Can Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors Beat the Warriors in the NBA Finals?

The Toronto Raptors are heading to the NBA Finals for the first time in NBA history. In Kawhi Leonard’s first year in Toronto, he was able to do what Demar DeRozan could never do while he was in Toronto. I know Kawhi Leonard never had to go through LeBron James like DeRozan has always had to, but Kawhi went up against and took down Philly in seven games and Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks in six games. This playoff run has been something special, but now the real challenge lies ahead.

It’s all fun being able to celebrate your franchise’s first NBA Finals berth, but then you wake up the next day and realize you have to go up against the back-to-back NBA champs. We all know how dominant the Warriors have been over the past five years. Five years, five finals appearances, three (potentially four) championships.

The Warriors are a modern-day dynasty across any sport. The belief has always been that the only team that can beat the Warriors are the Warriors themselves. Besides the Rockets taking them to seven games last postseason, the Warriors haven’t really run into much trouble the past few years. The Warriors have been heavy favorites to win the championship every year, especially since signing KD.

But what about this year? Kevin Durant has already been ruled out for game one, and DeMarcus Cousins is questionable to play. Even without the two, the Warriors are still heavy favorites to win a third straight title.

Team Las Vegas odds SportsLine projection
Golden State Warriors -310 66.2%
Toronto Raptors +250 33.8%

If the Golden State Warriors get Kevin Durant back this series, I don’t think the Raptors have a shot. A Golden State Warriors team where every player is healthy is unbeatable. Kevin Durant is hands-down the best offensive player in the league, criminally underrated as a defender, and, in my opinion, is the best player on the planet.

Kawhi Leonard is right behind him, though. Hands-down the best defender in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard has proven this postseason that he’s much more than a defender, but someone that can score 30+ points on any given night. I’ve always respected Kawhi and his game, and the fact that he came back from a year-long injury and led the Raptors to the Finals in his first season is nothing short of incredible.

If Kevin Durant is not healthy this series, I think the Raptors have a shot. I would’ve liked to see Giannis and the Bucks face the Warriors because I don’t think they would’ve had an answer for Giannis. But without KD, do the Warriors have an answer for Kawhi? Steph Curry obviously comes to mind, but I mean who will stop him on defense?

Draymond Green has been playing the best basketball we’ve seen from him in years. As great as his playoff run has been, I don’t see him being able to lock up Kawhi Leonard in a seven-game series. Now do I believe KD can lock down Kawhi in a seven-game series? No, but not having the back-to-back Finals MVP who was averaging 34 PPG before getting injured will hurt the Warriors.

When Kawhi gets going and finds his groove, it’s hard to stop him, and he makes his teammates around him better. If we see Fred VanVleet continue his three-point onslaught, the Warriors are going to have their hands full. What if should-have-been 2013 Finals MVP Danny Green gets hot? This will be his third NBA Finals appearance, and his time and experience with San Antonio will definitely help prepare him for this matchup.

This series is the Warriors to lose if we’re being blunt about it. In all honesty, with or without KD, this team shouldn’t lose a playoff series. They’ve won a championship and experienced success before KD came to Golden State. As much as I would love to see a team finally take down the Warriors, I don’t think this will be the year. If KD doesn’t return, the Raptors will make the series interesting, especially since they have home court advantage. If Kevin Durant does return at some point during the series, it’s really going to be over.

Much respect to the Raptors and their amazing fans, but I don’t think any team can beat the Golden State Warriors. Steph Curry is playing out of his mind, and the Warriors are the Warriors. I genuinely believe that the only team that can beat the Warriors is the Warriors.


Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/TNS

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