Despite the absence of Kevin Durant, the Golden State Warriors have managed to build a three games to none lead over the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals as of Monday and appear to be heading to the NBA Finals for the fifth straight season.
The calf injury to Durant, which was originally projected to cost him the first four games of the series, is now reportedly more serious than first anticipated. Golden State certainly would not need the superstar to finish off Portland, but now his presence for the Finals appears to be in serious jeopardy.
Here is the good news for fans in Oakland: the Warriors have not missed a beat. In fact, they are taking care of the Blazers in a much more efficient fashion than we saw in the first two rounds against the Clippers and Rockets. I am not making a claim that the Warriors are a better team without Durant. Apart from LeBron James, K.D. is probably the best basketball player in the world right now and his absence would cause any team to lose a step on paper.
But I will say that the Warriors just seem to make more sense without Durant on the court. They appear to flow better and attack more as a team than any one particular individual, outside of Stephen Curry’s three-point capabilities. Curry and Klay Thompson are the closest thing to superstars while Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green do the inside work.
Keep in mind that the Durant-less Warriors managed to win 73 games in the regular season three years ago, the highest win total in NBA history. They would go onto lose in the Finals to James and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they were without a doubt the most dominant team since the days of Michael Jordan.
And then came the 2016 offseason. In a shocking twist of fate, Durant turned the Warriors into the best team in league history to arguably the most lopsided group of talent in the history of North American professional sports. Golden State has won the last two NBA Titles with Durant, posting playoff marks of 16-1 and 16-5. Since the addition, the Rockets are the only team to give Golden State a run for their money in the postseason.
Their Eastern Conference opponent will either be the Milwaukee Bucks or the Toronto Raptors. It would be easy to think that one of them might be catching a slight break if they are to battle the defending champions without Durant. But I am convinced that the Warriors without Durant are not necessarily worse than the Warriors with him. They are simply different. Defeating the Warriors in a playoff series will still be next to impossible for whoever is able to draw them, but they will have home court advantage.
The Bucks had a chance to essentially close out the East by taking a three games to none lead over the Raptors in Toronto, but the home team came out victorious in a game three thriller that featured the first double overtime finish in the Conference Finals since 2007.
Milwaukee managed to fight their way back from down four in the waning minutes of the first overtime period to keep Canada on the edge of their seats, but the Raptors persevered down the stretch to potentially make it a competitive series again. Kawhi Leonard led the team with 36 points in the contest and Pascal Siakam followed him up with 25 of his own.
Game four took place in Toronto on Tuesday and seemed to be another must-win contest for the Raptors if they hope to keep their shot at the NBA Finals alive.
But logic to this point tells us that the Golden State Warriors will meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2019 edition of the NBA Finals. Regardless, it will be the first Finals matchup since 2014 that does not involve the Warriors and Cavaliers. While it seems wise to stick with the Warriors as NBA Champions for the third straight season, do not expect it to happen as easily as it has in the last couple of years. The Bucks are likely the deepest roster in the NBA, in sharp contrast to the LeBron-heavy Cavs attack that have taken on Golden State in recent years. They have also been proving doubters wrong throughout the entirety of the 2018-19 season and will have home court advantage thanks to a better regular season record.
In the NHL, the Boston Bruins punched their ticket back to the Stanley Cup Finals with an overpowering sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in four games. Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask surrendered five goals in the series as a whole and just one in games three and four on the road. Meanwhile, their offensive attack scored 17 goals against Carolina and made for a quick and easy series win.
The success of the Bruins contributes to a greater dominance in the world of sports. The city of Boston can claim 12 major sports championships since the turn of the century and can make it 13 with four more Bruin victories.
Of the city’s 12 titles since ’01, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are responsible for six while the Red Sox have won four. The Celtics and Bruins have each brought home one championship in that span. The Bruins won it all in 2011.
The Bruins will face either the St. Louis Blues or the San Jose Sharks when they take the ice for game one of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Blues stole a critical game five from the Sharks on the road to take a three games to two advantage over their favored adversary. Game six took place in St. Louis on Tuesday.
Whether it is the Blues or the Sharks, game one of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals will take place on Monday at 7 p.m. in Boston.