On Friday, the Toronto Raptors will host the Golden State Warriors for Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
After discussing why more people aren't picking the Raptors to win the series, our NBA.com Staff played Fact or Fiction for the biggest storylines entering the Finals.
Kawhi Leonard is the best player in the Finals
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Fact. Kawhi almost single-handedly swayed the ECF with his defensive undertaking and he's proven to be a tough cover on the other end. He's looking like the best two-way player on the planet.
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): Fact. He's hit the biggest shots, he's played the best defense and he's dropping 30 a game.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Fact, but I think it's closer than some are making it out to be. Stephen Curry isn't far behind and my answer might be different if Kevin Durant were healthy.
Fred VanVleet is the most important reserve in the series
McGregor: Fact. Golden State's lineups fluctuate too much for me to pinpoint who theirs would be and Toronto wouldn't be in the Finals had VanVleet not gone on a tear.
Adams: Fact. Not only has VanVleet's shooting been a huge difference maker, he's also likely to see significant time chasing around Curry. He looms large in this series.
Rafferty: Fact. The Raptors will likely need VanVleet to knock down shots like he did in the ECF and bother Curry like he did in the regular season to win this series.
The Raptors should be favoured to win Game 1
McGregor: Fiction. I just can't ignore the franchise's lack of success in Game 1s and Steve Kerr's lack of failure in Game 1s as a head coach.
Adams: Fact. That the Raptors are actually the betting favourite despite all the public money on the Warriors speaks volumes, as does the fact that sites like FiveThirtyEight.com are actually predicting the Raptors to win the series.
Rafferty: Fact. The Raptors had the third-best home record in the league this season and the Warriors could be without Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. Plus, I wouldn't be surprised if the Warriors are a little rusty following a 10-day break.
Andre Iguodala is the best defender to guard Kawhi Leonard in these playoffs
McGregor: Fiction. It probably would be a fact if he hadn't injured his calf but I can't take a hobbled 35-year-old Iguodala over Khris Middleton or Jimmy Butler.
Adams: Fiction. Even though Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn't necessarily the primary defender on Leonard much, I think he bothered Leonard in a way that Iguodala just isn't physically capable of doing.
Rafferty: Fact. It hinges on his health, but Iguodala has proven that he has the speed, length, athleticism and strength to bother superstar wings like Leonard when he's locked in, more so than Aaron Gordon, Ben Simmons, Butler and Middleton.
The Warriors will run Marc Gasol off the court
McGregor: Fact. I like to think Marc Gasol makes up for some of the shortcomings surrounding his athleticism with his IQ and craftiness, but the Warriors are just too much in that regard.
Adams: Fiction. Especially with Durant out, the Warriors just aren't deep enough to play extended minutes without either Kevon Looney or potentially even Cousins. Even if they want to play small to force Gasol off the floor, I don't think they have the bodies to do it.
Rafferty: Fiction. I doubt he'll be on the floor if the Warriors go to their "Death Lineup" if/when Durant returns, but it'll be hard for Golden State to play Gasol off the court as long as Looney, Cousins, Jordan Bell and/or Andrew Bogut are getting minutes.
Kevin Durant will play in the Finals
McGregor: Fact. It will be a long series and I think KD will be back by Game 4 to give his team the boost it needs - either to swing the series or push them over the top.
Adams: Fiction. It's complete speculation, but I get the sense that Durant's injury is a little more serious than maybe initially feared. If the Warriors go up early in the series, there's also not much upside for Durant to return even if he gets to a spot where he's healthy enough to suit up.
Rafferty: Fiction. Similar to Micah - complete speculation, but the fact that he hasn't been cleared for practice yet is a little worrying to me considering his injury occurred three weeks ago.
Homecourt advantage will make a difference
McGregor: Fiction. Don't get me wrong, Scotiabank Arena and Oracle Arena are both insane places to play. But at this point, these teams are both good enough to get any win in any situation on the road. It's the Finals.
Adams: Fiction. While it might matter slightly more for the Raptors, I think both teams are more than capable of winning on the road regardless of whether it's Game 1 or Game 7.
Rafferty: Fact. With the Warriors not being at full strength, the Raptors have a real opportunity to go up 2-0 before the series shifts to Golden State. If they can take advantage, that would give the Raptors a ton of momentum heading into Games 3 and 4.
Stephen Curry or Kawhi Leonard will be named Finals MVP
McGregor: Fiction. I see a scenario in which Draymond Green can win MVP by averaging a triple-double while playing all-world defence. It sounds like a tall task, but the fact that it's realistic gives him a shot.
Adams: Fact. Like the Cavs with LeBron, if the Raptors win this series it's going to be Kawhi. And I just can't see a world in which Curry goes 0-4 with winning Finals MVP in a win, especially with Durant out.
Rafferty: Fact. While there's an argument to be made that Pascal Siakam, Green or Iguodala could be named Finals MVP, I have a hard time believing it won't ultimately come down to Curry or Leonard.
The Warriors are better without Kevin Durant
McGregor: Fiction. No way. He's Kevin Durant. We know who he is. Y'all know who he is. There's no way I can say a team is better without arguably the best player in the world.
Adams: Fact. They shouldn't be better without Durant, but for some reason his absence elevates both Splash Brothers and Green to a whole other level.
Rafferty: Fiction. The Warriors have proven that they can get to the Finals without him but they need Durant against teams like the Raptors, who have the depth to bother Curry and Thompson in ways the Blazers couldn't.
Steve Kerr's experience over Nick Nurse will give Golden State an advantage
McGregor: Fact. Kerr's already done this four times and he once was where Nurse was. Lucky for Kerr, he faced a rookie coach himself. The advantage might be marginal, but championships can be won in those margins
Adams: Fiction. Nurse just out-coached Mike Budenzholzer, who is as good as it gets and might be an even better in-game tactician than Kerr. Coaching won't determine this series.
Rafferty: Fiction. Nurse has made several series-altering adjustments in these playoffs and the Raptors have a number of veterans who have been in the Finals before. The combination should level the coaching playing field.
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