The stage is set for the 2019 NBA Finals and the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors with faceoff for a chance to bring home the championship to their respective cities. This will be the fifth straight year that the Warriors will make an appearance in the title series and the first time in team history for the Raptors. Here are some storylines to watch for as the series unfolds starting with game one on Thursday:
Will the Warriors be able to continue their strong play without Kevin Durant?
Golden State advanced to their fifth straight Finals appearance by sweeping the Portland Trailblazers 4-0 in the Western Conference without the contributions of arguably the best player on the planet. While not having one of the top players in the globe is never a plus, the Warriors have actually been playing more efficiently and consistently with him out. We’ll have to wait and see if they’ll be able to keep up their current level of near flawless execution against a red-hot Raptors team.
Can the Raptors carry over their momentum from an exciting Eastern Conference Finals?
It seemed like the team with the best record in the league in the Milwaukee Bucks, who finished the regular season 60-22, with one of the NBA’s best young stars in Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the charge was going to cruise to the Finals after winning the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. However, to quote Mark Twain, the rumors of the demise of the Toronto Raptors lead by a hobbled Kawhi Leonard was greatly exaggerated because they would go on win the next four games which included the only road victory of the series to secure a trip their first Finals appearance in team history.
They are definitely riding high and the city of Toronto was more lit than the city of Cleveland when the Browns won their first game in nearly two years and the streets were more flooded with fans than the city of Philadelphia when the Eagles won their first Superbowl in the history of the franchise. Their momentum might not be enough to overcome the daunting task of taking down the Splash Brothers and confident Draymond Green even without Kevin Durant.
With Durant out who is the favorite to win Finals MVP?
While the Warriors are back in the Finals for the fifth time in as many years, they will likely be without the back to back Finals MVP in Dunant for the entire series since he is still dealing with a calf injury. With the 10-time All-Star out of the running, that means there will be an opportunity for another player to be crowned the Most Valuable Player.
The current favorites to win the award are Stephon Curry of the Warriors and Leonard of the Raptors. Since Durant is out, Chef Curry is the best player left standing on a loaded Golden State team and Leonard has been playing out of his mind as of late. A few dark horse options could be Green, who has been excellent on both ends of the court since KD has been out or Klay Thompson of the Warriors, who might be motivated to show the All-NBA voters that they made a grave mistake by leaving him out and costing him a $30 million dollar bonus.
Can Kawhi Leonard keep performing at a high level while dealing with his injury?
He has been hands down the most dominant and clutch player in this entire postseason despite dealing with a nagging leg injury that has often had him wincing in pain throughout the Eastern Conference Finals. As impressive as his performance against the Milwaukee, some question whether he’ll be able to continue his herculean efforts against the two-time defending champions.
How much credit will Drake take if Toronto wins it all?
The rapper and entertainer nicknamed “The 6 God” claims to be the angel on the shoulder of Toronto throughout this postseason. The Canadian born Grammy award winner is perhaps the biggest Raptors fan on the face of the planet and is even the team’s official ambassador and owns partial stock in the franchise as well. He’s been the most vocal supporter of the team on social and broadcast media so if his hometown team does go the distance and bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy fully expect “Drizzy” to be at the team after party and involved in the championship parade in some form or fashion.