By every conceivable metric, the Warriors are more than likely going to represent the West for the fifth straight year in the NBA Finals. Their only real test, barring a ridiculous comeback by either the Clippers or Jazz, will be the Houston Rockets in the second round. The Western Conference might be a two-horse race to the finals, but in the East, any of the top four seeds could make it out. So which teams will fare the best against the Warriors in the Finals?
Head to Head and Point Differential
The table below outlines each of the four teams’ regular-season records against Golden State, as well as their point differential in those games.
From these two statistics alone, the Raptors, followed by the Celtics, are the best bet to beat the Warriors. Naturally, the sample size is extremely small for the two games, so let’s look at each teams’ roster composition.
Against either team, the Bucks own home court advantage but evidently, the Warriors are the far more difficult matchup. While Giannis Antetokounmpo is likely a top five player in the league at this point, the Warriors have two top five players and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green who are both elite. Giannis is nigh unstoppable on offense; playing perfect defense may very well result in a Greek Freak dunk clean over a defender’s head. Unfortunately, the same can be said about Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, save for the dunking over a defender part. Curry’s proficiency moving with and without the ball, combined with his quick release make him extremely difficult to guard and contest. Kevin Durant is nearly impossible to contest given his ridiculous height, wingspan, and high release point.
Out of the five teams, however, the Bucks do have the best player and arguably the best team. They are elite at three-point shooting, and their starting lineup matches up well against the Warriors. For one, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton are elite defenders that can match up with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Furthermore, Giannis Antetokounmpo has the length to contest Kevin Durant, and if Malcolm Brogdon is back by the Finals, then Middleton can guard Durant while Giannis plays free safety sagging off of Draymond Green. Finally, Brook Lopez provides a significant mismatch at the five with his ability to stretch the floor against a poor perimeter defender in Andrew Bogut, or he can dominate the post against the smaller Kevon Looney.
Finally, with bench pieces like Nikola Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill, Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton and DJ Wilson, the Bucks’ bench is easily more talented than that of Golden State’s.
The Raptors’ starting five is arguably as good as that of the Bucks, however, their bench is much weaker. Toronto’s main advantage is Kawhi Leonard, who looked ready to decimate the Warriors in 2017. In his 24 minutes prior to injury in game one, Leonard recorded 26 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists along with some elite defense. When he checked out, the Spurs were up 23. That lead immediately crumbled as Golden State went on an 18-0 run. It’s impossible to say whether the Spurs would have won that series with a healthy Kawhi. This time around, we know he’s healthy, and the roster around him is much stronger.
The Raptors are elite defensively and will definitely give the Warriors a tough time. Between Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors have three players capable of having amazing games offensively. Additionally, Serge Ibaka, Danny Green and Marc Gasol are all able to have massive games of their own.
In terms of their starting lineup, the 76ers are unmatched in the East. The problem for them is their abysmal bench. Their second unit is full of unreliable, streaky shooters, and frankly, their best option off the bench is Boban Marjanovic. Aside from Andrew Bogut, the Warriors really don’t have anyone to guard Boban, and if he can keep the second unit upright while the starters rest, the 76ers actually have a decent shot to challenge Golden State.
The 76ers have three elite defenders in Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Furthermore, Tobias Harris has the length to contest Durant, and JJ Redick is actually a decent situational defender against Steph Curry. Although Curry will beat him off the dribble, Redick understands better than anyone (save for Curry) how to utilize screens to get open. As a result, he might successfully keep track of Curry and prevent any wide open threes.
The Celtics are a wildly streaky team, and it’s uncertain how this year’s roster performs against a higher caliber opponent. The difference maker for Boston will likely be whether or not Marcus Smart is available. If he is, he’s capable of giving Steph Curry and extremely difficult time on the defensive end, which will allow the Celtics to focus more on shutting down Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
While Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford are all capable defenders, the main trouble will be figuring out what to do with Kyrie Irving. Traditionally he’s gone one on one against Steph Curry, and that matchup usually ends in a barrage of scoring on both sides. Neither player is particularly great at guarding his counterpart. While the Warriors could hide Curry on someone like Smart, Irving is a defensive mismatch the rest of the team.
In terms of their odds to beat the Warriors, the Bucks and Raptors are about even. Both teams have two All-Stars, with another player that arguably should’ve been a third. They are both excellent defensively and match up well against the Warriors. Both teams also have a superior bench to Golden State.
Right behind the Bucks and Raptors is the 76ers by virtue of their strong starting lineup and defensive match-ups. The Celtics could give the Warriors some trouble, however, they aren’t as skilled offensively, and they do not match up as well as the other three teams.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com
Featured image courtesy of Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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