The eight-month journey to crowning the 2019 NBA Champion has reached its final segment.
This season’s Finals can be described as “Old vs. New.” The two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors are in their fifth straight Finals, seeking their fourth title in five seasons. To accomplish this feat, the Warriors will have to defeat the Toronto Raptors, who are making their first ever appearance in the Finals.
After needing six games to dispatch both the L.A. Clippers and Houston in their first two playoffs series, Golden State swept the Portland Trail Blazers in four games, winning twice by double digits and also by margins of three and two points, the latter in overtime that clinched the Western Conference title.
In reaching the Finals the Warriors have gone 12-4 SU but just 7-8-1 ATS while playing 10 games that went over the total and six that stayed under. Those totals results would have been the same without those overtime games as both of those games had already gone over by the end of regulation play.
Toronto’s path to the Finals required two more games than the Warriors’, needing five games to defeat Orlando, the full seven to defeat Philadelphia and then six games to win the Eastern Conference title against Milwaukee. Of note is that in getting past the Bucks Toronto lost the first two games on the road before reeling off four straight wins.
The Raptors were 12-6 SU but, unlike Golden State, have been a profitable playoffs play with their 10-8 ATS record. Toronto has been a strong under team vs. the total with just six games going over and 12 staying under. But Toronto’s lone overtime game was well under the total (by 29.5 points) at the end of regulation and was still under by 15.5 points after the first overtime in a game that needed a second overtime to be resolved.
Once Toronto had eliminated Milwaukee, the series price for the NBA Finals opened with Golden State favored by -280 and the early support came in on the Warriors who have been bet up to -320 at some sports books before having been bet down to a range of back to -280.
The line for Game 1, to be played on Thursday, opened with Golden State a 1-point favorite. But the action since the open has been on the underdog and the game was either at pick ‘em or had the Raptors as slight 1-point favorites.
Toronto won 58 regular season games, one more than Golden State, and as such has the home court advantage. Thus, barring a four-game sweep, in addition to hosting the first two games of the Finals, Toronto will also host Game 5 and potentially the decisive Game 7.
Note that Golden State had enjoyed the home court advantage in each of the past four seasons when they battled Cleveland for the NBA Title. In defeating LeBron James and his Cavaliers the past two seasons the Warriors needed just five games two seasons ago and swept the Cavs in four games last season.
In projecting how the Finals will play out it is important to understand how important the experience factor is.
Clearly the Warriors have a huge edge in this area since, as noted before, this is Toronto’s first ever trip to the NBA Finals. Yet it is also worth noting that the Raptors’ best player, Kawhi Leonard, not only has championship series experience but was the NBA Finals MVP with San Antonio when the Spurs won their most recent title in 2014.
The Warriors bring loads of experience to the Finals. The core nucleus of the team has been with the Warriors for all five trips. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala have been there every time. Even a key reserve, Shaun Livingston, who’s averaged between 15 and 19 minutes per game, has been with Golden State for all five trips to the Finals.
And, though currently injured and whose status for participation in the Finals remains uncertain, Kevin Durant is looking for a third straight title in his three seasons with the Warriors.
Management is to be commended for keeping this group intact for as long as it has although turnover is expected following the Finals. Golden State has such great depth and reliable multiple options for the final few minutes of games, including those in which they look less champions for much of the contest. Witness their efforts against Portland in the Conference Finals.
Golden State trailed by double-digits at the half of Games 2 and 3 yet came back to win both. In the clincher they trailed by eight points after three quarters yet forced overtime by holding Portland to just 16 fourth-quarter points.
There’s much to like about Toronto, but the NBA has a long history of teams needing to “pay their dues” prior to claiming a championship, especially when facing a teams as experienced as the Warriors. We don’t know if Leonard will return to the Raptors next season. But if he does, we’d have to consider Toronto a legitimate threat to make it to the 2020 Finals.
Toronto also can gain confidence from having won both regular season games against Golden State although both were played prior to December 15.
The Raptors won 131-128 in overtime on November 29 but failed to cover as 9.5 point home favorites. Why such an odd point spread? Curry and Green did not play due to injuries.
Toronto then won the rematch on December 12, 113-93, upsetting the Warriors as eight-point road underdogs. The Warriors were nearly at full strength and the Raptors were without Leonard who was nursing a sore hip.
Prior to those two wins the Raptors had lost eight straight to Golden State. Of course, Leonard was with the Spurs while the Warriors were winning those eight in a row.
Leonard has some nice supporting talent with veteran Kyle Lowry, a mainstay on the Raptors since his arrival from Houston in 2012. Fred VanVleet had a very strong series banging threes against Milwaukee. And Toronto has played solid defense all season, especially at home.
But they just don’t have the versatility and championship experience of Golden State and thus the call will be for the achievement of a three-peat. Normally I would call for the Warriors to win in five games but considering the first two games are in Toronto the call is for Golden State to win the Finals in six games, wrapping the series up at home.
I am on Golden State to win Thursday’s opener but will expect the series to be tied heading out West. There I will look for the Warriors to sweep both home games and return to Toronto up 3-1.
If the series does unfold this way I will expect Toronto to reward its fans with a win in Game 5.