Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): The Raptors are favoured in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. They have home court advantage. They have a player that nearly everyone would say is the postseason MVP. So why aren't more picking them to actually win the NBA title?
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I had the Warriors winning the series originally, but I changed my mind last minute. In addition to the Raptors having homecourt advantage and the postseason MVP, I think we might be underrating the impact of Kevin Durant's injury.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): As a whole, we're just conditioned to not pick against Golden State. I mean, we haven't seen them lose a series since Durant joined them and they didn't miss a beat once he went down last series. So it makes sense to continuously favour them
Adams: So does this really boil down to 1) Durant's injury and 2) respect for Golden State?
McGregor: It's the ultimate sign of respect for the Warriors. Is there really a blueprint to take them down?
Rafferty: I'm not sure there is a blueprint, but there's enough up in the air right now for the Raptors to take advantage of. They've proven they can win in a variety of ways in these playoffs and they match up pretty well with the Warriors defensively. As long as Durant is out, I think they can grind out some wins against this team.
Adams: I think the recipe has to be the same as the one Cleveland used to crawl back in 2016: have the best player in the series and grind it to a screeching halt. The big difference here is I'm not sure the Raptors also have their own version of Kyrie Irving. Can Kyle Lowry be that guy? Pascal Siakam? Do they need a second guy?
Rafferty: They didn't need either of them to be that guy to beat the Bucks, though. The Warriors are obviously an entirely different beast, but if Kawhi Leonard can be the best player in the series and they get enough production from Lowry, Siakam, Marc Gasol and someone like Fred VanVleet, why can't they beat them four times?
Adams: The Bucks aren't the Warriors, though.
McGregor: The Raptors aren't the Blazers, either. I do think Toronto should find some encouragement in the fact that Portland had numerous opportunities to put Golden State away in the WCF - they just didn't have the ability to do so. If the Blazers could build double-digit leads over the Warriors, who's to say the Raps can't?
Adams: Totally agree with the Blazers argument. People see the sweep and I think come away with an inaccurate perception that this Warriors team is rolling simply because they haven't lost in two weeks. They were getting steamrolled in three of those four games against a clearly inferior Portland team.
Rafferty: And the Raptors have the first two games of the series at home! Is it really crazy to think they can win both of those games? Because if they do, the pressure is on the Warriors going back to Golden State and with the state of Durant's injury, who knows how they'd respond. That's sort of what I was getting at by saying there's a lot up in the air.
McGregor: It's not crazy, but I can't help but be wary of the Game 1 woes. I think Toronto's win over Philly was just the second Game 1 win in franchise history while Golden State has only lost one Game 1 under Kerr … I know a lot has changed and it's just the Warriors' second Game 1 on the road, but history can't be ignored
Adams: It's not crazy, I just don't think it's likely. It seems we're tip-toeing around the fact that this all simply hinges on Durant's injury. For the record ... I actually think a Durant return would HELP Toronto.
Rafferty: Oh, so you think the Warriors are a better team without Durant? Or do you think they're a better team for this particular matchup?
Adams: I think they're a better team without him. I think they're a better matchup for Toronto without him. Call me crazy.
Rafferty: You're crazy.
Adams: If no Durant means a completely engaged Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, all three of which have played with a significantly heightened sense of swagger and confidence, then yeah ... give me those three at 100% without Durant. At some point, what happens on the court matters. And going 31-1 over their last 32 with Curry and without Durant means something.
Rafferty: I agree, but I also think they need Durant to beat the best of the best. This Raptors team should be able to match up well with Curry and Thompson in a way that could level the playing field. If Durant is healthy, it takes a lot of pressure off of both of them and Green.
Adams: I can see it now. Durant comes back, gets goaded into a mano-e-mano duel with Kawhi, starts taking contested 17 footers in isolation against the best defender in the world, the rest of the Warriors stop moving, KD and Draymond get into it again, the Curry mouthpiece gets flung...
Rafferty: So we're just going to ignore how well he played in the last two Finals?
McGregor: And how well he was playing before going down?
Adams: It's not about how he plays. He is awesome. It's about how everyone else plays when he's not around, which, by the way, isn't his fault.
McGregor: That's fair. I recall Draymond saying something to the tune of KD allowing them to be lazy while he's out there. He's the ultimate safety valve
Adams: Prior to that injury, he was scoring over 35 a game this postseason on 50-40-90 shooting, something that literally has never been done in the history of the game. This isn't a referendum on "Is Kevin Durant great?" He is great.
McGregor: I, for one, think their biggest concern would be reincorporating him once they've gotten used to playing without him. That's what the Raptors would have to take advantage of.
Rafferty: Agreed, which is why the first two games of the series are so important. If the Raptors can't take advantage of the situation - Durant being out and the Warriors having to work him back into the rotation possibly facing a 2-0 deficit - it doesn't look great.
Adams: I think we all agree that coming back from 2-0 isn't happening again for Toronto. Not with Games 3 and 4 at Oracle. So what's a realistic path to a Toronto victory?
Rafferty: I think they have to win Games 1 and 2 at home.
McGregor: I think taking advantage of the situation doesn't necessarily win both, but they have to split to avoid going out to the Bay down 2-0. They can get one win off the strength of KD's absence and if he returns when the series shifts back to Oakland, regain home court by taking advantage of the adjustment period.
From there it's a best-out-of-3 and I'd say anything goes at that point. It's just a matter of making more plays and taking advantage of Warriors mistakes. They'll make them, but the measure of a team is the extent to which the take advantage. The Cavs did in 2016.
Adams: They have to get to 2-2. I think they can split at Oracle, so I don't necessarily think they have to win the first two.
Let's say it's 2-2 and KD returns for Game 5. Who wins the series?
Rafferty: I like the Raptors in that situation, given how much unknown there would be about Durant's health and how they would fit him back in.
McGregor: I'm giving the Raptors a slight edge there. Toronto has the momentum with the series shifting back to Scotiabank and it can take advantage of the aforementioned issues Golden State will have from reincorporating KD after playing without him for 10 games.
Adams: If it's 2-2, I like the Raptors. However, I think it's going to be 3-1 Warriors at that point, so I'm sticking with Warriors in 6.
All things considered, I think we're all in agreement that there's a more than reasonable path for the Raptors to actually win this thing. Even if I still don't think it's going to happen.
McGregor: There are enough variables and unknowns on the Warriors side for Raptors to take advantage. This might be the most vulnerable they've been in their five-year run.
Rafferty: That's basically how I feel, which is why I have them winning in 7.
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