The Toronto Raptors held home court in Game 1 of the NBA Finals in convincing fashion, and now we’ll see if the Golden State Warriors’ championship pedigree kicks in for Game 2. Needless to say, the Raptors made a strong case in Game 1 that they can pull off the upset and win the NBA title.
After three rounds of exciting playoff action, we finally got a new matchup in the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors are back for their fifth straight trip to the Finals, but they won’t have to go through LeBron James to win their third title in a row, and fourth in five seasons. Instead Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors came out of the East, making the Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Speaking of history, this will be a memorable Finals no matter who ends up winning. Either the Warriors will complete the first three-peat since the 2000-02 Los Angeles Lakers, or the Raptors will become NBA champions for the first time in their 24-year history.
Before the series, CBS Sports’ panel of NBA experts provided their picks. As you’ll find out, the only thing they disagreed on is how long this series will last.
2019 NBA Finals Predictions
Bill Reiter: The Raptors’ upside with Kawhi Leonard as their shining light and postseason catalyst can’t be denied. But neither can the Warriors’ championship pedigree, regardless of Keven Durant’s status in the days ahead, and the fact they’re a far superior challenge than the Milwaukee Bucks. Whereas Milwaukee failed to put a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference finals in Game 3’s first and second overtimes, the Warriors will not oblige in similar situations. Whereas Giannis faded, in those overtimes and beyond. Steph will only continue to rise. And while the Bucks, which took the second-most 3-pointers this past regular season, too often went cold from deep. Golden State will only continue to play the beautiful game we saw before Durant’s arrival. The Bucks ain’t the Warriors, not by a long shot, and this time around Toronto will again be dealing with postseason heartache. Prediction: Warriors in 5
Reid Forgrave: I gave a lot of thought into getting cute here and guessing Raptors in seven. There are plenty of reasons why that could happen: Because we don’t know when (or if) Kevin Durant will come back, because we don’t know when (or if) DeMarcus Cousins will come back, because the Warriors’ depth was suspect before those injuries, because the Warriors have telegraphed to us all season that this is their most vulnerable team, because Kawhi Leonard might be the best player on earth, and because Fred VanVleet may not miss another 3-pointer until Fred Jr.’s 10th birthday. But: Come on. They’re the Warriors! Championship experience matters, pure and simple. This might be the final time we see this version of the Warriors, depending on what happens in the offseason. They’re not going to mess around. (Also: Skinny Draymond is an absolute force.) Prediction: Warriors in 6
Brad Botkin: This is going to be a remarkable Finals. With Kevin Durant out, it leaves Kawhi Leonard to either guard Steph Curry and stunt his isolation scoring or guard Draymond Green and blow up the pick and roll that will be a bread-and-butter action with Durant on the shelf. Also, defensively, Durant would be one of a few capable one-on-one defenders for Kawhi. And we still don’t know about Andre Iguodala’s status as of yet, another Kawhi defender. Also, there is nobody on Golden State’s bench that can match Fred VanVleet’s scoring for Toronto right now, and in fact, the Warriors’ bench overall is looking pretty thin for a Finals team.
Still, I don’t see Toronto sweeping the first two games, meaning Golden State will go back to Oracle with the home-court advantage back in their favor, and from there it’ll be a dogfight. If Durant returns in the middle of the series, this becomes a real question mark as to how they get him back into the flow. But in the end, Curry is just playing too well right now, and when he’s playing like this, the whole court shifts in a way that not even Kawhi Leonard can make up for. Draymond has been top-10-player-in-the-league incredible with a more flowing and fast-paced style in place.
I do not feel great about this pick. The Raptors are really great. But I truly believe this Warriors team is one of the greatest, ever, and it will be proven on an extremely tough test against these Raptors. Prediction: Warriors in 7
Colin Ward-Henninger: Kawhi Leonard is unquestionably great, and the Raptors defense is excellent. But so far in their playoff journey they have yet to face an offense remotely close to what the Warriors are about to bring their way, even without Kevin Durant. The Raptors are going to have to be able to score with Golden State if they’re going to win, and they haven’t proven they can do that consistently against a defense as versatile and disciplined as the Warriors. Kawhi can will them to one win in Toronto, but ultimately the Warriors’ talent, determination and focus will prove too much. Prediction: Warriors in 5
James Herbert: If Kevin Durant were out, I’d pick the Raptors, and part of me still wants to — I think this will be close. Kawhi Leonard is Golden State’s nightmare, Toronto keeps getting better, its halfcourt defense is ridiculous and the Warriors seem more vulnerable than they’ve been in a while. Until I see a team beat the Death Lineup with Durant in it, though, I can’t pick against the defending champs. (But if Stephen Curry can’t stay out of foul trouble and limit his turnovers, uh-oh.) Prediction: Warriors in 7
Jack Maloney: Kevin Durant’s status makes this series a tricky one to predict, but I took the Warriors to win it all at the start of the playoffs, and I won’t change my mind now. Steph Curry and Draymond Green are just playing at too high of a level, and the Warriors have too much championship experience. Now, this series isn’t going to be easy for the Warriors in the way the Western Conference finals was. Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors were tremendous over the past week to win four straight games against the Bucks, and they’ll get a couple wins in this series. But even with the way Leonard is playing, I would still rather have Curry, and I trust the Warriors’ supporting cast to be better and more consistent than the Raptors’. Prediction: Warriors in 6
Chris Bengel: What the Raptors have been able to do has been nothing short of remarkable. Kawhi Leonard has put the NBA on notice as to why he’s one of the most talented players that the league has to offer. However, the Warriors are a completely different animal regardless of when Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins end up returning to the court. Toronto has defended well throughout the playoffs, but the combination of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson is going to prove to be too much for Leonard and Co. to overcome. The Raptors will definitely win some games, but they will ultimately fall short. Prediction: Warriors in 6
Michael Kaskey-Blomain: The Warriors are four wins away from their third consecutive NBA title, and though the Raptors represent some stiff competition, Golden State will still walk away with the hardware. The Warriors have both the talent and the experience to overcome virtually any opponent in a playoff situation, and heading into the Finals, they appear to be clicking on all cylinders despite the injury issues that they have dealt with throughout the postseason. Steph Curry looks as good — and confident — as he has in recent memory, and the same could be said for Draymond Green. Meanwhile, Klay Thompson seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder, and being snubbed from the All-NBA teams should only add to that. The Raptors might be able to take a pair of games from the Warriors in the series due to the fact that Kevin Durant’s status for the series remains unknown coupled with the fact Kawhi Leonard has been playing arguably the best basketball of anyone in the playoffs. Ultimately, though, Golden State’s combination of talent and experience will prove too tough for Toronto to overcome. Prediction: Warriors in 6
DJ Siddiqi: As much of a feel-good story as the Toronto Raptors have been this season, this is a terrible matchup for them. Kawhi Leonard was able to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he won’t be able to slow down both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson at the same time. The Raptors don’t have the depth or the wing defenders to keep up with the Warriors, and if either Kevin Durant or DeMarcus Cousins returns during the Finals, it’ll just push this series in further favor of the Warriors. They’ve been unstoppable in Durant’s absence and there’s no reason for me to believe that Kawhi — as good as he has been — can solely lead Toronto to more than one win in the Finals against the most dominant team in recent NBA history. Prediction: Warriors in 5