After an exciting playoffs, we have finally reached the NBA Finals- and finally, we have a new matchup! After the past 4 years which saw the Cavs and Warriors square off 4 times, the departure of LeBron to the West opened up the East for a new team to represent them in the Finals this year, and the Raptors were the team to take advantage- and advance to their first Finals in franchise history. On the other side, the Warriors, without their best player Kevin Durant, overcame 17+ point deficits in THREE DIFFERENT GAMES in the Conference Finals on their way to sweeping the Trailblazers. This is part 1 of my Finals preview, and we are starting off by looking at how these two teams got here.
Part 1: Roads to the Finals
The Raptors definitely had a harder time reaching the Finals out of the two teams. With LeBron gone, the East was as open as ever, with four main threats- the Raptors, the Celtics, the Bucks, and the Sixers, all confident in their chances to take the conference crown. The Raptors road was very difficult, having to play two of these teams. In the first round, they were immediately punched in the mouth by the Orlando Magic, who went to Toronto in Game 1 and left with a 104-101 win, emphasized by a late D.J. Augustin dagger three-pointer. The jokes flew around NBA Twitter as Toronto, which has a history of playoff failures, looked to be entering another long postseason. However, the Raptors got their act together quickly and won the next 4 games to advance to round 2, where the Philadelphia 76ers were waiting for them. This was an absolute dogfight, a hard fought 7-game series in which three games were decided by under 5 points, including a game-winner by Kawhi Leonard in Game 7 that capped off a 45 point performance in the closeout game and was the first Game 7 buzzer beater in NBA history.
This series win led them to Milwaukee, where the Bucks, who had an NBA best 60 regular season wins, were waiting. The Bucks quickly took a 2-0 lead in the series before the Raptors made a great defensive adjustment on Giannis, forcing him into having to shoot long twos or threes which he is not good at yet. With this adjustment combined with great play from Kawhi Leonard, who averaged 30 points and 9.5 rebounds for the series, the Raptors won the next four games to advance to their first-ever NBA Finals, where they will have home court advantage and face the juggernaut Warriors.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors, much like the last four years, did indeed have to endure some adversity on their path to the Finals, but it was never truly in doubt that they’d be representing the Western Conference again. They started out with what ended up being a hard-fought series, mainly because of the team they were playing, the Los Angeles Clippers, employ a dogfight no fear style. This was encapsulated in Game 2 in Oakland when the Clippers overcame a 31 point deficit in the second half to tie the series at one. Also, during this game, the Warriors lost Center Demarcus Cousins to a partially torn quad muscle, which has held him out for the rest of the playoffs until now, when he is slated to return at some point during the Finals. Kevin Durant, however, over the next four games, scored 38-33-45-50 points to put the league back on notice of his ability and close the Clippers out in 6.
The Warriors advanced to face the Houston Rockets in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals, which was an exciting series that went to 7 games and saw the Warriors overcome a 3-2 series deficit. This series was unfortunately pretty hard to watch, as both teams, especially the Rockets, were in a tug of war with the refs with baiting them into calls and working to figure out what they were and weren’t willing to call. This made the series very choppy and instead of getting to witness both teams’ offensive greatness, fans watched a lot of free throws and one on one offense. The Warriors won in 6, but probably the biggest storyline that came out of the series was in Game 5, a Warriors win, when Kevin Durant sustained a serious calf strain that ended up holding him out throughout the entire West Finals and will hold him out for some of, if not all of, the NBA Finals. This injury led to a return of the beautiful, ball movement oriented offense for the Warriors that highlighted the start of their dynasty. In the next series against the Blazers, the Warriors shared the ball, moved, Steph Curry (37-13-11) and Draymond Green (18-14-11) had great individual performances and became the first teammates ever to record a triple-double in the same playoff game, Game 4, when the Warriors closed out a sweep of the Blazers in an overtime game in Portland, to win the Western Conference.
So there it is, these were our Finals teams’ road to where they are now. Tune in later this week for a look at individual players in this series!