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It’s Kawhi (and hopefully some others) vs. the 2015 Warriors

Believe it or not, there is an actual basketball game tomorrow. Hopefully, Magic Johnson won’t parachute onto the floor, Fan Man style, before Game 1 tips off, though absolutely nothing can be ruled out.

Here are six thoughts on Raptors-Warriors -- the first non-Cleveland-Golden State Finals since 2014 -- which tips Thursday in Toronto at 9 p.m. EST on ABC.

Will home court screw the Raptors?

The Raptors won 58 games this season to the Warriors’ 57, giving them home court in the Finals.

Is that a good thing? In a way, it puts far more pressure on Toronto; the series is effectively over if it loses its first two games. At least, with non-home court, the Raptors could rest easy knowing they only had to get one game in Oakland, and, if they didn’t, they’d still have a chance to tie it up at home.

The ‘93 Suns faced the same dilemma against the Bulls, who tanked their chances by dropping both games at home to start the series.

Is this it for Durant in Golden State and Leonard in Toronto?

The two best players in this series -- Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant -- are probably going to change teams this offseason. (And one of them probably isn’t going to play in this series.)

Has that ever happened in an NBA Finals matchup? Not really, sans maybe some fifth-rate matchup between, like, Rochester and Worcester in 1951. Shaq was probably going to leave after 2004 no matter what, and Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were out after 1998, but those guys were all older. Durant and Leonard are prime, top-five players.

This would be quite the upset...

If the Raptors win, they’ll join a short list of best underdog champs in NBA history. Some inclusions: Dallas in 2011; Detroit in 2004; and Golden State in 1975. Also, the Raptors are one of seven franchises introduced since 1989; only one of those teams, the Miami Heat, has won a title. Toronto would be the second.

Who will ‘win’ the series?

Kawhi already has a rightful claim as winner of the entire 2019 playoffs; he resurrected his image simply by being transcendent. But conqueror of the NBA Finals is still up for grabs, and with Durant out for at least Game 1 (and likely much longer), Steph Curry has a great chance to finally win Finals MVP, which would evaporate the final (and unjust) knock on Curry’s legacy.

Other contenders include Draymond Green, who is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and Kyle Lowry, though, y’know, c’mon.

FYI: Curry is minus-143 to win Finals MVP.

Who will be the Warriors’ fifth guy? Does it matter?

Curry, Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala are pencilled-in playmakers who carried last series’ sweep. Beyond those four, without Durant, it’s been shaky. Andrew Bogut, Damian Jones and Jordan Bell each got a start against the Trail Blazers, but played a combined 28 minutes as the fifth starter. Kevon Looney and former Raptor Alfonzo McKinnie have had good moments, and DeMarcus Cousins is questionable for Game 1.

All of this could be irrelevant, though, if the Hamptons Four keeps playing like it’s 2015.

It’s Kawhi, and who else?

Kawhi, who averaged 12.3 points per game over his first four seasons, has turned into an MJ-esque scorer. He’s dropping 31 a game this postseason on 51/39/87 shooting splits in 18 games.

Behind him, there are so many players on the Raptors who are capable of having big games and big series. There are also so many players on the Raptors who are capable of having disastrous games and series. Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry all have all-star level ceilings, or bust level floors.

(By the way, another important role player, Fred VanVleet, is a plus-30 averaging 17.5 points per game on 12-of-19 shooting since we called him the worst player in the postseason. It must be Fred Jr.)


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