Warriors

Warriors vs. Raptors preview: Who has edge in 2019 NBA Finals matchup?

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NBC Sports Bay Area

Warriors vs. Raptors preview: Who has edge in 2019 NBA Finals matchup?

With the Toronto Raptors beating the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night, the Warriors' NBA Finals matchup is confirmed. 

The best-of-seven series will pair the back-to-back defending NBA champions against Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Drake (possibly) and a Raptors organization fresh off clinching the first Finals appearance in its 24-year history. 

For the first time during their current five-year run, the Warriors will not have home-court advantage, and they could be without injured starters DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant at the onset of the series. 

For now, here are the biggest things to watch heading into the series, which starts Thursday night in Toronto.

Projected starting lineups 

Warriors
F Andre Iguodala
F Draymond Green
C Andrew Bogut
G Klay Thompson
G Stephen Curry

Raptors 
F Pascal Siakam
F Kawhi Leonard
C Marc Gasol
G Kyle Lowry
G Danny Green

The Warriors will be without Durant for at least the start of the series with a calf injury. Cousins, who began practicing with the team this week, could make his return from a torn quad in Game 1 if he continues to progress in his rehab.

Still, the Warriors have the healthy Splash Brother duo of Curry and Thompson, who combined to score nearly 57 points per game in the Western Conference finals.

Meanwhile, Leonard has been productive all postseason for Toronto, averaging 31.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 18 games. Following a breakout season, Siakam was a dependable second scorer in the conference finals. Lowry is a reliable regular-season contributor but has routinely struggled in the playoffs, and a thumb injury could hamper his production. 

Edge: Draw (until Durant comes back)

Bench

Like the Warriors, the Raptors have struggled to get contributions from their second unit this season, finishing the regular season 24th in bench scoring.

The postseason hasn't been much better for Toronto, which averaged just 25.1 bench points per game through the first three playoff rounds. Former Warrior Patrick McCaw signed with the Raptors midseason after declining an offer from the Warriors and having a brief stint in Cleveland. However, he's averaging just 2.1 points per game across the regular season and playoffs. 

With Durant out, the Warriors have gotten contributions from their bench. Jordan Bell, Quinn Cook and Kevon Looney have stepped up in particular, and all three will be counted on in the Finals. 

Edge: Warriors

[RELATED: Iguodala alludes to retirement when asked about workload]

Coaching

Although he wasn't nominated, Toronto's Nick Nurse is putting together a Coach of the Year-worthy campaign. He helped guide the Raptors to 58 wins in his first season, despite Leonard missing 22 games.

Under Nurse's tutelage, the Raptors finished with the league's fifth-best offense, and he oversaw a defense that largely shut down Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo in the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals. 

However, Warriors coach Steve Kerr has presided over the best six-year run in NBA history, and is on pace to win his fourth championship in five years. 

Edge: Warriors

Kevin Durant’s first NBA title actually was start of his Warriors end

Kevin Durant’s first NBA title actually was start of his Warriors end

Programming note: Watch the re-air of the Warriors' 2017 NBA Finals-clinching win over the Cavs tonight at 8 PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.

A black Tesla carrying precious cargo stopped in the crowded Oracle Arena parking lot hours after the Warriors won the 2017 NBA Finals, at the insistence of one Kevin Durant.

Carrying his first of two NBA Finals MVP trophies, clad in his first championship hat, Durant walked into the crowd, basking in his biggest personal conquest to date.

On the surface, Durant simultaneously had reached his personal and professional mountaintops. Eleven months removed from his departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder, he had exorcised the manufactured demons that come with nine title-less seasons. His summer signing with the Warriors in 2016 solidified one of the greatest collections of talent in NBA history.

Hours before his parking-lot party, Durant capped a series by outplaying LeBron James, the league's best player and his biggest on-court rival, over the five-game series. But the moment, as Durant and the Warriors found out years later, never yielded the long-term happiness he believed it would.

Durant came to the Bay in search of happiness months after his last season with the Thunder.

Initially, Oklahoma City embraced him. Off the court, he returned the favor, donating more than $1 million toward disaster relief efforts following a tornado in 2013. On the court, Durant was just as giving, helping the Thunder reach the playoffs seven times, including a Finals appearance in 2012. Along the way, he formed one of the league's formidable duos with Russell Westbrook. But, after nine seasons, Durant felt he wanted more, heading West to find fulfillment alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Green's role in Durant's psyche was noteworthy. The Warriors forward recruited Durant for much of the 2015-16 season, even as the Thunder positioned themselves as the defending champs' biggest Western Conference adversary. Green continued his push after the Warriors' loss to the Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals, admitting he called Durant, pleading for him to head West, and again during the team's pitch meeting one month later in The Hamptons.

Green's prodding from the West Coast made sense soon after Durant left the Plains for the Bay. Immediately after he announced his departure, bedlam commenced in Oklahoma City. Reports of people burning jerseys surprised even Durant.

"I really didn’t think it was that serious until I started to see the backlash and see the hateful things that people were saying," Durant said in 2017. "It’s just continually bad, it’s just still hate. It is just pure hate."

The city's vitriol continued in Durant's return as an opponent. Cupcake shirts were the desired dress code at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and boos rang every time Durant touched the ball. The energy was so palpable that Durant's new teammates even jawed with fans courtside, puzzling him even more.

"I understand in a basketball sense that you want to be so loyal to your team, and you want to feel like you’re a part of something, because everybody wants to feel like they’re a part of something," Durant added in 2017. "So, I understood that part, but it’s got to the point now, it’s like, now it’s getting big.

"Like, come on man, what are we even talking about this for? This is basketball, I’m enjoying myself playing basketball. What you say and what you do is not affecting my work. That’s the most important thing is the work."

Durant's new address yielded success on and off the floor. The Warriors were flawless during the regular season, finishing with a league-best 67-15 record. That dominance continued in the playoffs, as the Warriors posted a 16-1 record, dismantling every team in its wake.

Along the way, Durant made his most convincing bid for status of the league's best player, averaging 25 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game through the first three rounds. He outplayed James in the Finals, capped by a dagger 3-pointer in his rival's face in Game 3, all but sealing his first title.

But in the days after Durant's first championship parade, things began to change for him. In the ensuing years, the bonds he built began to deteriorate. His mother, Wanda, a mainstay at Oracle Arena during his first season in Oakland, had financial disagreements with her son, according to the Wall Street Journal, and rarely came around as she and his brother, Wayne, retreated back East.

On the court, even after Durant claimed his second title over James and the Cavs, his relationship with Green took a hit, as a verbal sideline spat during a game against the Clippers in Los Anglees defined his headline-plagued final Warriors season. Durant became more distant from his teammates. Then, the player who once came to the Bay seeking a family environment left feeling like distant kinfolk.

[RELATED: Warriors All-21st Century Team]

"I’ll never be one of those guys," Durant told the Wall Street Journal in September. "I didn’t get drafted there. Steph Curry, obviously drafted there. Andre Iguodala, won the first Finals, first championship. Klay Thompson, drafted there. Draymond Green, drafted there. And the rest of the guys kind of rehabilitated their careers there."

Durant is basketball's superstar nomad. Since high school, Oklahoma City marked the only place that saw his talents for more than three years. In Golden State, he said he wanted to play in a system suited for his game, for a team on the rise. Now, he's hoping to win alongside friends Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan in Brooklyn.

But as Durant learned in the days after he exited that Tesla in 2017, his true happiness will come from within, and no trophy or accolade can ever fill that void.

Warriors' Juan Toscano-Anderson looks forward to guarding James Harden

Warriors' Juan Toscano-Anderson looks forward to guarding James Harden

James Harden scored 29 points on 16 field-goal attempts the last time the Warriors faced the Houston Rockets back on Feb. 20. Houston won that game 135-105, and it sounds like Golden State's Juan Toscano-Anderson was looking forward to the rematch.

With the NBA season indefinitely suspended due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Toscano-Anderson and the Warriors have some free time on their hands. Toscano-Anderson made use of it by holding a Q&A on Twitter on Saturday night, at which time he was asked which player -- whether teammate or opponent -- he was most looking forward to playing with or against when the season starts back up.

Toscano-Anderson provided multiple answers.

"Excited to get our whole team back to full strength," Toscano-Anderson replied. "I was very excited to guard James Harden."

Well, you've got to appreciate the fact that he's not afraid of a challenge. There might not be a tougher player to guard than Harden in the entire league, but then again, Toscano-Anderson didn't finally establish himself as an NBA player this season by taking the easy way out.

[RELATED: Toscano-Anderson reveals all-time Warriors starting five]

The Warriors and Rockets were scheduled to play each other for a fourth and final time this season in Houston on April 2. Obviously, that particular game won't take place on that day, but whether it is postponed or canceled, Toscano-Anderson surely will have more opportunities to try to make things harder on Harden.