The Warriors are vulnerable — if not for the first time, then certainly for the realest.
All that's left for this current dynasty to accomplish is a three-peat. And yet, Kevin Durant's right calf injury and the Raptors' formidable defense will make that a tough task.
Even when the Warriors coughed up a 3-1 lead and fell to LeBron James' Cavaliers in seven games in the 2016 NBA Finals, few expected that team — which had posted an NBA-record 73-9 mark in the regular season — to lose. This time, some people — even some outside Toronto — believe it's possible.
Durant is out for Game 1 at least and likely more. Even if he were healthy, the Raptors possess the defense and a transcendent talent in Kawhi Leonard to make this series competitive. The Raptors and Bucks were the only teams to have top-five offenses and defenses this season.
The Warriors join the 1957-66 Celtics as the only teams to make five straight Finals appearances, having won three of four, but for the first time in that run they don't own home-court advantage.
Health hangs over this series for reasons beyond Durant. DeMarcus Cousins, out since suffering a torn left quadriceps in the Warriors' first-round victory over the Clippers, is due back early in the series. For the Raptors, swingman OG Anunoby could return for his first action since his April 12 appendectomy. Andre Iguodala (calf) and Kyle Lowry (thumb) are nursing injuries.
Here's a look at the matchups.
Stephen Curry has reminded everyone he's the heart and soul of the franchise, averaging 35.8 points in five straight victories since Durant went down. The Raptors have to try to be physical with him, which is why Lowry may not fully draw this assignment. Though an excellent defender, Lowry cedes at least 3 inches to Curry. Lowry has rallied after a slow shooting start to his playoffs. In his first Finals, he provides so many intangibles for the Raptors. Edge: Warriors.
Danny Green's minutes have dropped as his shooting woes have increased. But the Raptors might need his defensive size on the perimeter because playing Fred VanVleet alongside Lowry could be problematic. Green rediscovering his shooting stroke would be huge, particularly because Klay Thompson always seems to post at least one monster game. Edge: Warriors.
Nobody has been better in this year's playoffs than Leonard, who won the 2014 Finals MVP while with the Spurs. He's averaging 31.2 points and 8.8 rebounds on a crazy 33% usage rate _ the percentage of plays used by a player during his minutes. That said, the Warriors are one of the few teams who possess the defensive versatility to throw a variety of players against him. Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, is starting while Durant is out. Edge: Raptors.
Draymond Green brings his Swiss Army knife talents to every matchup. Look for him to try to make Pascal Siakam burn the Warriors from the perimeter and provide help everywhere. He also can guard Leonard in critical stretches and, if Durant returns, will force the Raptors to adjust to his minutes at center in the Warriors' "death lineup." Siakam has bettered his scoring average by providing 18.7 points while still contributing his long-limbed defense and rebounding. Edge: Warriors.
Marc Gasol's first trip to the Finals should force the Warriors to start Andrew Bogut or Cousins if the latter is healthy. But this position is a revolving door of matchup convenience for the Warriors, who can play Green, Kevon Looney and Alfonzo McKinnie there. Gasol has to avoid foul trouble for the Raptors to make this series physical. Edge: Raptors.
The Warriors are deeper and more experienced. If Durant returns, Iguodala will join Shaun Livingston in reserve roles filled by savvy veterans. VanVleet needs to make 3-pointers to make an impact. And Serge Ibaka should play a huge role in this series for the Raptors.
Not much can be made of the Raptors reaching the Finals for the first time in the franchise's 24-season history because so many of their crucial players — Leonard, Green, Ibaka — have been there with other teams.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse has demonstrated he's not afraid to take risks. And if Durant returns, Nurse might need to for matchup reasons. From his Bulls days, Steve Kerr knows what it's like to chase a three-peat.
Prediction: Warriors in 6.