The Toronto Raptors have found their way to the NBA finals, but at the cost of having to face the most dominant basketball team at the moment

By Nicole Ganglani | Lead photo from Inquirer Sports

As the NBA finals starts this Friday, it’s fair to say that it’s going to be an unusual sight for the first time in a while. Minus the fifth straight appearance of the Golden State Warriors in the championship round, this year’s finals will see new faces, a new city, and no Lebron James.

For the first time in history, the Toronto Raptors are the Eastern Conference champions. As Drake said, they started from the bottom now they’re here. No doubt the biggest moment in Raptors history, the upcoming finals have of course led to much hype—perhaps the most they’ve ever gotten across the landscape of NBA media in decades. And as they are set to play their first ever game in the biggest stage of basketball, they’re going to battle more than just Steph Curry and the Warriors—they’re going up against one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.

From Drake’s courtside cheerleader moves to Steph Curry versus Kyle Lowry, here are five things to look out for in the NBA finals:

Can Kawhi Leonard pull off the best post-season performance of all time?

The Eastern Conference playoffs race was all about Kawhi Leonard. Ever since the classic game winner that sealed the semifinals, Leonard has shown nothing but pure dominance. Leonard’s performance in the finals will determine how long this series will last and fortunately for the Raptors, Kevin Durant won’t be around for the first few games to defend Toronto’s superstar. It’s going to be interesting to see if Leonard can pull of the best mercenary season in history and cement his legacy as an all-time great.

Who can stop Steph Curry?

Since Kevin Durant went down with a strained calf, Steph Curry has led the team to six straight commanding wins. In the Western Conference finals alone, the two-time MVP scored a total of 146 points which is the most ever tallied by a player in a four-game sweep. You can’t really stop Curry once he gets into his grove; all the Raptors can do is limit the outcome. Regardless, expect to see more of Kyle Lowry and sixth man Fred VanVleet on the backcourt. According to NBA.com’s defensive matchup data, the last time both teams went head-to-head in the regular season, VanVleet managed to limit Curry to just four points on 1-for-6 shooting in 39 total possessions. Expect the Raptors to put Leonard on Curry, too, especially when Golden State runs the high screen-and-roll when the game is on the line.

Can Draymond Green keep his cool?

Draymond Green, one of the league’s most devoted trash talkers, has already gone at it with rapper Drake—The Raptors’s biggest cheerleader. It’s not wrong on Green’s part though because as a key player, he’s already proven that his game is as solid as the way he talks garbage. Meanwhile, a Raptors game is not complete without Drake jumping around in his courtside seat talking smack to whoever he can. And as focused as the defending champions are in cementing their legacy and winning their third consecutive championship, there’s still a possibility that Drake’s tactics can get to them. Yes, we’re looking right at Draymond Green and head coach Steve Kerr.

Do the Raptors have enough weapons?

Aside from Leonard, Lowry will also have to play the best game of his life. The point guard needs to control the tempo of the game by pushing the ball to get his teammates out on the break. 18.1 percent of the Raptors’ successful offensive possession in the playoffs has come from transition, which is something they need to capitalize on. The quicker they push the ball and get the momentum going, the more chances they have to put up a fight. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and the rest of the Raptors bench have to cobble together some consistency because there’s no room for error when you’re up against Golden State.

Who will win the series and in how many games?

As much as we hope that this series will be more exciting than the ones over the years, at the end of the day it all boils down to how both teams perform. From the very start of the season, the Warriors proved that they’re still the best team in the league. It’s definitely going to take more than just gamesmanship and talent to take this team down. It might need something of a miracle, actually. But if there’s one thing we never count out in the NBA it’s the fact that anything is possible.

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