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NBA Finals

NBA Finals 2019: Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors series preview, schedule, predictions

Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Curry
Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Curry (Getty Images)

The NBA Finals is set with the Toronto Raptors making their first appearance against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, who are making their fifth straight Finals appearance.

When are the games? What happened in the regular season? What are the biggest storylines? Who are the X-factors?

Most importantly... who wins?

Here's your first look at the 2019 NBA Finals.

Series schedule

  • Game 1 - Friday, May 31 at Toronto - 6:30 AM IST
  • Game 2 - Monday, June 3 at Toronto - 5:30 AM IST
  • Game 3 - Thursday, June 6 at Golden State - 6:30 AM IST
  • Game 4 - Saturday, June 8 at Golden State - 6:30 AM IST
  • Game 5 - Tuesday, June 11 at Toronto - 6:30 AM IST (if necessary)
  • Game 6 - Friday, June 14 at Golden State - 6:30 AM IST (if necessary)
  • Game 7 - Monday, June 17 at Toronto - 5:30 AM IST (if necessary)

Recapping the season series

Result: Raptors won 2-0

1st meeting (November 30): Raptors 131, Warriors 128 (OT) in Toronto

In a game that Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins did not play in, the Raptors prevailed behind 37 points from Kawhi Leonard. Pascal Siakam added 26 including seven of Toronto's 12 points in the overtime period. Kevin Durant was sensational, scoring 51 points including a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute to erase a six-point deficit.

2nd meeting (December 13): Raptors 113, Warriors 93 in Golden State

The Raptors picked up perhaps their biggest win of the season and did it without Kawhi Leonard, winning by 20 at Oracle Arena behind 23 points and 12 assists from Kyle Lowry. The Warriors had almost their full complement of players as Durant, Curry, Green and Klay Thompson all played. Andre Iguodala did not play while DeMarcus Cousins had yet to make his debut for the Warriors. The Raptors were in control early in this one as they led 57-41 entering the half and never looked back.

Key questions and storylines

The health of Kevin Durant

Will Kevin Durant return? If so, when will he return? His absence has cast a shadow over Golden State's entire playoff run. Prior to his injury in the third quarter of Game 5 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Durant was the leading scorer in the playoffs and according to both his coach and teammates, playing the best basketball of his career. Since his injury, the Warriors have not lost, first pulling out that Game 5 with a gutsy fourth quarter and then rattling off five straight wins to finish off Houston and sweep the Portland Trail Blazers. Throw in his impending free agency this summer and an already fascinating dynamic has become incredibly more complicated over the last few weeks.

MORE: Durant initially feared injury was much worse

Can Kawhi Leonard keep this up?

He's doing absolutely everything. Between guarding the other team's best player, carrying Toronto's offense and hitting clutch shots time and again, Leonard is carrying a two-way load that no one else is coming remotely close to. He's also doing it while playing through an apparent leg injury sustained early in Game 3 of the double overtime win over the Bucks in which he played a career-high 52 minutes. How much more in the tank does he have?

Can Pascal Siakam match Draymond Green?

Simply put, Draymond Green has been awesome over the last two months. He's flying around at a million miles per hour on defence while attacking downhill in transition with relentless intensity. More than anyone else, Green is the heart and soul of the Warriors. Siakam may not be the heart and soul of the Raptors, a title that belongs to Kyle Lowry, but he can impact the game in similar ways to Green. At his best, Siakam is a highly frenetic defender that can challenge shots and push 94 feet off of defensive rebounds. It might be asking too much of Siakam to match this version of Green. It also might be critical towards the Raptors making it a series.

MORE: Green is the ultimate X-Factor

Who guards Stephen Curry?

Curry presents an interesting challenge for the Raptors. Given the manner in which he's always moving, both in the half court and on the secondary break, he might be the only volume scorer in the entire league that's not a good matchup for Kawhi Leonard. If it's Kyle Lowry, that's asking quite a lot from the 33-year old who is coming off of a series in which he essentially got to ignore Eric Bledsoe. There aren't many more disparate matchups than going from Bledsoe to Curry. In the one game Curry played in against the Raptors earlier this season, it was Fred VanVleet who drew the vast majority of the possessions. Curry hunts mismatches on pick and rolls far more than anyone on Milwaukee which presents another interesting wrinkle that promises to demand a different kind of effort from Toronto's bigs.

The historical implications for Golden State

In reaching a fifth straight Finals, the Warriors have achieved something done only once in NBA history, over 50 years ago by Bill Russell's Celtics in a league that had fewer than a third of the teams as it does now.

MORE: More impressive Finals streak? Curry's Warriors or Russell's Celtics?

A fourth title in five years pushes the Warriors further into the conversation for greatest team ever. Stephen Curry could finally win his first Finals MVP award that so far has proven elusive. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson can further enhance their Hall of Fame credentials. Does Andre Iguodala start to generate a Springfield buzz of his own? What would a fourth title mean for Steve Kerr who also won five as a player?

Biggest X-Factors

Marc Gasol's passing and instincts

Gasol was still a member of the Memphis Grizzlies when the Raptors and Warriors played way back in November and December. He did play two games against the champs this season while with Memphis, racking up 7.5 assists per game. As good as the Warriors are, they do have a reputation for losing focus on both ends. Gasol is an amazing passer and sees the game well enough to pick apart a lackadaisical effort or miscommunication. His smarts and hoops IQ on both ends could work wonders against a team that has a penchant for beating itself.

Andre Iguodala's D on Kawhi Leonard

Just as Leonard did in 2014, Iguodala won a Finals MVP for shutting down LeBron James and swinging a series. He worked relentlessly throughout the Rockets and Blazers series and missed Golden State's Finals-clinching win against the Blazers. Iguodala is expected to return for Game 1 and has the size, speed and smarts to give Leonard fits.

The shooting of Danny Green and Norman Powell

The Warriors have a ton of firepower. While the same could be said of the Milwaukee Bucks entering the last series, the Warriors are a different animal with a track record that speaks for itself. If the Raptors are going to hang with Golden State, they'll likely need consistent contributions from both Danny Green and Norman Powell. Though Green has struggled throughout this postseason, there's evidence that he can heat up on this stage as he hit a then-record 27 3-pointers in the 2013 NBA Finals for the Spurs. Powell provides a level of explosiveness off the bench unmatched by anyone else on the roster and as we saw in the Game 4 win at Milwaukee when he took 18 shots, he's not afraid to let it fly. To beat the Warriors requires a certain degree of confidence and a willingness to take big shots. Powell could be that guy for the Raptors.

The return of DeMarcus Cousins

Kevin Durant isn't the only hobbled star that could return in this series. Cousins hasn't played since tearing his quad in Game 2 of the 1st Round against the Clippers, but is practicing and could return in this series. Even if only for a few minutes, Cousins provides a much different challenge on the block for Toronto's bigs than either Draymond Green or Kevon Looney. There's no telling what type of immediate impact he'd have upon returning, but the very fact that it's on the table presents yet one additional wrinkle to a series already ripe with subplots and storylines.

MORE: Injury update on Cousins, Durant

Predictions: winner and Finals MVP

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): Warriors in 6, Stephen Curry

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Warriors in 6, Draymond Green

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Warriors in 6, Stephen Curry

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Raptors in 7, Kawhi Leonard

Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): Warriors in 6, Stephen Curry

Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): Warriors in 6, Stephen Curry

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