Finals Game 1 – Warriors at Raptors

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NBA Finals – Game 1
Golden State at Toronto (-1/213.5), ABC, 9:07 p.m. ET

2018-19 Head-to-Head Meetings
Dec. 12 – Raptors (+8) 113 at Warriors 93 (Under 226.5)
Nov. 29 – Raptors (-9.5) 131 vs. Warriors 128, OT (Over 223)

The Warriors are used to taking down the East’s best player in June, having done so three of the past four years against LeBron James.

They’ll now look to handle Kawhi Leonard, who has revenge on his mind and a solid defensive team behind him.

These NBA Finals are expected to wrap up with Golden State celebrating a threepeat and its fourth title in five years, but how we get there remains to be seen. There are variables everywhere, starting with when and if Kevin Durant will return from a calf injury to make a run at a third straight Finals MVP.

As of Wednesday afternoon, betting the Raptors to dethrone the Warriors would yield a return of +250 at the Westgate Superbook and William Hill shops, while Golden State is -300 practically everywhere, with the Golden Nugget still offering -280. The odds would certainly improve if the Raptors are able to hold serve on Thursday night, but if you see this series as a mismatch, those odds may be the best you’ll get the rest of the way if the Warriors are able to win another big playoff game without Durant.

With him officially ruled out of the series opener, the Warriors went from 1-point favorites to 1-points underdogs for a Game 1 that’s essentially a pick’em. On the road without Durant, Golden State appears vulnerable.

The Warriors will have fresher legs since they swept Portland and haven’t taken the court for a taxing game since May 20, but there’s certainly a chance that they’re rusty and struggle to adjust in a building they don’t often visit. The atmosphere is certain to be raucous, but Golden State is certainly accustomed to quieting excited crowds. They’re just not very experienced at having to do so in a series opener, which NBA expert Kevin Rogers points out.

“For only the second time since Steve Kerr took over as head coach of the Warriors in 2014, Golden State will begin a playoff series on the road. The Warriors traveled to Houston to open the Western Conference Finals in 2018 and not only won the opener by 13 points, but closed out the series with a road win in Game 7,” Rogers said. “Golden State owns a perfect 4-0 record in NBA Finals openers the last four seasons, although two of those victories came in overtime. The Raptors have struggled in franchise history in home Game 1’s by compiling a dreadful 2-7 SU/ATS record since 2014, but one of those victories came in the second round this season against Philadelphia.”

The Warriors last played in Toronto back on November 29, losing 131-128 in overtime without Stephen Curry, who missed that game with a groin injury. Durant scored 51 points in the loss, which was one of those early-season games that set the stage for things to come. Curry was back for the blowout loss suffered 13 days later in Oakland but scored just 10 points, so he’s going to need to catch an early rhythm against pesky defenders in Kyle Lowry, Danny Green and Leonard.

Although Toronto swept the season series despite not having the services of Marc Gasol, it had lost 16 of the previous 18 meetings against the Warriors over the previous decade. Golden State hadn’t lost at ScotiaBank Arena (formerly the Air Canada Centre) since 2014 before this season’s meeting, and they’ll be looking to run their road playoff winning streak to four games here.

Without Durant available and DeMarcus Cousins unlikely to play a major role if he does return since he’s had such limited practice time, Draymond Green must stay out of foul trouble in Game 1 since he’ll be counted on to help defend Leonard while also rebounding and leading the break, serving as the point forward to help get Curry and Klay Thompson quality looks from the perimeter. One of the most crucial factors set to unfold in this opener is seeing how he controls his temper considering there are plenty of agitators available in Serge Ibaka, Gasol and Pascal Siakam who will be baiting him in a hostile atmosphere.

The Warriors are going to need the likes of Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell to continue helping Green out in the post, but he’s going to need to be the most productive guy out there. Green has been masterful against Houston and Portland with Durant sidelined, playing the role of conduit to make Golden State tick over thee past few years and must do so again, which makes him my pick for Finals MVP. He’s getting 10-to-1 odds. Curry is listed as the favorite considering how dominant he was in closing out the Rockets and Trail Blazers, but there’s just not much value in backing the favorite on this type of bet. I’d ride the other Splash Brother over Curry with Klay Thompson yielding a 20-to-1 payout.

If you’re all in on the Raptors, you’re banking on Leonard’s quad and knee holding up, not to mention Siakam’s health continuing to improve. Leonard has been brilliant despite playing through a quad injury that has limited his explosiveness, but avoiding a Game 7 and a return trip to Milwaukee has helped matters and he’s saying all the right things about feeling healthy entering this series. Siakam, Gasol, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Ibaka all stepped up significantly to help put away the Bucks and will be counted on to continue playing well at home in order to get off to a strong start and make this a competitive NBA Finals.

On paper, there’s no reason they shouldn’t hold up against a Durant-less Warriors team if everyone plays to their potential. The pick’em is fair and not a trap line. If Leonard is healthy, he’ll have Green exhausted by game’s end. There’s no question the Toronto frontcourt is deeper and more talented. Can the guards make enough shots and get enough stops against one of the most prolific backcourts the NBA has ever seen? How will the feeling-out process come into play?

The total for Game 1 opened at 215 and the number has dropped to 213 as of Wednesday. NBA expert Chris David offered up his thoughts on the series opener.

“Total bettors could be scratching their heads in Game 1 since we’ve seen conflicting trends for both clubs in the postseason,” said David. “Golden State has watched the ‘over’ go 10-6 in the playoffs and that includes a 6-2 mark on the road. Meanwhile, the ‘under’ has gone 12-6 (67%) in 18 postseason games and ten of those contests were played at Scotiabank Arena where the low side went 6-4.

“In the two regular season encounters between the pair, the totals ranged from 223 to 226 ½ and both games had key starters missing and that trend will continue on Thursday with KD out for Golden State. Durant’s absence is worth a few points to the total but it’s apparent that the oddsmakers are respecting the Raptors defense after watching the unit stifle Milwaukee in the East Finals. We’re going to find out very quickly if the inept production from the Bucks was based on the Raptors defense or just poor shooting.”

Pace will play a huge role since Curry and Thompson will let the 3-ball fly whenever they have clean looks to avoid bogging down against the Raptors’ halfcourt defense, but they’re not likely to get away with coming down and consistently launch 30-footers. It will also be interesting to see who comes off utilizing a traditional center first since Andrew Bogut and Damian Jones are available for Steve Kerr to throw out there against Gasol, but both teams will likely employ small-ball looks throughout most of the series. Ibaka was incredibly productive off the bench and was an x-factor in beating the Bucks, while Green, Looney and Bell are all capable of holding down the five-spot to get more shooting on the floor.

“Golden State was ranked first in scoring offense (117.5) on the road this season and that average jumped to 118.8 PPG in eight playoff tilts away from home. In 15 road games versus the East this season, the Warriors averaged 114.8 PPG but they did lay some eggs against playoff teams in losses to the Magic (103-96) and Pistons (111-102),” said David. “Scoring on the Raptors won’t be easy and they’ve been great defensively at home (95.8 PPG) in the postseason albeit against less explosive teams. I believe Toronto will strike first in this series and it’s going to do so with defense, which makes me lean to the ‘under’ in Game 1.”

The Raptors have won five consecutive home games and are 8-2 in Toronto this postseason after going 32-9 during the regular season, the third-best mark in the league. Golden State tied the Bucks for the regular-season’s top road mark and are 6-2 in opposing gyms in these playoffs, beating all of their foes at least once. That’s all it’s going to take to significantly alter this series since it would steal away homecourt advantage with Durant likely to join the party.

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