The championship contention is meant to be a grand spectacle. Two teams reach the peak, the pinnacle of competition for that year, and battle for glory that they all collectively set out for so many months ago when the season began. The NBA Finals is supposed to be a showcase of the best players, the best basketball, on the biggest stage. That’s what fans have come to expect, and reasonably so. Yet, as any fan who’s watched the first two games this year would see, that expectation doesn’t always hold up.
Game 1: Toronto defeats Golden State 118-109 at Toronto.
This was a pretty cut and dry start to the series. Toronto came out wanting to make a statement and Golden State came out flat. The Raptors had five players put up 10 or more points, including Pascal Siakam’s career-high 32 points. They moved the ball well, they shot the ball well, and they simply outplayed the Warriors in every quarter. One particular aspect that may have ensured their victory was the third quarter. The Warriors have set a precedent over the last five seasons that the third quarter is when they are at their most dangerous. Fresh out of halftime with adjustments made and energy restored, Golden State often extends its lead or climbs back from a deficit in the third quarter, often with unanswered scoring runs. The Raptors managed to keep pace with the Warriors, giving up 32 points while scoring 29 of their own; a three point difference that staved off any beginnings of a comeback. The Big Three (Curry, Green, Thompson) for the Warriors did well offensively, but it was lackluster defense that cost them — plain and simple.
Game 2: Golden State defeats Toronto, 109-104 at Toronto.
What an ugly game. A montage of highlights for this game would struggle to find an adequate number of clips, and an official reviewing the calls would get a headache within the first quarter. Both teams opened up with physical play, but that was quickly quelled by hair-trigger, yet inconsistent officiating from the referees that patrolled the sideline. The Warriors brought stricter defense this game and it showed; they got Toronto to take bad shots and make turnovers. The problem was, Golden State gave the Raptors numerous offensive rebounds, making their initial defensive effort pointless. By halftime, the score was 59-54 in favor of the Raptors. Unlike game one, Toronto didn’t stop the third quarter surge from Golden State, and the game tipped towards the Warriors’ favor. With a scoring difference of 34-21 in the third, the game went from a thin Toronto lead to a strong Warrior lead heading into the fourth. Despite some injuries for Golden State during the game — Kevon Looney’s collarbone and Klay Thompson’s hamstring — the Warriors were strong and demonstrated their selfless team play that makes them such a difficult opponent. The Raptors had Kawhi Leonard putting up his usual (outstanding) performance of 34 points and 14 rebounds, but nobody else stepped up. Siakam had 12 points and eight rebounds, Fred VanVleet had 17 points and four rebounds, Kyle Lowry had 13 points and one rebound. This wasn’t a blow out, but watching the second half made it clear that the Warriors were the more talented team.
Game 3 Prediction: Golden State defeats Toronto, margin of seven points, at Golden State.
The Warriors have an amazing home record in the playoffs and with the additional day of rest to recuperate plus the home crowd, I believe they’ll go up 2-1 in the series.
Game 4 Prediction: Toronto defeats Golden State, margin of three points, at Golden State.
This series is bound for seven games; the teams are just too evenly matched. Golden State stole a game at Toronto and my bet is the Raptors will do the same in the Bay Area. Frankly, they need to, as coming back down 3-1 against the Warriors requires consistent, historical performances (just ask LeBron James).