The stage is finally set for Game 1 of the NBA Finals. This will mark the first time in NBA history that Finals games will be held outside of the United States. The Toronto Raptors, who got past the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals, will host the Golden State Warriors tonight. The Warriors have had eight days of rest since sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals last week.
The Warriors are heavy favorites to win a third consecutive championship, but the fact that the Raptors will have home court advantage in the series figures to even the playing field a bit. It also doesn’t hurt that Golden State will be without Kevin Durant for at least Game 1, if not longer. Durant has been sidelined since Game 5 of the Warriors’ second round series against the Houston Rockets due to a calf strain.
The Raptors won both regular season meetings against Golden State, but experience matters once you get to the championship round. The Raptors do have three players (Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, Danny Green) that have been in the Finals in the past, but this is obviously a far more familiar setting for a Warriors team appearing in their fifth consecutive Finals.
The Raptors made the bold decision to trade DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl to the Spurs last summer in exchange for Leonard and Green. Leonard has the ability to leave as an unrestricted free agent in July, but the Raptors decided making the deal would be worth it if it gave them a legitimate shot at bringing a championship to Canada for the first time. So far, so good.
Leonard has been otherworldly in these playoffs thus far. The former Finals MVP has averaged 31.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, and nearly four assists per game in the 18 postseason games to this point. He has shot nearly 51% from the field and nearly 39% from three-point range. His numbers have increased across the board since the playoffs began.
Obviously, Golden State’s primary task defensively should be trying to find a way to slow him down. A stout defensive Bucks squad had no chance of stopping him in the last round, and he wound up torching Milwaukee to the tune of 27 points and 17 rebounds in the decisive Game 6.
Given all the firepower on the Golden State side, the Raptors are going to need someone other than Leonard to give them something offensively if they have any real hopes of emerging victorious tonight. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam have been serving as the complementary offensive forces next to Leonard, but it’ll be interesting to see whether Fred VanVleet can continue his hot shooting. VanVleet scored a combined 48 points on blazing 86% shooting from three-point range in the final three games of the series against Milwaukee.
Cousins Returns for GSW
While Durant is still sidelined, the Warriors will be getting DeMarcus Cousins back for Game 1. Boogie suffered a quad injury during the team’s first-round series against the Clippers, and many feared at the time that he would be lost for the season. However, he’s reportedly pain-free and ready to roll for his first-ever appearance in the Finals.
Cousins’ fit with the Warriors hasn’t been great, but he can provide some secondary scoring if he winds up playing off the bench. One would imagine Cousins will be limited considering he hasn’t seen game action in weeks, but it shouldn’t hurt the Warriors’ chances to have a dynamic offensive force like that returning to the floor.
Obviously, everything else for Golden State will flow through Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Curry averaged 36.5 points per game in the team’s four-game sweep of the Blazers in the last round, while Green came within a few assists of averaging a triple-double.
Obviously, it’s critical for Toronto to win at least one of the first two games of the series on their home floor. Losing both would mean almost certain doom in the series with the scene shifting to the California coast for Games 3 and 4.
The Warriors will have the advantage in terms of rest ahead of this game, but rust can certainly be a factor when a team has so much time off. The Raptors haven’t played since Saturday, so it’s not like they should be overly fatigued, either. I do expect some early jitters here, especially for Toronto, but I would be very surprised if we didn’t get a close, hard-fought series in the end.
I think the Raptors will make the Warriors work in this series, and I think they’re a lock to win at least one of these first two games. Picking the Warriors to lose is never a comfortable feeling, but I like the way they match up overall.
Give me the Raptors as home dogs in Game 1. Betting on the Raptors to win on the moneyline (-105) offers slightly more value than Toronto covering the 1-point spread (-110), so I’d just take the moneyline here.
The Pick: Raptors -105
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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