The Toronto Raptors battled their way back from two games down in the Eastern Conference Finals to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks in six games and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
The Raptors will matchup with the Golden State Warriors, who officially won the Western Conference for the fifth straight season when they polished off the Portland Trail Blazers in a four-game sweep last week.
But the Warriors will take on an opponent in the NBA Finals not named the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time in their impressive dynasty. The fans will get to witness a different matchup to conclude the NBA season for the first time since 2014, despite the fact that Golden State remains.
But exactly how those Warriors will look when they take the court against Toronto remaIns a mystery. The team played all four games of the conference finals, and five straight overall, without the services of super star Kevin Durant. Even though there were some close finishes, the Warriors are undefeated in that span and have seemed to capture the swagger of the pre-Durant era that originally brought them to prominence.
In the midst of the dominant run, fans and media alike seem to finally be scratching their heads and wondering how much better Durant actually makes this team. The answer? Not much.
This may sound a little unfair or even cruel to one of the best basketball players in the NBA. But as I have stated in the past, the Golden State Warriors reached a whole new level of basketball greatness before they plucked K.D. off of the free agent wire. They simply took the best team the sport has seen in over a decade and made them unfair. It is hard to watch the product before and after and say Durant makes this already loaded squad that much better. But he will probably make them unbeatable down the stretch if he is to return in the middle of the series against Toronto. If he remains sidelined throughout, which seems unlikely, the Raptors will have a small sliver of hope, but not much.
If and when he returns, Durant will be aching to showcase his worth and just how much he has meant to the Warriors since he decided to join them in the summer of 2016. Regardless, we will likely see Durant walk away from the Warriors and possibly the Western Conference in general after the conclusion of the Finals. He is set to hit the free agent market once again this summer.
Early reports seem to convey the possibility of Durant landing in New York to play with the Knicks next season. The Knicks have the third overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and will likely select R.J. Barrett from Duke. Durant would have a chance to build something rather than join an established unit and help lead youngsters Barrett and Kevin Knox through the NBA Playoffs for the first time.
Regardless of when Durant joins the Finals effort, the Toronto Raptors are in for the fight of their lives. The Warriors are seeking their fourth title in five seasons and can win three straight titles for just the sixth time in NBA history and first since the Los Angeles Lakers of the early 2000s. Other teams to reach this feat were the Minneapolis Lakers in the early 1950s, the Boston Celtics, who won eight straight in the late 50s and 60s, as well as the Chicago Bulls, who recorded two three-peats in the 90s with Michael Jordan.
Expect the Warriors to overpower Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors down the stretch of the series and ultimately prevail in five or six games. Luckily for Toronto, they will have the home court advantage in the series. Game one is scheduled for Thursday night in Toronto.
Also, just in case anyone was curious, it will be the first NBA Finals without LeBron James since the Lakers beat the Celtics in seven games in 2010.
Speaking of Boston, the city of champions took a step closer to another title on Monday with a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins, who had not taken the ice for 10 days, needed a period to shake off the rust and fell behind 2-0 to the Blues.
But Boston found the spark that carried them to a four-game sweep over the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. They outscored the Blues by 15 in the second period and scored four unanswered goals to pick up a win in game one.
Game two of the series takes place Wednesday in Boston before shifting to St. Louis for game three.