5-on-5: What we're most excited about in this NBA Finals

ESPN logo
Monday, May 27, 2019

The Golden State Warriors face a new NBA Finals opponent for the first time during this dynastic run.

How well do the Toronto Raptors match up with the defending champs? What are the most important things to watch for each team in this series? How likely is it that the Raptors push the Warriors to the brink?

Our experts break down the things they're most excited to watch, make picks for the best player in the series and predict the final result.

More: NBA Finals preview | How Toronto got here

1. What are you most excited about heading into this Finals matchup?

Jackie MacMullan:I'm excited to see if Kawhi Leonard can continue his postseason stealth mission and make this a series. What if the Raptors legitimately put a scare into the Warriors? Does it matter what they do in terms of Leonard's future with Toronto? The drama continues and will only heighten as Leonard delivers more clutch performances.

Brian Windhorst:I'm hoping -- maybe against all hope -- for a long series after the past two years. Although long-term I'm optimistic about Giannis Antetokounmpo's potential, at the moment, Kawhi Leonard is a more developed weapon. He's the basis for hope against the Warriors' championship machine. Having him as the foil gives the best chance for a competitive series.

Jorge Sedano:We have a fresh, new matchup. We knew this was coming when LeBron James left the East, but it's another thing to finally visualize it. Plus, for the first time during Golden State's run, the Warriors will not have home-court advantage. How that will factor into the series is intriguing, and so is the coaching matchup. Steve Kerr's legacy is already cemented. Nick Nurse is one of the more interesting personalities coaching in the NBA, but he's also a helluva coach. The adjustments (and occasional gambles) he made during the Eastern Conference finals paid off and got Toronto here.

Tim MacMahon:Can Kawhi cap maybe the best mercenary season in NBA history by carrying the Raptors past a dynastic team? If so, it would cement Leonard's legacy as an all-time great. He has been the most dominant force so far in this postseason, serving as an efficient go-to guy and a lockdown defender and proving to be well worth the price Toronto paid in the trade for him, regardless of his decision in free agency.

Kevin Pelton:Leonard finally getting his chance against the Warriors. He was deprived of that opportunity by Zaza Pachulia's foot in 2017, and with Leonard playing perhaps the best basketball of his career, I can't wait to see him against Golden State -- particularly if we get Kawhi vs. Kevin Durant at some point in this series.

2. What's the most important thing to watch with the Raptors in this series?

Windhorst:Their supporting players -- namely Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet -- have to cobble together some consistency. As a group, they have a tendency to be boom-or-bust, and there's no margin for error against Golden State. The other thing to watch is if they can take advantage of home court and get ahead in the series. That has long been an issue for this franchise.

Pelton:Whether Danny Green can rediscover his range. Toronto beat Milwaukee despite Green's shooting 19 percent (6-of-32) from the field while starting all six games, largely because VanVleet replaced him down the stretch. Against the bigger Warriors, playing VanVleet alongside Lowry will be tricky. Green's size is needed to match up with Golden State's wings, so the Raptors will have to get some contributions from him on the other end.

MacMahon:How will the Raptors respond to the Warriors' feared Hamptons 5 lineup? This is assuming Durant gets healthy soon enough to play a significant role in the series. Can Gasol match up with Green at center? For that matter, can Ibaka? We know the Raptors can thrive playing big. Can they succeed against the best small-ball lineup of all time?

MacMullan:The Raptors need to establish a consistent contributor besides Kawhi in the half court. Will Danny Green ever hit another 3? He hasn't knocked one down since May 20 (he's 0-for-8 since), and it has gotten so cringe-worthy that Toronto fans groaned in pained unison with every miss in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. The good news for The North is thatVanVleet came around just in time.

Sedano:Can Kawhi continue his current dominance? The Warriors can throw a ton of looks at him between Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant (should he return in this series). Undeniably, defending the Warriors is the most important thing. However, if Kawhi continues to roll, Pascal Siakam keeps ascending, Lowry makesStephen Curry work on both ends and they get timely contributions from the rest of their supporting cast, the Raptors can make this a series.

3. What's the most important thing to watch with the Warriors in this series?

Pelton:How they integrate Durant and/or DeMarcus Cousins if they're cleared to return midseries. Adding such talented players on the fly in the midst of a competitive series is tricky, but the Warriors have experience with it, given the time both Curry and Durant have missed in past postseasons. Last year, Iguodala returned between Games 2 and 3 of the NBA Finals. Golden State even managed such a transition with Kerr when he came back to the sideline before Game 2 of the 2017 NBA Finals.

Sedano:Durant's health is clearly the most important factor in this series. If he's healthy, it's probably not very competitive. If he isn't, the series will be prolonged. As great as Curry, Thompson and Green have been in his absence, the Warriors have outscored opponents by about five points per 100 possessions over 440 minutes in these playoffs with that three-man combination on the floor. That isn't a huge margin. They've gotten moments or minutes from Jordan Bell, Quinn Cook and Kevon Looneywhile KD has missed time. They'll need their mantra, "Strength in Numbers," to continue to be more than a slogan.

MacMullan:If I'm Kerr, I'm plopping Steph Curry in the front row of the film room, splicing together a reel of his senseless, impulsive, ticky-tack, reach-in fouls, and forcing him to watch it. Twice. Toronto will attack Curry and force him to defend. He's no good to the Warriors on the bench.

MacMahon: Let me put on my Captain Obvious cap: When Durant returns and how he looks feels pretty important. Go ahead and point out Golden State's remarkable success with Durant out and Curry in the lineup. The fact that the opponent features a fellow former Finals MVP at small forward makes this just a bit different.

Windhorst: About the only thing in the scouting report that seems to affect the Warriors is physical play. And, listen, it doesn't always work, and it's easier said than done. But it will be in the Raptors' game plan to attack the rim and try to bully Golden State as much as possible. Defensively, this means rough play with Curry on the perimeter. In theory this works, but in practice, it's hard to break the champs' rhythm.

4. Who will be the best player in this series?

MacMahon:Leonard has had the best overall postseason, but nobody is in a better groove right now than Curry, who averaged a cool 35.8 points with a 66.3 true shooting percentage while the Warriors went 5-0 since Durant went down. It stands to reason that the offense will still run through Curry even when Durant returns and tries to shake off rust with the stakes as high as possible.

Pelton:Curry. Taking nothing away from Leonard, the MVP of the playoffs thus far, I think the Warriors are better equipped to contain him with Iguodala and perhaps Durant than the Raptors are to deal with all the value Curry provides Golden State's offense with his playmaking and gravity. I also wonder whether at some point the effect of fatigue and whatever happened with his leg in the last round will catch up with Leonard, who has played 100 more minutes in the playoffs thus far than Curry and 66 more than any Warriors player (Klay Thompson is their leader).

Sedano:Curry. The two-time MVP will get his opportunity to put to rest the narrative that he underperforms in the Finals. I believe that stuff is overstated. He has averaged 27.3 PPG while shooting 45 percent from the field, 41 percent from 3 and 93 percent from the line to go with 5.9 RPG and 5.4 APG in his four previous Finals trips. With Durant missing time, this will be the prime opportunity to put that narrative to rest. To beat a Raptors team on a roll, the Warriors are going to need every ounce of Curry's greatness.

Windhorst:There are a whole bunch of MVPs and Finals MVPs and future Hall of Famers in this series. From game to game, you'll probably see greatness in different shades all over the place. But only one team has an MVP in reserve, which means the Raptors need Leonard to be great for them to have a long-term chance.

MacMullan:In spite of my caution regarding Curry's funky defensive discipline, this feels like his opportunity to earmark this series as his own. He's on a tear, Kevin Durant is on the mend, and though Kawhi has been the best postseason player to date, remember the play from Game 6 against Milwaukee on which he had a clear lane to the basket, hesitated and opted to pass. He did that because he's hobbled and doesn't possess his usual explosion.

5. Who will win this series and in how many games?

Sedano:As he has battled his own playoff demons, Lowry has had some memorable performances in this postseason. Nonetheless, he has yet to be matched up with someone as good as Curry to this point. Couple that with the different looks the Warriors can throw at Kawhi, and I have Warriors in six.

MacMullan:I'm taking the Warriors in six, but my respect for what Toronto has accomplished in these playoffs is immense. The Raptors are tough, together, resilient, well-coached and unflappable. They came back from 15 down twice to kick Milwaukee to the curb, and they believe they belong here. What more can you ask?

Windhorst:I don't make predictions, but I'd strongly advise the Raptors to not think they can survive playing from behind early in the series again. They survived being down 2-1 and 2-0 in the past two rounds, but I wouldn't bet on pulling something like that off against this opponent.

MacMahon: I've got Warriors in six.

Pelton:Golden State in six. Even without Durant, I think the Warriors are capable of earning a split in Toronto, putting themselves in position to close out the series by winning three games at Oracle Arena. As good as the Raptors have been defensively in the postseason, I don't believe they have enough consistent scoring threats to keep up with Golden State's higher-octane attack.

Related Video