2019 NBA Finals Preview: Klaw or Curry? Smash Mouth or Drake? Who Takes the Crown?

Associated Press
Kawhi Leonard attacks Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors defense earlier this season.

In these days and times that are 2019 in North America, you never know where the next great culture clash will arise.

As representatives of our once bland and indistinct neighbors to the North invade our greatest showcase of basketball competition, we as Americans have to come to grips with two hard truths: 1. The Golden State Warriors are bound to get their 3-Peat and completely solidify their current run as one of the greatest teams in modern sport.

Worst than that, we all have to like said possibility, and in many ways root for it, because — 2. Drake is already impossible to deal with and he will be the death of us all if the Toronto Raptors win the NBA Championship.

Many red-blooded Americans are looking to step up to stem the tide of the OVO-funded menace (though Smash Mouth can sit down somewhere, please), but the final decision on whether or not basketball in the United States will go out this Summer like Meek Mill in 2015 (or Drake, just last year…) will largely rest with the Warriors, our champions literal and figurative.

To be real, there is something to be said about the enthusiasm of the Canadians and Raptors faithful in general. That franchise has been through a lot of losing — losing games, losing franchise players and losing respect enough for people to nickname Toronto, “LeBronto” for a time.

But all that can be forgotten, at least for the next seven games, at most. A horrible playoff track record for the Raptors has been washed away largely via the efforts of supposed franchise rental Kawhi Leonard. Will the cackling, braided wonder deliver an all-around unfathomable championship to the “6” and provide the overarching theme of OVO Fests for the next 20 years?

Or will the Dubs solidify their new standard of excellence and likely send Kevin Durant packing with another title that he may not have played too much of a part in actually collecting.

This is definitely a more intriguing NBA Finals than we can really expect in a year where LeBron James didn’t even make the playoffs and where both prevailing MVP candidates (James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo) each fell victim to these respective Finals teams.

To break things down further and give their picks are our basketball guys, Joshua and Chris:

Joshua Hicks: This year’s NBA Finals reminds me of the 2011 NBA Finals from a roster standpoint. The Raptors are the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs had one superstar (Dirk Nowitzki), solid veteran role players (Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler) and a top-tier coach in Rick Carlisle.

In the case of these Raptors, superstar Kawhi Leonard is flanked by solid veteran role players Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka, and top-tier first-year coach Nick Nurse. Toronto knows when to go to their superstar, and the role players know their exact roles to play in helping the team succeed.

Like the 2011 Miami Heat, the Warriors have three All-Stars in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green (three of the five potentially the team can use when fully healthy). Quinn Cook, Kevin Looney, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Bell and Andre Iguodala all know their roles and have played relatively well throughout this postseason under top-tier coach Steve Kerr.

The difference, however, between 2011 and this year is that one of the opponents is much more experienced at this level than the other.

Certain players on the 2011 Miami Heat had championship pedigree, but it was that team’s first rodeo at the big dance and they had not solved all their on-court chemistry issues. This year’s glamour team, the Warriors, are more experienced and lack chemistry issues, even without their superstar wildcards in Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. Some would argue their chemistry is more refined without those two.

The Splash Brothers, Curry and Thompson, have been on their game since Durant went down with injury in their second round series against Houston, and Green has been playing as effectively as he did in past championship runs.

Leonard and Green, each members of the 2013 and 14 San Antonio Spurs, give the Raptors championship pedigree and they will give the Warriors all they can handle, but besides Leonard, Toronto’s consistency has been a question mark. That cannot be an issue against the Warriors if you want to win.

With the potential returns of Durant and Cousins this series, those All-Star talents, along with the Dubs’ overall championship experience, will be too much for the Raptors. Warriors win 4-2.

Chris Pennant: Throughout their history, the Toronto Raptors have been “The Little Engine That Couldn’t Quite.” As Alex Wong detailed for the New York Times last week, a succession of talented players led Toronto to early postseason exits before leaving the city in disdainful fashion. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry headed the most recent contenders in Ontario, a high-quality, likeable team that LeBron turned into a punchline in consecutive springs.

Most of the world scoffed at the DeRozan-for-Kawhi Leonard trade last summer. Leonard was on an expiring contract, and a long recovery from a quadriceps injury had many questioning his ability. Even without LeBron in their path for an Eastern Conference championship, the Raps seemed doomed to lose their all-or-nothing bet.

Instead, Leonard lit the NBA on fire in the playoffs. Pascal Siakam bloomed, Lowry shed his underachiever label, and Fred VanVleet’s newborn son spurred him on. Toronto is in the Finals for the first time.

Against them is the perennial dictator of the NBA landscape, the Golden State Warriors. Their time at the top seems to be up. The Warriors flouted the luxury tax in order to keep their nucleus intact, but most of their core players, including Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, are due for new deals either this year or next.

It’s against this backdrop that the Warriors have somehow ascended to the precipice of Championship Mountain again. No Durant, no Boogie Cousins – no problem. Curry reverted to MVP form in Durant’s absence and after a rocky first-round series against the Clippers, the Warriors have won six straight on their way to the Finals.

The Raptors’ role players (Van Vleet, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Danny Green) came through when needed. However, the Warriors are champions, players who know when they need to go to an extra gear to win. Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, even young Kevon Looney have the experience of playing crunch-time minutes in the NBA Finals. True dynasties rarely lose when the lights are brightest — the 2004 Lakers were one of the few to crumble in such a way– and while Toronto’s defense is excellent, they’ll need to be tireless to stop the Warriors.

So they will be.

Five consecutive Finals trips means Curry, Thompson and Green have played an extra regular season’s worth of games in the past five years. The Raptors are fresher, just as tenacious, and while they can’t do it alone, they’ll follow their stoic superstar’s lead. It’ll go seven, but the NBA landscape will be open to new possibilities once again, and Canada will finally have their champion. Raptors in seven.

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