The Warriors represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals for the fifth consecutive season, joining the Celtics teams from 1957 to 1966 as the only teams to make it to at least five straight NBA Finals. They’re also the only team in the four major sports to make it to at least five straight since 1985 (New York Islanders in ‘84), so they’ve more than earned the dynasty title. Plus, they may have won four straight if not for a suspension for Draymond Green in the 2016 NBA Finals, leading to the internet famous “the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead” memes. The Warriors do not have home-court advantage this time, and they’re not healthy at the top of their roster. We’ll start there in our two-part preview.
The Warriors get 1.5 weeks off after their 4-0 sweep concluded on May 20 in Portland, and yet all that time off still wasn’t enough to get them to 100 percent. Most notably, Kevin Durant (calf) remains out for Game 1 and he has yet to go through on-court work. Durant also had a noticeable limp as recently as May 24, so it’s possible he’s going to miss multiple games to possibly eliminate his chances at a third-straight Finals MVP. On the positive side for him, he is going to travel with the team to Toronto for Game 1 and Game 2, which KD did not do in Game 3 and 4 in Portland. In other words, perhaps he has a shot to play in Game 2 on Sunday.
The good news is that the Warriors are expected to get DeMarcus Cousins back in action at some point. He is ahead of Durant and is questionable to play in Game 1 after his quad tear back on Apr. 15. Cousins has already gone through a scrimmage dating back to at least May 24 with another scrimmage session on May 27, and Cousins himself said he’s “healthy enough” to return to the NBA Finals. "It’s just about getting my body in shape, my quad muscle in shape, and go through the different phases and ups and downs of the game," Cousins said to ESPN. The DeMarcus return adds some much-needed depth to the Warriors, who really mixed it up at center and power forward in the last series. We’ll get to more details on how Boogie’s return affects the minutes in a bit.
Another player benefitting from the time off is Andre Iguodala, who missed Game 4 due to a calf issue. While he didn’t go through practice last week, Iguodala is fully expected to play and he said his injury just “flared up real quick.” Iguodala said he felt 100 percent after a shooting sessions on Saturday, so he should be able to get to near 30 minutes like he did in Game 1-2 vs. the Blazers -- he played 31 in each before his injury in Game 3.
Season Series Summary
The Raptors were able to take the series 2-0, but none of that action was in the 2019 portion of the season. Without question, the Warriors best player against the Raptors this season was Kevin Durant, who averaged 40.5 points per game in the two losses. Durant did drop 51 in an overtime loss in Toronto, but Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were unavailable. Curry also had a rough outing in his lone game against them with just 10 points on 3-of-12 from the field in 33 minutes. The Warriors also didn’t have Andre Iguodala in the other game, so they weren’t at 100 percent in either of those losses back in the 2018 portion of the season, which was before Cousins made his Warriors debut, too. Kawhi Leonard missed a game, as well. The Warriors are also playing their best ball these days six straight wins. In other words, don’t put too much stock in the two losses.
The return of Cousins is going to put the Warriors in a somewhat unfamiliar spot based on experience with him and without KD, but they’ve been effective in limited time. The lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Draymond Green and Cousins had a +43.2 net rating in 29 regular-season minutes, but that lineup was not used at all in the playoffs. If Cousins is a go, that lineup is likely the favorite to start after Kerr bit the bullet and started Jordan Bell in Game 4 -- Kerr keeps Bell on a short leash. Boogie will also cut into the minutes for Bell, Kevon Looney, Damian Jones and Andrew Bogut.
Somewhat interestingly, the Warriors used Draymond Green as the lone PF/C for just nine minutes in the last five games (+67.7 net rating, without Bell, Jones, Looney, Bogut). Everyone knows the Warriors are at their best with Dray at the five with the Hamptons Five lineup with their NBA-best +29.1 net rating over their 178 regular-season minutes (more than 80 minutes, 165 lineups qualify). However, they really don’t have the wing depth to go with a heavy dose of Dray at the five. Plus, the Raptors will be using a lot of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka at the five. In the playoffs, they only used Pascal Siakam at the five for just two minutes -- they also went Siakam, Serge and Gasol for 36 minutes in the playoffs. With how the Warriors like to force so much switching and with Steph’s gravity, Kerr figures to play his guys rather than try to match up with what coach Nick Nurse tries to do to throw them off their games with some larger lineups.
Player Stats and Info
If you’re on Twitter or watch sports debates on TV, you’ve undoubtedly encountered the “Warriors are better without KD” talk. As silly as it sounds for a team to be better without one of the best high-volume scorers ever, the Warriors are 31-1 with Curry in the lineup and without Durant. In the playoffs, Curry does have a worse net rating without KD on the floor with a +11.6 with KD and +9.5 without. During the regular season, it’s even worse with a +16.6 net rating with and +4.4 without. Stats wise for Curry without KD per 36 in the regular season, he scores 34.4 points without KD compared to 27.7 with him. In the playoffs, Curry was right on par with that at 33.7 points per 36 without KD and he’s been more efficient with a 65.8 TS%. What’s more, Curry is on a major tear over the last five games sans KD, averaging 35.8 points, 7.6 boards, 6.6 dimes, 3.4 turnovers and 6.0 treys on a 32.7 usage rate with a 66.3 TS%. Curry’s strong play recently has upped his TS% to 63.0 TS% over the playoffs. That puts him on pace to be the second player ever to have multiple postseasons with 25-plus points per game with at least a 63.0 TS% while playing in more than 15 games (LeBron James) -- it’s only been done seven times total (Kevin Durant, Kevin McHale, and Reggie Miller have the others).
One particular area Steph has slayed over the five-game hot streak has been shooting off the dribble. On his 61 shots with three-plus dribbles over the last five games, Curry put up a blistering 62.2 eFG%. To add to that, another area he smashed was early in the shot clock. With more than seven seconds remaining on the shot clock, Curry put up a 63.3 eFG% on those 101 shots. For reference, the NBA had a record league average 52.4 eFG% this season. Curry wasn’t even that effective on his catch-and-shoot treys over the last five at just 39.3% on those 28 attempts, so he isn’t even peaking yet. It’ll be almost impossible for the Raptors to keep him under wraps off screens, and Steph having the ball in his hands more makes him even more dangerous.
As mentioned above, the Raptors were outstanding in limiting Steph with just 10 points in his lone game against them. Specifically, Fred VanVleet was the defensive star with just four points allowed on 39 possessions while Kyle Lowry held Steph to three points on 10 possessions. Considering how well Papa Fred played lately, the Raptors may opt to start him and put him on Steph. Although, he might have to see some possessions against Kawhi Leonard, who shut down Giannis Antetokounmpo in the last round (more on that in Ryan Knaus' Raptors preview). Kawhi was on KD for 50 possessions in his game against them, so without KD out there to start this round, it makes even more sense to throw all they can at Steph. There isn’t really any matchup data on Steph vs. Kawhi, but you really don’t need it if you’ve ever seen Kawhi swallow guys up in halfcourt. For what it’s worth, Steph had a -2.3 net rating against Kawhi in 2016-17 over 61 minutes in the regular season and a -20.0 in just 20 minutes in the playoffs before the Zaza Pachulia incident (#smallsamplesize, I know). As great as Kawhi’s defense is, the Raptors probably can’t afford to keep Kawhi on Steph for too long because even Kawhitron 2000 doesn’t have that kind of energy. He did look gassed at times against the Bucks, too. Sure, you could make the case the Warriors are better without KD, but taking Kawhi off KD makes the Raptors a much tougher defensive challenge, especially in halfcourt. Perhaps Curry sees Kawhi late in the game, but he should see mostly Lowry and FVV, which could lead to some monster lines even against the stout Toronto defense.
Speaking of which, the Raptors halfcourt defense was locked in against the Bucks, putting up just 0.84 points per halfcourt play over that series. For reference, the Jazz led in halfcourt D at 0.905, and the Bucks were third in halfcourt O at 1.00. In the playoffs, the Warriors have been by far the best halfcourt offensive team at 1.03 points per play with the Spurs at a distant second at 98.8 and the Clippers in third at 96.2. Not surprisingly, the Warriors were first in the regular season at 1.02 points per halfcourt play while the Raptors defense ranked fifth at 91.4 (all halfcourt stats via Cleaning The Glass). The Warriors offense in transition was also outstanding in the last series at 1.36 points per transition possession and they led the league there on the season, too. All this said, you already knew the Warriors are really hard to guard when Curry is out there.
While Draymond Green may not see big minutes at the five, he’ll be getting massive playing time after playing 40.5 minutes per game over the last two. Like Steph, Dray didn’t see Kawhi this season and he’s also playing his best ball of the season. Green had said he lost 23 pounds for the playoff run, starting back on Mar. 6 until the end of the regular season. It has shown on the stat sheet without KD over the last five, averaging 14.8 points, 11.4 boards, 8.4 dimes, 4.2 turnovers, 2.0 steals, 2.4 blocks and 0.4 treys. Draymond neutralized most of the guys he guarded in the Portland series, but this is obviously a much different frontcourt with most of Toronto’s offensive firepower coming from the 3-5 spots. Green guarded Pascal Siakam the most at 21 possessions with just three points allowed there while he held Kyle Lowry to two points on 11 possessions. Again, this was without Kawhi or Marc Gasol, so Green should see minutes on a number of guys.
On offense, he’s seen his touch time go up at 3.6 minutes per game over the last five, which is up from just 2.1 in the regular season. He’s also up to 77.2 passes per game over those five, which would’ve led the league by a decent margin (Nikola Jokic at 70.5 per game), and that’s up from Dray’s 58.6 passes per game on the regular season. He’s also had 17.2 potential assists per game over this five-game span, which would’ve ranked second in the NBA during the season (Russell Westbrook led at 20.8, LeBron James second at 16.0). While Dray isn’t the best scorer, his passing is a big reason why the Warriors are such a tough cover, and it’ll really test the length of the Raptors. He’s an all-time defender, but Dray doesn’t get credit for his output on offense. Besides, isn’t the quintessential Warriors dynasty play the Steph-Dray PNR?
Klay Thompson didn’t make All-NBA this year again and hopefully you’ve seen his reaction video last week (here if you missed it), so maybe that’ll add a little fuel to the fire for Narrative Street. Klay is likely going to have to guard Kawhi and Lowry for a decent amount in this game, and that’ll certainly wear him down. He did guard Kawhi for 15 possessions in his one game against him this year, but most of his time was on Danny Green at a whopping 90 possessions over the two outings.
On offense, Klay continues to see a massive boost to his usage rate when KD sits. In the playoffs, he has a 26.2 usage rate without KD compared to 17.7 with him. In the regular season, it was a stark difference with a 32.4 usage rate without him and just 22.5 with him. Usage increase aside, Klay struggled on the offensive end against the Blazers with just a 47.0 TS% over his 41.3 minutes per game. There was some correlation on Klay getting big minutes and inefficiency with just a 53.1 TS% over his 66 games with 40-plus minutes in the regular season in his career. He also had just a 54.2 TS% in his playoff games with 40-plus minutes. Klay has been at 58.9 TS% in the regular season since he started his five-year All-Star run with the Warriors making the finals, so almost a five percent drop is noteworthy. Still, we’ve seen Klay get as hot as anyone in NBA history with a record 37-point quarter against Nik Stauskas and the Kings, and his NBA-record 14 treys in Chicago earlier this season. His value may come more on the defensive end, though.
If DeMarcus Cousins is a go, he gets a tough matchup against Marc Gasol, who has been outstanding against big-body, high-usage centers like Joel Embiid. A couple seasons ago, Gasol held Cousins to just a 38.2 FG% over his 85 minutes against him in their Pelicans vs. Grizzlies days. Boogie did have better success against Gasol in 2016-17 with 26.1 points per 36 minutes on a 46/42/89 shooting line, but Gasol did hold Cousins to just a 18.2 FG% over 24 minutes way back in 2015-16. While the Warriors will need him to produce, perhaps the bigger factor here is that he can help the Warriors recent depth issues.
Andre Iguodala’s possible Hall of Fame resume will start with his playoff defense, and that’ll likely be tested yet again with Kawhi torching most defenders these days. Kawhi resembles LeBron James as an offensive weapon with Kawhi’s ability to score at all levels, and Kawhi has been a much better passer these days -- had a career-high nine dimes on Thursday with a whopping 62 points scored or off a Leonard assist. It’ll be yet another tall order for the former Finals MVP and University of Arizona product, but Iguodala has been challenged in these playoffs. Iggy was able to hold James Harden, Lou Williams and Damian Lillard all below their scoring per 100 possessions in these playoffs, especially Harden. His defensive contributions will be key for the Warriors to win again, but don’t expect him to improve on his 13.3 usage rate in these playoffs.
Besides the aforementioned studs, Kevon Looney should still see minutes even with a possible Boogie return, but Andrew Bogut, Damian Jones and Jordan Bell may fall out of the rotation even against the bigger frontcourt. Alfonzo McKinnie and Shaun Livingston could still see double-digit minutes until KD gets back while Jonas Jerebko and Quinn Cook could see a few extra spot minutes.
As great as the Raptors looked in their last four games, it’ll still be really tough to expect them to pull off the upset. Credit to the Raptors for limiting the Bucks after they looked unbeatable in the first two games, but they really only had to figure out how to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was their best passer and scorer. The Raptors length won’t translate as much with Curry spreading the floor out, and Draymond’s passing is an underestimated factor in this series. Plus, the Warriors have three top-notch defenders to tackle red-hot Kawhi, Pascal Siakam will see a tough matchup in almost any situation, and the Warriors won’t have Eric Bledsoe pulling their offensive efficiency down like Bled did vs. the Raptors at a 39.5 TS% on a 21.1 usage rate. Even if KD isn’t available for most of the series, Curry’s offensive impact combined with forcing so many switches, it gives the Warriors an advantage.
Prediction - Warriors in 6
That’s it for the first part, so check back soon for Ryan Knaus’ Raptors-centric preview.