The 2019 NBA Finals resumes Thursday Night, with the Golden State Warriors hosting the Toronto Raptors for Game 6 from Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. ABC’s live coverage begins at 6p.m. pacific time, and the Raptors leading the Warriors 3-2. If the Warriors prevail at home Thursday night, the series deciding Game 7 will be Sunday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
A champion is crowned at the conclusion of each season, and yet somehow there seems to be more on the line this year. The Warriors are appearing in their fifth consecutive Finals, and are seeking their third consecutive title, and their fifth title in franchise history (1975, 2015, 2017-18). Toronto is seeking their first title and appearing in their first Finals in franchise history, after they joined the NBA as an expansion franchise 24 years ago in 1995.
As competitive and entertaining as these Finals have been, there is some added glory that will go to the victor, as each side has the chance to claim a piece of history. For Toronto, they can become the first team from outside the United States to win an NBA title, and would bring home Canada’s first major sports championship since the Toronto Blue Jays won back to back World Series in 1992-93. If the Raptors win the series on their home court, it would also be the first NBA Finals in league history to start and end outside the country. For the Warriors, they have a chance to join the Los Angeles Lakers (1952-54, 2000-02), Chicago Bulls (1991-93, 1996-98), and Boston Celtics (1959-66) as the only teams in league history to complete the elusive “three-peat”. In addition, they would join the Cleveland Cavaliers (2016) as the only teams in league history to recover from a 3-1 series deficit to win the NBA Finals.
There are also some individual accomplishments at stake. If Kawhi Leonard wins the Finals MVP, he will join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee 1971, Los Angeles Lakers 1985) and LeBron James (Miami 2012-13, Cleveland 2016) as the only players to win the award for two different NBA franchises. Toronto head coach Nick Nurse could join Warriors head coach Steve Kerr on the short list of head coaches to win the NBA title in their first year at the helm. And if Kerr wins this year, he would become the only coach in NBA history to have won three consecutive championships as a player, and to coach a team to three consecutive titles.
With so much on the line and both teams and coaches trying to cement themselves in NBA Finals lore, Casey Mabbott (CM) and Bryant Knox (BK) answer how the next two games might go, how both teams will respond to the situation, and who will ultimately prevail.
1. Game 6 Thursday night will be the Warriors’ final home game at Oracle Arena before they move to their new stadium next season. What kind of atmosphere should Toronto expect with the series on the line, and the defending champion Warriors trying to defend their home court one last time in order to force a Game 7?
(CM) I expect game the atmosphere to resemble what we saw in Portland for game six of the Western Conference semifinal playoff series between the Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets. Portland was the desperate team, and knew they had the home court, the home crowd, and the need to push Denver to the brink, and the crowd and the players showed up big time. It’s going to be a zoo at Oracle just with the series and the season and the legacy on the line, but that it is the final home game ever to be played at this venue should mean a lot, even to the casual fans just attending for the experience. The building will be rocking, and unless Toronto jumps out to an early lead, it could take a lot to get the crowd to calm down if they get a taste for excitement from their defending champion hometown team. The game will be heated, the players will get chippy, and there may be a few extra whistles as both sides battle hard. This game will be decided in the closing minutes and we may just get the best gift a Finals series can give the fans – a game seven. If this series is awarding the winner a historic championship, let’s see them win it in the 20th game seven in the history of the Finals.
(BK) Between vicariously fighting for their Finals lives and sending the Warriors off to San Francisco in grand fashion, the Golden State faithful will be in rare form Thursday night. And if the Warriors are bold enough to wear the WE BELIEVE jerseys, we believe it’ll be one of the best scenes the league has witnessed in a long time.
2. Golden State has shown great resilience, finding ways to win in the face of adversity while they fight through injuries. Needing to win the next two games in order to claim their third straight title, do the defending champs have the depth, energy, and scoring ability to keep up with the Raptors?
(CM) The Warriors can shoot and score in bunches, there’s no doubt about that. It’s depth and energy the Warriors appear to be lacking right now. If this were a game of “horse” I would bet on the Dubs and their gifted shooters to win everything. But if it’s mostly a game of hustle and strategic and shoving (and that’s what a lot of NBA basketball is this late in the season), I’m betting on the Raptors to overwhelm the Warriors and take the series. For a team used to running circles around their opponent, the Warriors look like they absolutely have the desire to win this series, but are also showing that they can’t simply wear out their opponent anymore, depending on the matchup anyway. They absolutely have the championship mettle to keep up with the Raptors, but to win on the biggest stage (and on the road) you can’t just be good, you also have to be lucky enough to be healthy, and no one would confuse the Warriors with being healthy right now. No matter how much they might want this one, I don’t know that they have the energy or health to pull it off regardless of whether they feel disrespected enough to make a run at it.
(BK) The short answer is no. The Warriors don’t have the depth right now to compete with these Raptors, and they certainly don’t have the energy, as evidenced by the Splash Bros wearing physical exhaustion like sweat-soaked jerseys late in Game 5. But there’s a factor here that can’t be ignored, although it’s one I typically avoid when analyzing a series: motivation.
The old “heart of a champion” schtick is almost exclusively reserved for waxing poetic and the silver screen. The undersized scrubs who rally around the fallen hero to win the big game just doesn’t exist in real life, at least not when you lack the talent and preparation on top of the depth and energy—not when the opposition has their own uniquely deep motivating factors driving them to success.
Where the “heart of a champion” really starts to make a difference is when you’re dealing with actual champions. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green severely lack both the depth behind them and the energy within to climb out of this hole, but they’re still Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond-freaking-Green.
As painful as it is admitting that KD off-court “narratives” can sway a beautiful game of on-court basketball in their favor, it can’t be ignored that all signs once pointed to the Warriors heading six feet under The Six despite now being alive and well(ish) and back in the Bay.
Durant’s devastating injury has, without hyperbole, changed the course of NBA history, but that means it could also go down as the moment the bloodied Dubs found their cause.
Usually it’s fools who rush in where angels fear to tread, but these Warriors proved in Game 5, down Durant, that they have the talent and motivation to pursue the damn near impossible.
3. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have been fantastic, despite getting extra attention on defense. Similar to what the Warriors are doing to Kawhi Leonard, can the Raptors afford to send help defenders at the Splash Bros and force the supporting cast to win?
(CM) I don’t know that there is any additional attention the Raptors can show Curry and Thompson that they haven’t already thrown at them. I suppose you could go small more often and defend Curry with speed and length by double teaming him with the point guard and center on the court at the time, then assign Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard to defend a sometimes gimpy Thompson, that would at least cover their best scoring threats while keeping Leonard as fresh as possible and still leaving two capable defenders to try and cover three average shooters. A risky defensive scheme like that isn’t a great concept for the entire game as they are bound to run through it eventually, but you could choose to throw it at them in bursts, especially if you want to build a lead or carve your way out of a hole. Toronto has been masterful at showing different looks to disrupt Golden State’s best plays so far, and I would be very disappointed if they somehow slip up now with the series within their grasp. The issue in Toronto’s two losses hasn’t been stopping the Warriors so much as finding a way to make easy buckets when the Warriors go on a run.
(BK) I like Casey’s plan to throw a new scheme at the guards for stretches.
The reason the box-and-one worked on Stephen Curry early in the series was because—despite its throwback middle-school feel—it was novel and surprising. The scheme itself is easy to figure out, and by now, Golden State surely has a series of plays drawn up to crack the code from any angle. But the fact that Toronto held this wild card close to the chest is what allowed Nick Nurse to reveal it at the absolute best time.
If Nurse has any more tricks up his sleeve, and you have to believe a first-time head coach with his kind of energy does, it’s a matter of finding the right time to reveal. Entering Game 6, the rookie lead man is under scrutiny over his ill-advised time out that swung momentum Golden State’s way Monday night.
“Clock management” will never be as serious a stain on Nurse’s resume as it will be on, say, JR Smith’s, but bouncing back and amending your mistakes is part of being a champion.
Nurse has a long way to go before his story is written, but closing this series out with a Larry O’Brien Trophy would be a heck of a first chapter.
4. Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Golden State’s Steph Curry are the likely Finals MVP candidates, are there any other players that deserve the award?
(CM) First of all, the simple answer is no – no other players deserve to be in the conversation. Leonard is averaging 29.8 points on 43% from the field, has made 14 three pointers, and is averaging 10 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, and 4 assists on 3 turnovers per game. For comparison, Curry is averaging 32.4 points on 42% from the field, has made 20 three pointers, and is averaging 5 rebounds, 1 steal, and 6 assists on 3 turnovers per game. Show me anyone coming close to those numbers and I’ll put them on the list. Note – you won’t find anyone. Draymond Green is a fantastic player and a nightly triple double threat, and he’s not even close to being on the short list for Finals MVP.
Unless Curry simply out performs Leonard in the next two games (or in place of one game the judges will accept that he at least stops chomping on his mouth guard any time he’s on camera in between plays), my vote for MVP goes to Leonard. The numbers are extremely close and they are both crucial to their team’s success, but without a true star teammate, Leonard has been asked to individually impact each game at a higher level, and he has more than delivered, that’s what this award is about. Even though the current 50 year trend is to give the award to the best player on the winning team, right now I believe Leonard deserves the award regardless, and that he’d be the first player since Jerry West in 1969 to win the MVP while playing for the losing team would make this series even more historic.
(BK) From today’s vantage point, it’s pretty clear that Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Curry are the Finals MVPs, should their respective teams win the title. But there’s a very real scenario where Game 6 Klay is the whole reason we get to a Game 7, and in the final showing, he gets his Kyrie Moment as the team’s second-best active player knocking down the biggest shot in franchise history.
If you’re into the increasingly mainstream world of sports gambling, Klay really isn’t your best bet. But if you’re feeling lucky…Grown Man Cory Matthews might be your high-reward guy.
5. Do you see Toronto winning one of the next two games and claiming their first championship, or does Golden State become just the second team in NBA history to win the Finals after being down 3-1?
(CM) It would be really neat to see Golden State redeem their 2016 Finals loss, and in doing so becoming the only team in Finals history to both win a series after going down 3-1 and to lose a series after being up 3-1. Just imagine what that would do for their already amazing legacy. But I just can’t see this banged up Warriors team getting enough bad luck or mental errors from these Raptors to pull off two straight wins. Even if the series does extend to seven games, I don’t trust the Warriors to leave everything on the court on Thursday night just to keep their title hopes alive, then travel to Toronto and do it again Sunday night with barely a day to rest (no, international travel between time zones does not count as rest). No matter who wins game six, I have Toronto winning this series.
(BK) When Golden State came away with the win in Game 5, my first thought was something along these lines: ‘Gutsy win…resiliency to another level…………good job, good effort, Warriors.’
Yes, Seth Curry’s brother’s squad got the win. And it was legendary. But getting a second in a row without KD? Let alone a third?
No chance. Dubs done in 6.
Wouldn’t you know it, though, over the past 36 hours, that “heart of a champion” theme obnoxiously keeps coming to mind. Kawhi may be earning Michael Jordan comparisons, but the Warriors suddenly have a new purpose—a purpose and the talent to get the job done.
Everything about KD’s injury, from these Finals to his free agency to his overall legacy, has been turned on its head with his Achilles injury. Combine that with the Warriors having been on the wrong side of a 3-1 comeback before and it’s easy to see a storybook ending already in the works.
Then again … that Kawhi Leonard guy is very good at basketball right now. He gives the NBA a new balance of star power and humility it hasn’t seen in a champion since, well, Kawhi himself won FInals MVP back in 2014.
I take it all back. Raptors probably win Game 6 by 23 points.
Board man gets championship.