NBA Finals Preview
May 28, 2019
After an intense three rounds of the NBA Playoffs, the stage is finally set for the NBA Finals, basketball’s biggest moment around the world. The Eastern Conference champion, the Toronto Raptors, will be facing off against the defending NBA Champion, the Golden State Warriors. While the Warriors were heavily favored to win the Western Conference and never trailed in any series, the Raptors shocked the top seed Milwaukee Bucks in the Conference Finals and made their first Finals appearance in franchise history. This is the first time a LeBron James-led team has not won the Eastern Conference since 2010, as James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason but missed the playoffs, also marking the first time James has not made the playoffs since 2005.
The Warriors were considered favorites to make the Finals the entire year, especially when they signed former All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins last offseason. Unfortunately for Cousins, he tore his left quadriceps in the first round of the playoffs and has remained out for the first three rounds; Cousins return remains unlikely during the Finals. Unless he takes a massive pay cut for the second season in a row, Cousins may have played his final game in a Warriors uniform. The Warriors also suffered a major blow in the second round when reigning Finals MVP Kevin Durant strained his calf in game five of the Conference Semifinals.
Neither of these injuries hampered the Warriors, who reached their fifth consecutive Finals led by former NBA MVP Stephen Curry. The Warriors staved off the Clippers in six games, defeated the Houston Rockets in six games as well and swept the Portland Trail Blazers, making it back to the NBA Finals. They hope to win their third NBA championship in a row, which would make them the first team to do so since the 2001-2002 Lakers.
The Raptors plan on defeating the Warriors, something no team has accomplished since the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a major upset in the 2016 Finals. The Raptors shocked the NBA world last offseason when they traded franchise star DeMar Derozan to the Spurs for 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Fans saw this trade as foolish, as trading for Leonard was considered risky for the loss of their top player in exchange for a “one-year rental.” However, Leonard proved any doubters of the trade wrong by leading the Raptors to their first-ever Finals appearance. The Raptors also benefited from trading for Marc Gasol, the former Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and Pascal Siakam, one of the finalists for this year’s Most Improved Player award. Raptors veteran Kyle Lowry, who was named an All-Star this past season, has also provided several contributions for Toronto in their postseason run.
Toronto overcame several obstacles in order to make the Finals. The Raptors fended off the Orlando Magic in five games after the Magic stole game one, knocked out the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games following a series-winning jump shot from Kawhi Leonard and upset the Milwaukee Bucks in six games after losing the first two games of the series. After several disappointing seasons ending at the hands of the former Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors look to prove themselves and win their first-ever NBA Championship.
After four consecutive years of the Warriors facing the Cavaliers in the Finals, the Toronto Raptors have finally broken the Cavaliers streak following LeBron’s departure. Both teams will look to take game one this Thursday in what may go down as a Finals for the ages.