On paper, it doesn't make sense that Golden State would be better sans Durant, the most talented scorer of all time. And over the course over an entire season, they're not.
But Durant-to-New York rumors are unavoidable. They have been all season, ever since Draymond Green blew up at Durant after a November game, reportedly accusing Durant of making the season all about himself and his free agency.
Golden State all too aware of the meta conversations around Durant. Since he went down, the Warriors have been playing with a razor-sharp edge — expect them to come out with something to prove, and remind us who started their dynasty in the first place.
Warriors in four; Steph Curry wins Finals MVP
Brian Keyes, summer editor in chief
The writing is on the wall for Golden State.
When was the last time a superstar guard and high-scoring 7-footer seemed destined for a split despite going on a historic run due to contrasting personalities and play-styles?
That's right, it's the 2004 Lakers all over again! And this year, the Raptors are the Pistons. They've got all the parts. A mid-season trade for a 2-way post player to push them over the edge? Check. An underdog point guard who kicked around the league early on before finding his place, defends like a pit bull and can hit timely shots? Check. Former multi-time Defensive Player of the Year? Check.
Sometimes, the basketball gods just want a good narrative. The Raptors are in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Drake might get into a fist-fight with the members of Smash Mouth. Kawhi Leonard might score 60 without moving a muscle in his face, and Kyle Lowry might shoot 3-17 and somehow be +20 in a game.
The Raptors have the players on defense to make life harder for the Warriors than it's ever been, especially if Kevin Durant misses more than two games. It might all depend on Danny Green learning how to shoot again and Fred VanVleet forgetting that he ever missed a shot. The Raptors bet big this year; I think it'll pay off.
Raptors in seven; Kawhi Leonard wins Finals MVP
Kawhi Leonard is tearing it up in this year's playoffs for Toronto, averaging 31.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. But while single individual performances can change a game – Leonard has arguably carried the Raptors to the Finals – team chemistry is equally important.
Even without Durant, the Warriors have plenty of talent. Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each have the ability to take over games, and have done so frequently in recent years. But it's their chemistry that makes them even tougher to beat, and when they get on a roll, they’re almost unstoppable.
An injured Durant flew with the team to Toronto, and center DeMarcus Cousins has not officially been ruled out of Game 1. Add those two back, and the Raptors have an even bigger challenge to overcome.
Warriors in five; Steph Curry wins Finals MVP
Toronto had a great Eastern Conference title run and made franchise history along the way. Kawhi Leonard proved he’s the best two-way player in the NBA, and since the birth of his son, Fred VanVleet has shot 68 percent from the field and 82.4 percent from three.
It makes for a great sports story, but it isn’t sustainable.
Simply put, the Warriors win because they have more guys who have been in this moment, they have more options offensively, they’re engaged, and they thrive when people count them out. Kevin Durant, no Kevin Durant, it won’t matter, the Warriors are THAT good.
Warriors in six; Klay Thompson wins Finals MVP
With the Warriors making their fifth straight NBA Finals appearance, it's extremely difficult to build a case for them not winning the Larry O’Brien trophy for the third year in a row.
While it may seem like the injury to Durant would open a window of opportunity for the Toronto Raptors, the Warriors have gone 5-0 in his absence. The stellar play of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and the team’s dazzling ball movement in Durant’s absence are reminiscent of the Warriors team that won a championship back in 2015.
The incredible playoff numbers being posted by Kawhi Leonard in his first year as a Raptor will only be enough to push Toronto to one win at home. The Raptors should be able to take either Game 1 or 2 in an electric home atmosphere, feeding off the city’s excitement for the franchise’s first ever Finals appearance. This excitement will surely wane in the coming games, though, as they attempt to contain all of the Warriors’ prolific offensive weapons.
Warriors in five; Steph Curry wins Finals MVP
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