WHAT WILL THE PACE AND SCORING BE LIKE IN THIS SERIES?
Oddsmakers, and the market, do not seem to expect much by the looks of it. For Game 1, the total opened at 215 and moved down a half-point the next day. It is quite the adjustment from what bettors saw in the regular season. In two games back in November and December bettors saw totals of 223 and 226.5! Using that as a barometer, there is some intrinsic value in betting this first game over the total. That was then, so what about now? In five games this postseason without Kevin Durant, Golden State’s offensive rating is 114.9 which would have led the NBA this season. It is no stretch to say that the Warriors will still be able to score in this series, but what about Toronto? As bettors watched Toronto slog through the length and defensive prowess in their series against Orlando, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, it was forgotten this Raptors team was sixth in offensive efficiency in the regular season. Part of their offensive success came in transition, where they ranked first in points added per possession in all transition situations, and third in points added per possession in transition off of steals. Toronto will be able to take advantage of the Warriors’ habit of turning the ball over (226 turnovers for Golden State in the postseason) in this series. Expect some scoring in the Finals.
HOW WILL TORONTO HANDLE GOLDEN STATE’S SMALL-BALL LINEUPS?
In the sweep of Portland, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr used three different starting lineups. However, there was always one constant: Kevon Looney always came off the bench, and played more minutes than whoever started at center. With Looney playing a prominent role for Golden State that should allow Nick Nurse to leave Marc Gasol in the starting lineup. However, Kerr did roll out a small-ball starting unit in Game 4 which included Jordan Bell at center and Alfonzo McKinnie in place of Andre Iguodala. That sort of starting unit could cause trouble for Toronto and Gasol. Bell spaces the floor more consistently than Looney does (36 percent of Bell’s field goal attempts are mid-range shots, compared to just 18 percent for Looney). Should Kerr roll out a similar starting unit that could mean Serge Ibaka will find his way into the starting lineup at some point in this series. Ibaka started both games at center in the regular season, and was a combined plus-28 against Golden State. He allows Toronto to switch, if necessary, and can get up and down the floor if need be. He’s a big reason why the Raptors outscored the Warriors 43-22 in fast break points over those two contests.
WHAT CHANGES IF KEVIN DURANT RETURNS?
Obviously, a lot. Let’s start with Golden State as a team. With Kevin Durant this postseason the Warriors are averaging a blistering 117.1 points per 100 possessions on offense. The team’s assist rate is identical to the five games without him, and they actually play a quicker pace with Durant on the floor, but not by much. The real change is on defense, where Golden State actually allowed 4.3 points per 100 possessions more with Durant! Look back to the opening series against the Clippers. Los Angeles averaged 114.6 points per game, posted an offensive rating 111.5 in the series and scored over 129 points in both of its wins. Is it complacency on behalf of the Warriors? No idea, but the numbers bear out that Golden State takes a step back on defense with him on the floor. For Toronto, obviously it means changing its defensive philosophy. Does Kawhi Leonard immediately take the mantle of guarding the Slim Reaper, or does it fall on someone else? Look for Pascal Siakam to take the first crack at Durant. Both were on the floor for the regular-season meetings, and according to the NBA’s matchup data, Siakam held Durant to 10- of-22 from the floor in 56 possessions against him, the most against KD of any Toronto player.
WHO ARE THE BEST CANDIDATES FOR FINALS MVP?
Kawhi Leonard (5/2)
It goes without saying. The best player on the winning team is always going to be the top selection for voters when it comes to MVP awards. Most likely, if Toronto wins this series Leonard is going to play a huge role both offensively and defensively.
Klay Thompson (14/1)
Thompson comes into the Finals shooting 39 percent from 3-point range while averaging 19 points per game. Should Thompson have a standout defensive series against Lowry or Leonard with a scoring outburst in a key game he will be very live to win the award.
Kevin Durant (20/1)
Good value on the winner of this award the last two seasons. Durant has been ruled out for Game 1 already, and is questionable for Game 2. However, should Golden State be in a two-game hole when, and if, he returns in Game 3 he could shift the entire series.
Kyle Lowry (40/1)
He was originally hung at 100/1 over at the Westgate, but a respected bettor placed a wager on him to shift the odds. Lowry is coming off of a career playoff series, and is underrated defensively. If he mimics his offensive output from the East Finals and bodies up Curry like a chubby Australian guard did back in 2015, he can take this home.
WHICH TEAM WINS THE NBA FINALS?
Toronto. Yes, the scrappy underdog from the lowly Eastern Conference with home-court advantage. The Raptors are the second-best defensive team in the postseason, limiting opponents to just 102.4 points per 100 possessions. They have two former Defensive Players of the Year in Leonard and Gasol, and two former All-Defensive Team members with Ibaka and Danny Green. Nick Nurse has shown he has the ability to adjust to an opponent in a series as well. The Raptors win their first NBA title in seven games.