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NBA Finals Game Preview

NBA Finals have started! Surprising or not, Raptors took the first blood. They have the home court advantage and exploited it in the best way possible. The crowd support in and out of the arena was tremendous. Kahwi Leonard was actively helped by Paskal Siakam and Kyle Lowry on the offensive end and Raptors played a very good defense to escape deserved winners over Warriors by 9 points in the end, 118-109. Golden State are definitely able to win one game on the road, so no need to panic just yet for Warriors nation. The main question for all the fans though is whether Durant will be fit enough to return in play at some point through the series.

The last media report from the team stated that Durant will probably return to the line-up midway through the Finals series. KD is sidelined with a strained calf. He got the injury near the end of the Rockets series. His teammates responded with a series of emphatic wins, which raised the question "Are the Warriors better without KD?" discussion. Evidently Raptors will prove to be a much tougher nut than Portland Trailblazers. Now the mood has totally turned around and all the fans and pundits are asking ‘’Are Warriors able to win this series without Durant?’’

All the buzz sounds a bit exaggerated of course. This team has achieved 5 straight trips to the Finals, with and without Durant. It’s safe to say that Warriors are the most confident basketball team in the world.  The way Game 1 unfolded gives us many clues for the next games though, apart from both teams’ mindsets. The Warriors were outplayed for the entire game - dominated on the offensive and especially on the defensive end, in transition, trailing from the first quarter onwards. And it still was a 3-point game early in the fourth quarter. Golden State’s biggest effort came against Kawhi Leonard, who looked a bit hobbled by his lingering leg injury. Unfortunately for them, Siakam recorded maybe his best play-off game in his career.  Whether Siakam and Mark Gasol will play at the same high level in Game 2 is yet to be seen.  And Warriors need just that, a little crack in their opponents’ shell to exploit and take away Raptors’ home-court advantage.

In the end, all the talk after the Finals will be focused around Durant and his impeding free agency. He may never return in Warriors’ jersey, if the injury stops him. The Warriors could win a title without him, but that ending would only raise once again these same questions around Durant’s importance for them. If he returns halfway through the series and the Warriors still lose, that would lead to a summer of uncertainties into whether Durant was 100% healthy and how his return affected team’s chemistry. If he returns halfway through the series and the Warriors win, this could be the series that confirms exactly how valuable a player he's been all along.

 

Eventual Raptors’ title would come with credit fully deserved for all the roster (well, especially Kahwi of course) and Masai Ujiri (who could be on the verge of leaving Canada for Washington?). Yet their glory would be fully acknowledged only if Durant take some part in the series.  What can both teams do about Durant’s condition though?   "You play with the guys who are healthy and you go," Steve Kerr said after Game 1.  "So we'll see what happens."

Another smaller circle of discussions run around DeMarcus Cousins return to the line-up. He recorded only a few minutes off the bench in Game 1, making only 3 points from the line. This put Cousins role in the roster until the end of the Finals in question. It looked like the Warriors played their best basketball without him even before this most recent injury, partly because they never fully figured out how to defend the pick-and-roll with Cousins as a central part. At the other hand, Kawhi Leonard won’t play any differently against a more present Cousins, and Mark Gasol and Paskal Siakam won’t be much intimidated in todays version of DeMarcus either. Probably Kerr will continue to relocate the center under 15 minutes per game. The center post is one position where Toronto certainly has the upper hand over Golden State right now though. This proves how right was Ujiri to trade Valanciunas for the grizzled veteran Gasol, win or lose the Finals series.

To Game 2 itself. It starts at 02.00 late this night UK Time. Toronto continue to be set as favourites by the oddsmakers, which is understandable given their Game 1 performance and the home floor. Money-line odds are around 1.70-1.75 to 2.15-2.20 in favour of the Raptors. For all the reasons outlined above, I feel there’s a value on Warriors’ ML. It’s just a touch of value arguably, as I had some hopes we’d be given a gift of 2.30 ML odds. Alas, it’s only 2.20. The OVER line is set at 214, which also feels a bit low. The teams went comfortably over this line in Game 1, with so good a defensive effort from Toronto. Steve Kerr will undoubtedly make some adjustments and Golden State will likely move the ball better this time, which should give them a score of easy looks. Maybe this is even the stronger bet of these two options, so why not go with 1 point on the OVER and half a point on Warriors’ ML? Enjoy the game before everything else, whatever you choose 😊

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