By Adam Clements
Adam is a new site contributor at The Unsportsmen - You can follow Adam on Instagram for dope NBA content.
Do the Warriors really need Kevin Durant?
One of the best three guys walking the planet right now that wears basketball shoes - Yeah him - Do they need him?
While the Durant headline dominated pre-game media , it is seemingly becoming less of a flippant question about the excessive luxury of the Warriors roster and more a question of desperation after the Raptors took care of business in Toronto in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
On first impressions, starting small straight out of the gate is the Warriors fortè, and it showcased just how deep they are defensively, especially against a team with perhaps only one consistent offensive threat, editors note - You mean Patrick McCaw? All NBA Defensive 2nd Team pick Draymond Green, former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and one of the best defensive guards in the league in Klay Thompson form an impressive trio.
It was really just a matter of who guards Kawhi and who runs Danny Green off the 3 point line. So it seemed.
The burning question for the Raptors was who will Kawhi guard, as the obvious answer, Kevin Durant, watched on from the bench in between jawing at default profile picure fans on Instagram. Kawhi started off checking Steph Curry but after a tight drive and layup opportunity Toronto’s fearless leader started limping again, clearly still banged up from the East Finals brutal matchup with the Bucks. It’s hard enough to guard Curry with two good pins, so Curry had a long leash to run with the rest of the way it seemed.
The Raptors looked the better of the two teams through the first quarter, sustaining on a diet of defensive stops. Toronto undoubtedly spurred on by the raucous crowd, experiencing their first ever NBA Finals after years of ineptitude, mainly on the court, some of it Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady fleeing the ‘T-Dot’. It’s an impressive feat as a lowly punter such as myself can only imagine how much the pressure of expectation and the euphoric wave of the Conference Finals could suffocate their intentions. Toronot learned quite quickly, as many others have, that the champion Warriors are never too far away, sucking the atmosphere out of the arena when they took the lead midway through the second quarter.
Now when you think about African NBA players out muscling and outsmarting superior defenders, Joel Embiid is the juggernaut most think of (editors note - C’mon Clemo, it’s Hawkeen ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon), when he’s healthy at least. But no, the Sixers aren’t in the NBA Finals and no, Joel didn’t get traded this year. Pascal Siakam aka ‘Spicy P’, the NBA’s yet to be announced (but anointed by yours truly) Most Improved Player, has taken up the challenge as only he can. The young, lanky Cameroonian put a feisty Draymond Green on show. One incredible stat from this game tells the whole story. From midway through the 2nd quarter, when the Warriors took that slim lead, until the 8 minute mark of the 4th quarter, Spicy P hit Eleven - Shots - in - a - Row. Siakim oftenhas these games of German car manufacturer like effeciency, a 11 of 14 night or a 10 of 11 are not uncommon. The famously efficient Warriors hit 13 as an entire squad in that same slice of game clock. And when the Warriors began to collapse and block Siakam’s avenues into the lane, he expertly kicked out to Danny Green, a former NBA Champion and 3 point maestro, who may just be recapturing the vibe and becoming a pivotal cog instead of ‘can’t play Danny’, Green has had a torrid playoffs to this point. He answered the call when Kawhi and the city needed it most. But will Spicy P downgrade to mild in Game 2? And if so, who will step up to the plate?
The flow of the game was such that Raptors would pull away, thanks in part to nice contributions by guys like Marc Gasol, the Spaniard grinding inside for 20 hard earned points, before the Warriors would just get to their spots and go on a small run. The pace of the game was unbelievable, with the Warriors pushing it after every made bucket by the Raps, but when the Raps were allowed to defend in the half-court, they locked down the Warriors. Curry finished with 34 points, interestingly on the 29 possessions when guarded by Fred VanVleet - Curry scored just 2 points. A stat that may just declare that these Warriors just haven’t played against a great defense in these playoffs yet. Or maybe they’re just missing the actual superstar they need. It’s scary to think Curry scores 34 points and we still claim that he was ‘locked down’. The man they’re waiting for would provide another outlet from the defensive pressure so tightly applied by the hungry Raptors.
Every time the Warriors got close, as close as 3 points during the 4th quarter, the Raptors found the shot, the rebound, the play that they needed to grasp back some momentum and stave off the champion Warriors. Toronto’s role players stepped up at home and it was always going to come down to bench play, and with VanVleet hitting what could possibly be an even more impossible 3 than Kawhi’s buzzer beater against Philly, the arena simply erupted as they knew it just had to be Toronto’s game. VanVleet’s shot circled the rim like a shark before finally dropping and perhaps snapping up the Warriors with it.
Cooper Cronk and George Smith retire in the same week
It simply won’t last though. Thanks to a dominant 4-0 sweep in the Western Finals, the Warriors hadn’t played a game in 10 days leading into this game in the cauldron of ScotiaBank Arena. They were simply a rusty, and not having played an opponent as good as this for quite some time they have some adjustments to make, which they have done so expertly in the past. You don’t make it to the Finals 5 times in a row doing the same thing over and over folks.
So what to expect in Game 2?
Siakam will cool down. The real question is which player will step up to the plate, because Kawhi simply can’t do it all on his own. Expect more shots getting out to Danny Green, VanVleet and co and hoping one of them gets hot early from outside the arc to keep up with the star studded Warriors. But living by the sword can mean dying by the sword - Just ask the 2018 Rockets.
For the Warriors, if Marc Gasol or Siakam continue to get deep in the paint and score, we’ll see a big man like Aussie Andrew Bogut rotating with Boogie Cousins, who had a quiet return from injury in Game one. If the Warriors can lock up the painted area and force the Raptors to keep looking outside for points, they’ll be putting the game at the mercy of streaky shooters that are just as likely to go cold again as they are to continue their recent hot streaks.
Early reports suggest Kevin Durant won’t return before Game 3 so if the Raptors can tie up Steph and Klay, they’ll go a long way towards putting pressure on Shaun Livingston and Draymond Green to take up the load offensively, a task that those players have less chance of completing than Ben Simmons bombing 26 footers.
In keeping with my original prediction of 4-2 - I’m all about clarity and continuity here people - the Warriors will peg the high flying Raptors back a notch and take the series back to Oakland at 1-1.