For three out of the last four years, the Golden State Warriors have reigned as the best basketball team in the NBA. Aside from a Lebron-inspired upset in 2016, the Warriors have dominated the sport in the US with a brand of basketball that is exhilarating to watch and all but impossible to beat.
This year, they have also shown the depths of their resilience, as they came through injury problems, public spats and speculation about the future of star player, Kevin Durant to top the Western Conference (again) and stroll to the NBA Finals (again). Would anyone bet against them?
Considering the odds
The evidence from the NJ sports betting markets suggest not. The Warriors are regarded as strong favorites to beat the Toronto Raptors, who are participating in the play-off Finals for the first time in the franchise’s history, which began in 1995.
But no team flukes their way to the NBA Finals, and Toronto have been knocking on the door for a while now, having won the Atlantic Division five times in the past six seasons. Last year, having topped the Eastern Conference, they were once again undone by Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers, a result that prompted the sacking of coach, Dwayne Casey, and his replacement with his assistant, Nick Nurse. It was a decision criticized within the sport, but the ruthlessness of that move showed that the Raptors organization wanted to take their team to the next level.
Removing Casey may have been harsh, but it allowed them to freshen things up behind the scenes, at the same time as they were preparing to make big moves. By bringing in Kawhi Leonard, they had a ready-made MVP candidate, who was hungry for success, and in Danny Green, a versatile player who could play tough defense and shoot the three.
Rise of the Raptors
The results were immediate. Toronto started the season with an impressive 19-4 run that saw them top the Eastern Conference early on. Although they eventually relinquished that place to the impressive Milwaukee Bucks, they served notice of their intent by beating the Warriors in both of their regular season meetings, showcasing a brand of basketball that combined the grittiness typical of a traditional East Coast side, with the prolific scoring of a superstar in Leonard.
With no Lebron to stand in their way, they were able to impose themselves on their Eastern Conference opponents en route to the Finals. Orlando were brushed aside, and Toronto showed their resilience in coming back from 2-1 down to win their Conference semi-final series against Philadelphia 4-3, before overcoming the Giannis Antetokounmpo-inspired Bucks 4-2 to win the Conference for the first time.
They will of course be faced with a tough challenge against the Warriors. Leonard will have to find a way to score consistently against the energetic Warriors defense, while Kyle Lowry will be given the challenge of stopping Steph Curry. But this is a Raptors team with plenty of fight and steel, as well as a surplus of class and talent, and they will relish the opportunity to make history.