TORONTO — As the start of the NBA Finals approaches, it wouldn’t be wrong if the Warriors felt a little strange as they crossed the border into Canada. After all, not only had the Raptors never been in the Finals before, but the Warriors had yet to start a series on the road in their five-year run of Finals appearances.
So ahead of Thursday’s Game 1 the series has a foreign feel — and not just because it’s taking place north of the border. How will the Warriors fare as the team without homecourt advantage? And just who will be there for them when they take the court?
The one sure thing is that Kevin Durant, who was the Finals MVP in each of the last two seasons, is not going to be in uniform Thursday. Golden State coach Steve Kerr told reporters Monday, “KD's not playing Game 1. I think we already announced that. We'll see where it goes from here. This is where the fact that there's a lot of days in between games during The Finals helps us, so we'll see.”
Durant is traveling with the Warriors to Toronto for the first two games of the NBA Finals, leaving open the chance he could be ready to return from a strained right calf in time for Game 2.
The Warriors have fared well without him — perhaps a hint of what’s to come as free agency looms for Durant — winning all five games without him in this postseason. Center DeMarcus Cousins is expected to be cleared to play, but Kerr also hinted that just tossing him into the mix isn’t as easy as it seems this time of year.
Here’s a look at the other storylines to watch:
For at least four more games and another two months Kawhi Leonard will still be a member of the Raptors, his long-anticipated free agency on hold until June 30 at 6 p.m. His status is as vague as Durant’s in Golden State.
While the team was celebrating the win over the Bucks at Scotiabank Arena, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said, ”He's the best player in the league. And we're happy he's in Toronto.” And as the fans cheered, Leonard, who isn’t exactly known for his exuberance so reading into it may be futile, didn’t crack a smile.
In the meantime, though, he is giving the Raptors what they need. He was visibly limping at times from the quadriceps issues that limited him to nine games last year and 60 this season, but he has played more minutes than any other player in the postseason, averaging 38.7 and 31.2 points over the Raptors' 18 games. As long as he continues that the Raptors have a chance.
Just who will take on the assignment of slowing Leonard is an interesting question for the Warriors. Draymond Green figures to be the first choice, but Andre Iguodala, as long as he is healthy, will certainly get a chance.
It’s the simplest one — wins and losses. The Raptors are the only team that the Warriors did not beat this season, losing both games early in the regular season. In the first game, an overtime loss at Toronto, the Warriors were without Stephen Curry and Green. In the loss at Golden State the Raptors didn’t have Leonard and Iguodala was sidelined for the Warriors.
LI connection: Green struggling on offense
While the Raptors are making their first trip to the Finals, Toronto’s Danny Green is making his third visit, having played in two Finals with the Spurs. Green has struggled with his shooting in the playoffs. According to NBA.com's John Schuhmann, Green has an effective field-goal percentage of 44.3 percent, down from 62.2 percent in the regular season. That's the biggest drop among 81 players with at least 300 field-goal attempts in the regular season and 50 in the playoffs.