 6 will be the final game at Oracle Arena – so you can bet the Warriors will be up for a fight if they hold a 3-2 series lead going in.