While it still seems like some far-off fantasy, the NBA Finals are set to tip-off here in Toronto in a matter of hours. It’s real! It’s happening! And as always when a major sporting event is getting underway, there are plenty of storylines and narratives out there to draw your attention.
Injuries, and Who’s Coming Back When
By this point, you know that Kevin Durant is hurt, and has been ruled out for Game 1. DeMarcus Cousins is questionable for Game 1, and so is (somewhat surprisingly) OG Anunoby.
Obviously Durant’s injury looms over this series like nothing else. There are plenty of questions about how the Warriors play with or without him — more on this in a moment — but the difference it makes to Toronto is huge. If Durant is in the game, he becomes Kawhi Leonard’s primary assignment, meaning Leonard isn’t available as an “emergency stopper” should Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson go off. And Durant will guard Leonard at the other end, perhaps not every possession, but that’s another extremely long, capable defender to throw at Leonard with Andre Iguodala, Thompson and Draymond Green also in the mix.
Should you care: Yes! Whether or not Durant plays could swing the series. The stakes aren’t quite as high for Anunoby, but a healthy OG gives the Raptors another big, long, switchy defender to help slow down the Warriors.
Are the Warriors Better Without Durant?
This narrative has already been beaten into the ground and the dang series hasn’t even started yet! Hey, have you heard that the Warriors haven’t lost a game since Durant went out? That they’ve won 31 of their last 32 games in which Stephen Curry plays but Durant does not? That “the ball just seems to move better without Durant”?
As a basketball fan I’m exhausted by it. As a Raptors fan? Bring it on! Give us all the Warriors-Durant hot takes! Ask all the questions before and after every game! Get it in their heads! Please, we don’t mind.
Should you care: No. I mean, it’s an interesting basketball philosophy debate, to be sure. But as a Raptors fan, it’s best just to focus on what’s in front of our team. The Warriors are incredibly good with Durant. They’re incredibly good, in a slightly different way, without him.
Who’s Guarding Who
Setting aside Durant for the moment, each team features an incredibly-hard-to-guard superstar: Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard. As such, there’s a lot of discussion about how each team will match up on defense.
Will the Raptors play “straight up,” with Kyle Lowry guarding Curry? Will they switch guard assignments, have Danny Green guard Curry, and try to prompt Thompson to play an inside game against Lowry? How often will they switch The Klaw on to Curry?
The same questions exist on the other side. With Durant out, Andre Igoudala will likely start on Leonard; Thompson will guard him at times as well, and even Draymond Green will take the assignment at times.
Should you care: Not really. At least, not an individual matchup level. The Raptors and Warriors are both excellent, switch-heavy team defenses; most of the key players on both teams can guard multiple positions. And if a guy like Leonard or Curry gets hot, it doesn’t really matter what the defense is doing, does it?
Will Kawhi Leonard Get the Help He Needs?
If you’ve been paying attention to the Raptors up to this point, you know that their bench group, and heck, even some of their starters, have run the gamut from cold (and all but unplayable) to scorching hot (hi Freddy Jr.!) this postseason. In perhaps the highest-leverage game of all, Game 7 against Philly, Leonard had to shoulder an enormous load (39 shots!); in Games 4 through 6 against Milwaukee, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell all helped ease Leonard’s burden by providing some much-needed scoring punch.
If the Raptors don’t get aggressive games from Lowry and Marc Gasol, if VanVleet regresses, if Danny Green doesn’t shake his slump, if the Playoff Powell Magic has died, then the Raptors will have a tough time. (If the opposite happens? Raptors sweep!) Most likely there’ll be ups and downs, with the overall performance falling somewhere in the middle, and it’ll be a long series.
Should you care: Yes. Leonard will show up, Kyle Lowry isn’t going to waste his moment, but everyone else remains a question mark. At least one non-Kawhi Raptor is going to have to have a moment or two for the Raptors to win this thing.
Free Agency (Sigh)
I really wish this weren’t a storyline, but with both Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard able to hit the open market on July 1, you know it’s going to be a major talking point. For better or worse, the NBA is now a 365-days-a-year league, and fans are super-thirsty for off-the-court drama — particularly when it comes to player movement.
Durant might go to the Knicks, Kawhi might go to the Clippers; no superstar free agent has ever left a title winner, and obviously one of them is gonna win a title in the next two weeks, so this is all unprecedented, isn’t it?
Should you care: No! Not for the next three weeks. There will be more than enough time to discuss and debate player movement over the summer. For now? This is the last, actual basketball we’re gonna see until October, so please, enjoy the games and worry about the other stuff later.
What other storylines are getting into your head? Let us know in the comments! (Unless it’s Drake. Is it Drake? Say it isn’t Drake.)