After defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in six games, the Toronto Raptors are heading to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
The Golden State Warriors, who swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, are set to make their fifth consecutive Finals appearance and will enter Game 1 off of nine days of rest.
The stage is set and the lights will be at their brightest, and our NBA.com experts have keyed in on one thing to keep an eye on in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Gilbert McGregor ( @GMcGregor21 ): I'm excited to see Kawhi Leonard back on the NBA Finals stage .
It's been five years since we watched a 22-year-old Leonard win NBA Finals MVP after averaging 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in the San Antonio Spurs' dominant five-game series victory over the Miami Heat - all while playing amazing defence on LeBron James.
Five years later, Leonard's offensive game has matured while he remains one of the most fearsome defenders in the NBA. Through three rounds, Leonard has averaged over 30 points per game and is within realistic reach of scoring the most points in a single postseason in NBA history. In 1992, Michael Jordan scored a total of 759 points as he led the Bulls to their second NBA title; Leonard is on pace to surpass that figure should The Finals go to six games.
Kawhi has been masterful all season, and I truly believe a player of his calibre will save his best for the biggest moment. Is it a 50-point game? Yet another game-winner? A big-time stop on one of the Warriors best scorers?
Each possibility is on the table with Leonard, who has made it clear that he isn't afraid of the moment.
Micah Adams ( @MicahAdams13 ): Toronto's mentality.
I sincerely hope this won't be a case of simply "glad to be here." The Raptors have had a stated goal of reaching the Finals ever since swinging for the fences with the acquisition of Leonard last offseason. Now that they're here, will they have enough in the tank to put up a legitimate challenge after two taxing series against the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks?
On the one hand, it's a veteran group. Leonard's obviously been here before and knows how to win. Danny Green has had spectacular moments in the Finals. Serge Ibaka knows what it's like under the bright lights. Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol are two vets who seemingly won't be phased by anything. There are enough key players with big game experience to think they'll show serious resistance against a banged up and somewhat vulnerable Warriors team, even one that's coming in well rested and fresh off a four-game sweep.
MORE: "I'm not afraid of the moment."
This is an instance where having home court is such a big benefit. Rather than having to go into Oracle Arena right away, a place that will be absolutely bonkers as this is the final time the Warriors will play there as they get set to move into their new arena in downtown San Francisco next season, the Raptors will have the benefit of a raucous home crowd and Jurassic Park to help them elevate the energy and intensity.
The NBA Playoffs are a marathon, not a sprint. Now that they've reached the 20 mile marker, do the Raptors have enough legs to make it through the finish line?
Kyle Irving ( @KyleIrv_ ): Kevin Durant vs. Kawhi Leonard.
The latest report states that Durant is "unlikely" to play at the beginning of The Finals, but it's hard to believe he would miss the entire series.
Prior to getting hurt, Durant was taking over the throne as the best player in the NBA. He was competing at a level higher than everyone in the postseason besides one other player ... Leonard.
Leonard has continued to impress and his name is starting to pop up in those "best player in the league" conversations. Getting to see him and Durant go at it in The Finals would be all any NBA fan could ask for.
One of the best moments from this regular season was the game between the Raptors and Warriors that went to OT back in November, where these two were going shot for shot. Leonard finished with 37 points and Durant finished with 51 points, but Kawhi's team got the win.
According to NBA.com's matchup data, Kawhi guarded KD on 46 possessions in that contest. Durant scored 21 points shooting 7-for-11 from the field and 2-for-2 from long range while dishing out four assists with just one turnover.
On the 50 possessions that Durant guarded Leonard, Kawhi went for 20 points shooting 7-for-14 from the field and 2-for-5 from beyond the arc with two assists and zero turnovers.
This matchup was an absolute shootout, and you'd expect they'll both kick the defence up a notch in The Finals, but sign me up for watching these two premier two-way players battle it out for the NBA championship.
Scott Rafferty ( @crabdribbles ): Which version of Stephen Curry shows up.
That's not to say Curry hasn't shown up in the Finals before. There's an argument to be made that he should have two Finals MVPs at this point, but with Kevin Durant possibly missing the start of the series, this might be his best chance yet to win the award.
He enters the Finals on fire, too. After scoring 33 points in the second half of Game 6 against the Rockets, Curry averaged 36.5 points in Golden State's four-game sweep over the Trail Blazers, doing so without Durant. That's the most points a player has averaged in a four-game sweep in NBA history, according to ESPN , besting Shaquille O'Neal, who averaged 36.3 points per game in the 2002 NBA Finals, and LeBron James, who averaged 36.0 points per game in the 2017 Conference Semifinals.
The Warriors will need much more of that from Curry to beat the Raptors, who have been a far better defensive team than the Blazers all season long. Danny Green has had some success defending Curry in the past, as has Kawhi Leonard. The combination of them, plus Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, will be able to pressure Curry in ways the Blazers couldn't.
If Curry can find a way to break through Toronto's defence, lead the Warriors to another championship and win Finals MVP, it's only going to get harder to keep him out of the greatest point guard of all-time discussion.
Benyam Kidane ( @BenyamKidane ): Can Toronto's bench deliver on the biggest stage?
While the Warriors present plenty of matchup challenges for the Raptors, the bench unit is where Toronto has the edge.
The Raptors bench is scoring just 24.7 points per game in the playoffs - down from their 36.2 points per game in the regular season - but the trio of Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell found their rhythm against the Bucks, providing an offensive punch in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Toronto will need them to be at their best against Golden State, especially in those key minutes with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on the bench.
Yash Matange ( @yashmatange2694) : Do the Raptors have an answer for Draymond Green?
The Warriors are currently on a six-game win streak and Green has been sensational in each one. He was especially elite in the team's Conference Finals sweep against the Portland Trail Blazers, where he averaged 16.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 2.8 blocks and 2.3 steals on 54.2% shooting.
He might not average the same numbers in the Finals, but the Raptors still have to find a way to curb his impact. The adjustment against the Warriors, unlike the Bucks series, won't be as simple as putting Kawhi Leonard on Green.
Green's biggest strength is his multi-dimensional play combined with his high basketball IQ, so he will likely find a way to cause problems for the Raptors, with or without Leonard defending him.
Green was not voted an All-Star this year or to any All-NBA team but his preparation for the playoffs ( shedding 23 pounds in six weeks ) seems to be showing its benefits when it matters the most. Even without Durant, it puts the Warriors in good position to win their third-straight title.
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