The 2019 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors begin on Thursday night in Toronto. Kevin Durant is likely out for at least Game 1, meaning a Stephen Curry vs. Kawhi Leonard head-up showdown is in the cards, and seriously, who isn't tuning in for that? By the time Thursday rolls around, the Warriors will have had nine days off since their clinching victory over Portland. Will they be rested, or rusty? Can Kawhi, and Curry for that matter, keep the magic going? How much will the outcome of this series impact the offseason decisions of Leonard and Durant?
Our experts debate some of the most intriguing storylines in what should be a terrific NBA Finals in our latest 3-Man Weave.
1. What has you most excited about this Warriors-Raptors Finals?
Brad Botkin: Steph Curry playing WITHOUT Kevin Durant on the biggest stage in basketball. There is so much intrigue here that just doesn't exist when Durant is on the floor. For one, the Warriors are so much more exciting, and beyond that, they have so much more to prove without Durant, particularly Curry, who has been ignorantly saddled with the "playoff under-performer" tag in the past. Watching Steph have to be the man again, on this stage, against this kind of opponent, possibly with Kawhi Leonard guarding him, is going to be incredibly amazing theater for however long Durant remains out.
Jack Maloney: Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard. These two were off the charts in the conference finals, and are playing some of the best basketball we've ever seen in the postseason. Curry put up 36.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists, on 42.5 percent from 3 against the Trail Blazers, while Leonard averaged 29.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals against the Bucks. At least one of them has been in the Finals every single season since 2013, and now they'll both be there. Can they keep this play up? We'll just have to watch and see.
Michael Kaskey-Blomain: Fresh blood in the Finals. As great as the battles between the LeBron James-led Cavaliers and Warriors were over the last four years, it was time for a change, and the Raptors represent that change. Not only are they a fresh representative for the East, it's also the first time in franchise history that the Raptors have made the Finals. In a league that can lack for parity, it's always cool to see new and different teams make it all the way to the league's biggest stage.
2. How much of a chance do you give the Raptors to win the title?
Botkin: The Raptors are a legit threat to win this series regardless of the status of Kevin Durant and/or DeMarcus Cousins. They have the home-court advantage. They have a better bench. They have arguably the best player in the series. Their defense can be flat-out ruthless when locked in. The Warriors, on the other hand, are facing a depth deficit and the X-factor of having to re-integrate Durant mid-series just as they've gotten used to playing without him and with Curry back in the lead. In the end, I picked the series to go seven. Obviously I believe the Raptors have a real chance.
Maloney: With Kawhi Leonard playing at this level, the Raptors have a real chance regardless of whether Durant or Cousins come back at some point in this series.Toronto won both regular-season matchups and boast an elite defense with a number of strong wing defenders. The main question, though, is whether or not their supporting cast will step up on the offensive end, because Leonard isn't going to be able to do it all on his own against the Warriors' explosive offense. If Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam keep playing well, and they get some more hot shooting from the likes of Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell, the Raptors could win this. They're the underdogs, but it wouldn't be an unbelievable upset.
Kaskey-Blomain: Not much. The Raptors might be able to take a game or two from the Warriors in the series, due to the fact that Kevin Durant will miss at least one game, and that Kawhi Leonard has been playing arguably the best basketball of anyone in the playoffs. Ultimately, though, Golden State's combination of talent and experience will prove too tough for Toronto to overcome.
3. Who's more likely to leave after these Finals: Durant or Kawhi?
Botkin: Durant. Almost everyone you talk to around the league, every report you hear, points to Durant leaving Golden State. I just don't think there's any way he stays. On the other hand, Leonard and the entire city of Toronto are falling in love before our eyes. The game-winner in Game 7 against Philly. Four straight wins over Milwaukee in the conference finals to send the Raptors to their first NBA Finals in franchise history after years of falling short in the most disappointing fashion possible. This is dream-come-true stuff for one of the most passionate fanbases in the league, and for Kawhi, a solitary basketball creature who has never shown interest in joining a super-team with all the hype that goes with that, Toronto is really starting to feel like a good home for him. That's not to say he'll stay, but he's a better bet than Durant.
Maloney: Kevin Durant. There's been too much smoke around his potential departure this summer for there not to be a fire. You never truly know with Durant, and his business manager Rich Kleiman said recently that the All-Star hasn't made up his mind, but this just seems like the end of the road for him and the Warriors. He showed up, won his rings, won multiple Finals MVPs, and he still doesn't get the love or adoration he wants. Now it feels like it's time for him to move on and take on a bigger challenge.
Kaskey-Blomain: Kawhi Leonard. To me, it felt like the only way Leonard would stay in Toronto past this season would be if the team won the title, as it would be tough for him to walk away from a defending champion. As it stands, Leonard had to virtually drag the Raptors to the Finals on his own, and their ability to improve the roster moving forward if they sign Leonard to a max deal will be limited due to other commitments. Considering the heavy lifting that he has had to do, it seems quite possible that Leonard would opt to sign elsewhere if the Raptors fail to capture a title.