Around the NBA: 2019 NBA Finals in the books

The deep, talented Toronto Raptors overcame a shorthanded Golden State Warriors squad to seize their first-ever NBA title.

Congratulations to the 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors! This is the first championship for the Raptors since originating in 1995. That also makes them the first team from another country to win the NBA Finals, which sounds neat.

Powered by Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet, the Raptors bench outclassed the Warriors reserved by a large margin. Toronto’s depth was pivotal all these 2019 NBA Playoffs. Former Defensive Player of the Year and first-time champion, Marc Gasol had a shaky Finals, but played a large role for the team since being traded from Memphis in February.

Likely the NBA’s Most Improved Player award recipient, Pascal Siakam showed us that his stellar season was not a flash in the pan. Siakam handled the pressure like a grizzled veteran and continued using his length to score over defenders until the very end. When you think Raptors though, you have likely thought Kyle Lowry for the last multiple years.

Lowry was passive at times all season, but remained an All-Star with his steadying leadership. He was bummed about losing his running-mate DeMar DeRozan this offseason, but the trade seems to have worked out in the end.

With the departure of DeMar DeRozan came the acquisition of now two-time Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard. “The Klaw” was a monster all postseason on both ends of the floor. His demeanor remained unassuming, but his scoring, rebounding, and all-around game would not be ignored.

Does this title come with an asterisk?

The Golden State Warriors could not complete the ever-difficult three-peat. It was a valiant effort on their part, with the most shallow lineup they’ve had in years. DeMarcus Cousins seemed a step slow from his injuries and he never was succussfully integrated in the first place anyway. Fellow center, Kevon Looney was playing hurt as well.

Steph Curry did his thing all series, though his shot appeared to have a mysterious hitch at times. Klay Thompson missed a game, but came back firing like a madman. Unfortunately, after dropping 30 early points last night, he suffered an ACL tear in his knee, ending his Finals.

Durant had an even more brief appearance, playing just a few minutes of game five before suffering an achilles injury. He has undergone successful surgery, but will likely miss next season - a huge blow to NBA basketball.

The Warriors had tough luck, but this championship should not have an asterisk by it for the Toronto Raptors.

Toronto has one of the deepest rosters in the NBA. They also have one of the best players in Kawhi Leonard. To even get to face the reigning champs, they had to defeat the talented Philidelphia 76ers (by a game seven buzzer-beater courtesy of Kawhi) and the Milwukee Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA and MVP candidate, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Every season and especially every postseason has ample player injuries. It happens to several teams each year and it was just that year for Golden State.

To be down to three perennial All-Stars available for most of the series was the situation the Warriors found themselves in, so they were more equipped than most to deal with big injuries. Toronto can feel proud in defeating this squad to win the championship.

There is still WNBA hoops, USA basketball, the draft, awards, and more to come, so the pro basketball goodness is still far from over! Keep it locked to The Basketball Movement as we keep up with what is happening Around the NBA and beyond.

Around the NBA: Finals update

The 2019 NBA Finals is four games in but does not look the way it was expected to.

A game four victory for the Toronto Raptors last night gave them a 3 to 1 series lead over the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are looking to three-peat, but injuries and poor defense have them teetering on the brink of elimination in the association’s 2019 Finals.

DeMarcus Cousins is back, but with no Kevin Durant so far in these Finals, the Warriors appear more vulnerable than they have been in years. Klay Thompson even missed game three, though he was able to return for four.

In game one, Golden State showed the world that they were mortal, losing and falling behind in the series off the bat. The defense was porous, with Toronto’s shooters firing at will. The Warriors did bounce back in game two, maintaining a steady lead to even the series after two games in Toronto.

Game three brought the series to the Bay Area, where the Warriors were even more shorthanded, holding Klay Thompson out due to injury. The Raps took full advantage, continuing to light up the poor defense of Golden State. Despite a herculean effort by Steph Curry, Toronto stole the road game to retake the series lead.

Now following game four, Toronto has a commanding 3 to 1 lead in the series as it heads back up north of the border. The Raptors are seeking their first championship in franchise history.

Should the series end in game five, it would certainly be Kawhi Leonard who would claim the Finals MVP award. It wouldn’t be his first time, as he raised the trophy once before in his time as a San Antonio Spur. Leonard’s scoring and rebounding have been phenomenal. The defense that got him to the league in the first place looks just as elite.

Steph Curry has looked like the scorer and sniper he is famous for being, but he needs help. Klay Thompson has been good and Draymond Green has been distributing away, but the Warriors depth has been a defensive issue.

The true hinge of the remainder of these Finals is the health of Kevin Durant. If Durant could come return next game and help them steal one in Toronto, then they would get to come back home. If they win that home game, we are already at a game 7 loaded with Finals-experienced Warriors vs. the depth of the Raptors.

Sounds exciting, but we will have to see what unfolds one game at a time. Game five is Monday (6/10) at 8:00PM (CST) on ABC. Tune in to see what happens!

Around the NBA: 2019 NBA Finals preview

With a valiant comeback last night, the Toronto Raptors upset the Bucks to advance to the NBA Finals to face the Golden State Warriors.

With a few days to catch our breath before the NBA Finals, let’s take a step back to see how the Raptors and Warriors arrived here. Well, I suppose we all know how the Warriors arrived here for a fifth consecutive Finals appearance: they’re stupid good.

Golden State dropped a couple games to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first-round, but the biggest loss was DeMarcus Cousins to injury. We did not get to see much of Cousins in the regular season anyway, so any scares about ball-movement and flow were non-existent. They did suffer a second-round injury though that had greater implications.

Losing Kevin Durant to a leg injury seemed to leave a window of opportunity wide open for the Houston Rockets. Anytime one of the best basketball players on the planet goes down, the team should suffer, right?

Wrong.

The Warriors reverted seamlessly to the team that was so dominant before the Durant days, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson whipping the ball around and splashing threes at a dazzling clip. Draymond Green looked the best he’s looked all season, stepping up his distribution and hitting timely triples. They swept the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals and have been resting ever since. KD’s health will be a big story in these Finals, though he expected to be available.

Toronto’s path the the Finals

After losing the first game of the Playoffs to the Magic, the Raptors rattled off four wins in a row to advance to face the talented 76ers. That wound up being a seven game series, with the Raptors riding the capable shoulders of Kawhi Leonard to victory.

Next up they faced the Milwaukee Bucks, that boasted an NBA regular season-best 60 wins. The Bucks took the first two games at home, but then Toronto turned around and did the same, taking their home games. With the momentum (and some poor shooting by Milwaukee), the Raptors turned their two-game streak into four, and now get a meeting with the reigning champs for their trouble.

This is the first Finals appearance in Toronto Raptors history.

2019 NBA Finals preview

The Golden State Warriors will be heavily favorited to win this series, especially if two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant is back to full strength. If he isn’t, they will still have three All-Stars in Curry, Thompson, and Green as well as Finals MVP Andre Iguodala coming off the bench to help defend Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard is a Finals MVP himself from his days playing for Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. Kyle Lowry is an All-Star, but will have his hands full trying to keep up with a quicker player in Steph Curry. Perhaps the biggest advantage the Raptors hold is a more talented bench, led by Wichita State alum, Fred VanVleet, who shot lights out to close the series against the Bucks.

Toronto owns homecourt advantage too, but it will still be tough sledding with the difference in experience playing against a squad that routinely plays this deep into the Playoffs.

Below is the Finals schedule, taken directly from NBA.com:

Game 1: Thur, May 30, Golden State at Toronto | 9 ET (ABC)
Game 2: Sun, June 2, Golden State at Toronto | 8  ET (ABC) 
Game 3: Wed, June 5, Toronto at Golden State | 9 ET (ABC)
Game 4: Fri, June 7, Toronto at Golden State | 9 ET (ABC)
*Game 5: Mon, June 10, Golden State at Toronto | 9 ET (ABC)
*Game 6: Thur, June 13, Toronto at Golden State | 9 ET (ABC)
*Game 7: Sun, June 16, Golden State at Toronto | 8 ET (ABC)  

* – If Necessary

Golden State has a knack for making the spectacular appear routine, so all expectations are for them to hoist the Larry O’Brian trophy once again. Hopefully the Raptors can provide some magic and steal some momentum again in this series. The closer to a full seven games, the better for basketball fans, so that is the goal! For continued coverage of the NBA Playoffs and these 2019 NBA Finals, keep it locked to The Basketball Movement!

Around the NBA: A Playoff picture that excludes LeBron James?

We are in uncharted territory with the NBA season nearing its home stretch. An NBA Playoff picture without LeBron James is difficult to imagine.

Most team have around 20 games to go to wrap up their 2018-19 NBA seasons. 16 of 30 teams get to continue playing into the postseason, so most are fighting for seeding or just to make it in. A few of course are locked in the battle of futility, hoping for little more than improved draft odds.

In the East, there are five teams currently standing head-and-shoulders above the rest. The Bucks and Raptors appear to be all but locked into the one and two seeds. The Pacers are clinging to third, but surely the loss of star Victor Oladipo to injury will catch up to them eventually. Coach Nate McMillan and the Indiana role players still deserve a lot of credit.

One of the most talented rosters on paper, the 76ers will be a contender once the dust settles. The Boston Celtics have had a turbulent season despite maintaining about the same roster that led them near the top of the East last year.

The six seed on down currently have sub .500 records. The Brooklyn Nets have been a pleasant surprise with the Pistons, Hornets, Magic, and Heat in contention. The John Wall-less Wizards are looking like a long-shot.

Wild West as usual

As it often is, the Western Conference seeding race is a tight one. The Golden State Warriors are on top as expected, but have already dropped 19 games. That only puts them 1.5 games ahead of the talented Denver Nuggets. The Nugs have a four game lead over the OKC Thunder; that’s where it starts getting very close.

An underrated Trailblazers squad is clinging to fourth, just ahead of the Rockets, Jazz, Spurs and Clippers. Yes, the Spurs are back again after a slow start to their 2018-19 campaign. Conversely, the Clippers overachieved to start the year and initiated a rebuild despite their success. With LA being a desirable free agent destination, they are hoping they can land a star or two next year.

If the Clippers fall off, that leaves two squads that could possibly take their place. The young, surprisingly good Sacremento Kings or LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers stumbled during LeBron’s longest injury absence of his career. Now that he’s back, he says that he has activated “playoff mode”. That didn’t seem to help them much, as they have suffered some of their ugliest losses of the season since.

LeBron doesn’t just have a playoff streak on the line. LeBron James has been to eight consecutive NBA Finals. Eight. Not having him in the playoff picture at all would be incredibly unusual in this era of NBA basketball. To an extent, he knew what he was signing up for with the young Lakers that added bigger personalities than stars over the offseason. Still wild.

The kicker in all this for the Lakers is there remaining schedule, which is one of the toughest in the Association down the stretch (below, from Basketball Reference).

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There are still five weeks to hammer out the final standings. The current playoff picture is an interesting one, with surprises both inside and outside the top eight squads from each conference.

Keep up with The Basketball Movement as we continue to fill you in on happenings around the NBA.

Golden State Warriors: 2018 NBA Champions

The Golden State Warriors are back-to-back NBA Champions, with Kevin Durant winning his second Finals MVP award.

There was little doubt coming into these Finals that the Golden State Warriors were a better team than the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Dubs swept the Cavs, celebrating their victory after game four in Cleveland last night.

Kevin Durant was a monster in the Finals averaging 29 points, 11 boards, 7.5 assists, and 2.3 blocks while shooting 53 percent from the field. His game three propelled his selection for the award, as he shouldered the load in the victory with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson struggling with their shots.

Former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala provided a spark off the bench in his two games back from injury. For the Playoffs, Steph Curry average 25 per game, Thompson about 20, and Durant 29. Draymond Green nearly average a Playoff triple-double with (approximately) a 11/11/8 line to go with 2 steals and 1.5 blocks.

The is Head Coach Steve Kerr's third championship coaching after winning five as a player.

The Cavaliers' side of things

In this series, LeBron James averaged 34/8.5/10 to go with a steal and a block while shooting 53 percent from the field and 84 percent from the stripe.

Interestingly, LeBron had a brace on his shooting hand in his last interview. Reports say that he injured it punching something after the frustrating game one loss. If true, this is a very disappointing move by James. Emotion cannot come before team success.

The extent of the injury is unknown, but it is tough to deny how banged up he was. The apparent hand injury, a few pokes in the eye, an ankle tweak, and the most minutes played in the NBA this season takes their toll.

Kevin Love was the only other Cavalier to average double-digit points in the series, averaging 19 and 11. The rest of the Cavs either were not used properly or just, well, stunk.

End of an interesting NBA season

It was assumed by most that the winner from the Western Conference would handle any team out of the East. The Warriors and Houston Rockets were on a different level than any other teams this year.

A fourth installment of Warriors vs. Cavaliers was not what many fans might have wished for. Really though, that just shows how spoiled we are by today's stars. The Finals gave us one of the best teams of all-time facing off against one of the best players of all-time.

This season was filled with interesting new squad compilations and a new crop of future stars. The NBA is still going very, very strong.

Now begins the offseason. The draft, free agency (that includes LeBron James), Olympics prep, and then Summer League await. Stay tuned to The Basketball Movement for all of the continued coverage!

All stats from BasketballReference.com