How Warriors are preparing for new NBA Finals challenge Raptors present


How Warriors are preparing for new NBA Finals challenge Raptors present

OAKLAND -- After beating the Portland Trail Blazers seven days ago, the Golden State Warriors were in a bit of purgatory waiting for an NBA Finals opponent.

The wait ended Saturday afternoon, when the Toronto Raptors eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, securing their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.

With the series set, the Warriors now can focus on game planning toward their third straight NBA title.

"Finally!" Shaun Livingston shouted after practice Monday afternoon. "Let's get it started, you know, exciting for everybody. Just to put a team, put some names, you know, put some faces now, start getting the game plan."

In the week following its Game 4 win in Portland, Golden State took two days off before returning to practice Thursday. Without an opponent set, the Warriors went through a full scrimmage Thursday afternoon, which included DeMarcus Cousins, who is rehabbing from a torn right quad. After taking Sunday off, the Warriors coaching staff presented scouting reports for the team.

"You can't put a game plan together if you don't have an opponent," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "When you don't have the opponent, you're going through your own rituals. As soon as you have the opponent, now you have individual player tendencies. You have team actions that they run that you're going to have to deal with. Trends. All those things that go into a playoff series."

Toronto presents a variety of challenges for the Warriors. Under coach Nick Nurse's tutelage, the Raptors won 58 games, finishing with the league's fifth-best offense. In the Eastern Conference finals, they held Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo to just 44 percent shooting over the final two games. 

Perhaps the Warriors" biggest challenge will be stopping Kawhi Leonard. Three years ago, when Leonard was with the Spurs, the All-Star scored 26 points through three quarters in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, giving San Antonio a 78-60 lead. After Leonard injured his ankle, the Warriors used a 18-0 run to take control of the game, in a series they ultimately swept with Leonard on the bench.

This postseason in Toronto, Leonard is averaging 31.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 18 games. On the other end, he's one of the best defenders in the league, and he helped slow down Antetokounmpo.

"He's gifted physically with his strength and his wingspan and foot speed and all that type of stuff," Warriors point guard Steph Curry said. "Most good defenders can't play into their hands, can't get into a battle for position. I know what my strengths are and how to go at it, so I got to play to those.

"At the end of the day, whatever the matchups are, whoever is on you, you just got to make them work within the way that we create open shots and create offense. Be able to adjust to whatever they decide to do on that end."

While the Raptors took both regular-season games from the Warriors, the wins come with a caveat. In their first meeting, Kevin Durant -- with Curry sidelined -- scored 51 points in a 131-128 overtime loss. Two weeks later, without Leonard, the Raptors won by 20 points at Oracle Arena. 

"It's not really much if you can take off of it 'cause guys were out, you know, guys were planning stuff," Livingston admitted. "We're kind of different teams." 

Golden State's fifth straight Finals appearance also will bring the champs to unknown territory. Aside from not playing the Cleveland Cavaliers and the potential absence of Durant, the Warriors will open a championship series without home-court advantage. Fortunately for Golden State -- which has struggled with complacency -- the team has seemed to find a different level of focus away from the Bay Area. In eight road games, they're averaging more points (118.8), shooting a better percentage (48.8) than at home, and have closed each series on another team's home floor.

"Starting on the road presents a different challenge," Kerr said. "There's a different rhythm to the series. It helps having gone through this last year against Houston. We started on the road and split the first two games, and had to win a Game 7 on the road. This group has done this before.

"We're obviously playing against a great team in front of a great crowd. It's a different challenge, different routine, but we're up for it and ready to it." 

During this year's postseason, Toronto has built a unique home-court advantage. In addition to selling out every game in Scotiabank Arena, fans have packed the adjoining area named "Jurassic Park" outside of the arena. During Saturday's 100-94 win over the Bucks, spectators overflowed the area, which usually accommodates 1,200 people.

With Game 1 approaching, Kerr isn't concerned about the noise getting to his team.

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"Our guys are used to it," Kerr said. "We got a lot of hand signals for our play calls, for our defensive coverages, all that kind of stuff, so I'm not too worried about that."

For the last week, the Warriors waited to know their NBA Finals opponent. Now, with the championship round just three days away, they finally do the necessary preparation in their three-peat quest. 

"I like the challenge and the unfamiliarity of this kind of schedule and flow," Curry said. "We've been there before and we've experienced a lot, and we think this is something we're capable of doing."

Steph Curry shares his thoughts on Allen Iverson's 'top five' comment

Steph Curry shares his thoughts on Allen Iverson's 'top five' comment

At NBA All-Star weekend last year, Allen Iverson told Steph Curry that he's in his "top five all day long."

Since then, Iverson repeatedly has said that the Warriors' superstar would be his point guard if he was assembling an all-time starting five.

"You know what's funny -- I have that saved on my phone," Curry told Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes on the latest episode of "All the Smoke" on Showtime (the full show will air this Thursday). "It's crazy. It's crazy, right?

"I ain't never had a big head. That dude who I picked up a lot of game and inspiration from -- he's now looking at my game ...

"Some OGs, they don't want to relinquish the praise. Same way we respect the OGs, we want it both ways. So when you do hear that, that means something."

As Steph said after Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals: "Low-key, I've always wanted to be like Allen Iverson."

It must be killing the three-time NBA champion to be sidelined with the broken left hand, especially on nights like Monday in Portland when he sat on the Warriors' bench while Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard dropped 61 points in an overtime win over the Dubs.

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Now is the perfect time to remind everybody that the two-time NBA MVP averaged 36.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists against the Blazers in the 2019 Western Conference Finals, all while shooting 47 percent overall and nearly 43 percent from deep.

It's safe to assume that Iverson doesn't forget about that, and neither should you.

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Why comparing Warriors' Eric Paschall to Draymond Green should stop


Why comparing Warriors' Eric Paschall to Draymond Green should stop

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The offseason comparisons between Warriors rookie Eric Paschall and star forward Draymond Green made sense. Both were highly successful four-year college basketball players from big-time programs that were taken in the second round of the NBA draft due to concerns of their overall athleticism and their inability to fit in to a traditional position.

Both players supposedly were too undersized to play the power forward position in the NBA, but also not quick or polished enough to be small forwards. Even their physiques had similar builds. So with all of that, comparing the two players before the season began was logical.

But it is not anymore.

The most important caveat is that Green is a three-time All-Star, a Defensive Player of the Year, three-time NBA champion and at one point, was widely considered a top-20 player in the league. Conversely, Paschall is a rookie who has not had a chance to accomplish an NBA resume yet.

Comparing both players seems silly already, and it is unfair to Paschall for creating expectations for that type of success. And yet if the side-by-side comparison is simply regarding how they play, Paschall and Green are completely different in their skillsets and approach to the game. 

On the defensive end, Draymond is one of the best help-side defenders in the modern NBA. He plays a "free safety" type role, using his unique ability to read the opponent's every move while also having the quickness and strength to counter them. Despite being just 6-foot-6, Green is elite at guarding big men in the NBA, while also having the unique ability to defend every position on the court.

Paschall, on the other hand, still is learning to play defense at the NBA level, and even with that, has shown to be more of a one-on-one defender so far. While he is more accustomed to guarding the power forward position, he has had impressive defensive moments defending "straight up" against wings, sliding his feet and using his strength to force them into tough shots.

It will take time for Paschall to develop from a good defender into the great one that many think he is capable of becoming. Regardless, his current projection does not have him playing the same defensive style as Green.

On offense, the contrast between the two is even greater. Green became one of the most unique offensive threats in the game as a great playmaker in transition and out of the pick-and-roll. His ability to push the ball full speed in the fast break and expose slow opposing big men helped pave the way for the Warriors' "Death Lineup" that revolutionized small-ball.

At his peak, Green was a 39 percent 3-point shooter, but scored most of his points on the break attacking the hoop. His elite passing ability helped him rack up assists, where he could spread the ball around to the greatest shooters of all-time surrounding him. 

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While Paschall has shown glimpses of impressive playmaking talent, his real bread and butter so far in the NBA has been dominating opponents one-on-one. He is remarkably explosive jumping off two feet, and he is able to combine his great strength with unique finesse when finishing over defenders at the rim. His shooting is very inconsistent from deep, just like Draymond, but he still is refining a mid-range pull-up that keeps defenders honest.

For being only a few months into this NBA career, Paschall already has become a "throw the ball to him and clear out of the way" type talent on offense. While Paschall might never be the type of offensive quarterback like Green, he already is on his way to becoming a more dynamic scoring threat.

Draymond will continue to take Paschall under his wing and teach him the nuances of the game. But when all is said and done, the two Warriors will complement each other very nicely on the court with their own personal skills and differentiated abilities, rather than repetitive and possibly gratuitous similarities.