NBA Finals 2019: If 2015 Warriors were 'lucky' to face injured teams, why aren't Raptors being viewed the same?
Here's a hint: It's an extension of the way we view Stephen Curry and guys like Kawhi Leonard
The Golden State Warriors' locker room is the basketball equivalent of a Chernobyl hospital ward right now. Kevin Durant's strained calf has kept him out since Game 5 of the conference semifinals and his status for Game 3 of the Finals is still up in the air. In addition, Klay Thompson is questionable for Game 3 with a strained hamstring. Kevon Looney is likely done for the series with a broken collarbone. Andre Iguodala has quad and calf issues and was, as ESPN's Rachel Nichols noted postgame, walking with a "significant limp" around the locker room. DeMarcus Cousins, suddenly an indispensable lifeline, is just six weeks removed from a quad tear and isn't even close to 100 percent.
Even Stephen Curry said he "didn't feel right" before Game 2. Quinn Cook and Alfonzo McKinnie, neither of which were drafted, are getting significant minutes in the NBA Finals. You could argue Shaun Livingston is no longer a Finals-caliber rotation player, but the Warriors don't have any other options. This is a spit-and-glue job if you've ever seen one at this stage of the season and somehow there has been hardly a peep about the Raptors' championship quest being laced with luck.
This is interesting because, back in 2015, the Warriors were basically billed as a three-time lotto winner -- to the point that plenty of people STILL put somewhat of an asterisk by that title -- because they faced injured opponents along the way. Jrue Holiday missed the first round for New Orleans. Mike Conley missed the second round for Memphis. Most notably, LeBron's Cavaliers were without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving (for all but Game 1) in the Finals.
There isn't a single player on that list that is anywhere near as great as Kevin Durant. If he was the only player missing for the Warriors, the Raptors would still be getting a massive break. Throw in all these other injuries and there's no real argument that Toronto is getting a true Golden State test. Even before the Finals, the Raptors clearly got a less-than-100-percent Joel Embiid in the conference semis.
Fair play, by the way. Kawhi Leonard was playing on one leg vs. Milwaukee, and he's probably still not 100 percent, and the Raptors have been without OG Anunoby, a potential major contributor, since April. This is the way it goes in the playoffs. It's a grind. Guys get hurt and you play with what you have left. It's like this, in some capacity, for virtually every team at this stage. The difference is in how it's portrayed.
As a thought exercise, let's fast forward to the end of this series and imagine the Raptors have won the title. What will the main story be? Without question, it'll be Kawhi the hero. He came to Toronto as a potential one-year rental and won a championship for a long-suffering franchise. He will have done it against a significantly compromised opponent, but that will be easily glossed over, and very quickly forgotten.
What was the story when the Cavs won in 2016? That LeBron and Kyrie pulled off a basketball miracle, or that they did so in large part because Draymond Green got suspended, Andrew Bogut missed the final three games of the series, and Stephen Curry was clearly less than 100 percent?
When the Warriors get hit with hard luck, they don't get the benefit of the doubt -- they get a lifetime supply of 3-1 jokes. If they lose to Toronto this year, nobody will say: "Man, it's amazing they were even competitive with all those injuries." No chance. It will simply be talked about as more validation that they can't win without Durant, or even with a halfway-limited Durant. After the Warriors lost Game 1, what was the question you heard on every sports show in America the next morning?
Can the Warriors win without Durant?
In other words, can Stephen Curry win by himself?
It's literally like 2015 never happened -- because for some people, it didn't. Not really. A lot of people talk about 2015 as a fortunate collision of circumstances, whereas 2016 was the true revealing of a team in need of a savior. Ask a Stephen Curry naysayer if Curry can lead a team to a title on his own, and that person will speak of 2015 with every qualifier in the book. If the Raptors win, there will be no such qualifier for Kawhi, just as there was no such qualifier for LeBron in 2016.
This is what it looks like when people aren't obsessed with discrediting a superstar, and by extension, his team's accomplishments. When it comes to guys like Kawhi and LeBron, who fit the mold of a traditional, easily palatable superstar, it's a race to crown them, the circumstances of their rise to power be damned -- such as LeBron playing in the absurdly weak Eastern Conference all those years. But when a spindly little jump-shooter takes the throne, that ain't right. That must've been luck.
Think about LeBron's last four paths to the Finals. They were laughably soft. If it were reversed, and it was Curry and the Warriors afforded the luxury of playing in those Eastern Conferences, it would've been sold as even stronger grounds for invalidation. But no way LeBron got a little -- or even a lot -- lucky. He's a machine. He earned his way.
By the way, LeBron and his Cavaliers DIDN'T get lucky in 2016. What they did was incredible. And if the Raptors pull off the title this season, it will also be incredible. This isn't an attempt to discredit what those guys did; it's a reminder of the hypocrisy with which we speak of these Warriors. Halfway through Game 2, there were a lot of people saying the Raptors were -- or are -- just flat out a better team than the Warriors. Kawhi is the best player. Toronto's defense is great. With no mention whatsoever that this "better team" is running against a three-legged horse.
It's just funny how the Warriors have never gotten the same consideration.
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