When the Golden State Warriors face the Toronto Raptors north of the border on Thursday night, it could be a possible preview of the NBA Finals in June.
It is just a regular season game, right? Well, yes and no. It is a regular season game, but this game could foreshadow the two teams meeting in June in the NBA Finals.
After a comeback win against the Orlando Magic on Monday, this is what Thompson had to say on the Raptors, via Mark Medina of The Mercury News (h/t the aforementioned Kaskey-Blomain).
Klay Thompson on Toronto: “Who knows. It might be a preview in June.” pic.twitter.com/shetZ6M43K
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) November 27, 2018
Over the course of four years, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers ruled the Eastern Conference like it was their own kingdom, but with James bolting for Los Angeles, the Eastern Conference crown is up for grabs.
Coming into the season, it was originally thought that the Boston Celtics would capture the Eastern Conference and be a challenger to dethroning the Warriors. After all, the Celtics possess several players who are of the versatile/switch-heavy variety, including Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. However, the Celtics currently sit at 11-10 as the sixth seed in the East.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks are also strong contenders to dethrone the champs, but the team that has leapfrogged everybody in the East is Toronto at 18-4. The addition of two-way superstar Kawhi Leonard certainly improves their chances of meeting the Golden State Warriors in June. But the improvements of young players such as OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, along with a resurgence from Serge Ibaka has boosted the Toronto Raptors’ depth and versatility on the defensive end.
With the possibility of Stephen Curry returning (per the aforementioned Medina), the Warriors are close to being back to full strength. Draymond Green, the heart and soul of the Warriors, will not be returning to action against the Raptors. The Toronto Raptors meanwhile, will be only without Norman Powell, who is a key piece to the Raptors’ rotation, but is no way a player with a Green-like impact. If Curry is unable to go on Thursday, it should provide a good measuring stick for the Warriors to see just how much improvement and change they’d had recently against Nick Nurse’s team without the Dubs’ two best playmakers.
It will be fascinating to see how Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson make adjustments against the long and athletic defenders of Leonard, Anunoby, Siakam, Danny Green and Delon Wright. The Raptors currently sit at seventh in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com. The past two games Durant has scored 44 points and 49 points, while Thompson has scored 31 points and 29 points. Their shot selection and shot discipline will be challenged against one of the NBA’s best defenses with one of the best defenders in the league in Leonard leading the charge.
The stifling defense and improved offense by the Raptors should have the Warriors on edge on Thursday night, especially if this is a sneak-peek of an NBA Finals matchup. The atmosphere in the arena should have a playoff-type feel since the Raptors are off to a blistering start and they are welcoming the defending champions to the Scotiabank Arena.
There are a few things the Golden State Warriors need to make sure they do on Thursday night. The Toronto Raptors will likely mount a charge and make a big run, whether Golden State is leading or trailing. They need to make winning plays, such as deflecting balls, diving on the floor for loose balls and making the extra pass. This should boost the confidence of the team.
In addition to making winning plays, the Warriors’ bench has to contribute in order for the Dubs to give themselves an opportunity to win in Toronto. The only double-digit scorers for the Warriors against the Magic on Monday night were Durant with 49 points and Thompson with 29 points. That needs to change, to put less of an offensive burden on the two stars.
Both teams are playing at a high level. The Raptors have the loud, electric home-court advantage and they are playing well, but the Warriors, riding the backs of Durant and Thompson, have been playing well also. It should be a fun and entertaining game as two of the best teams in the league battle it out in a potential NBA Finals preview.