With Finals matchup set, Warriors can finally prepare for the Raptors
OAKLAND - Since beating the Portland Trailblazers seven days ago, the Warriors have been in a bit of purgatory waiting for an NBA Finals opponent.
The wait vanished Saturday afternoon, when the Toronto Raptors eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, securing their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.
With the series set, the Warriors can now set their focus on game planning towards their third straight title.
"Finally!" Shaun Livingston shouted following practice Monday afternoon. "Let's get it started, you know, exciting for everybody. Just to put a team, put some names, you know, put some faces now, start getting the game plan."
In the week following their Game 4 win in Portland, Golden State took two days off before returning to practice Thursday. Without an opponent set, the Warriors went through a full scrimmage Thursday afternoon, which included Cousins, who is rehabbing from a torn right quad. After taking Sunday off, the Warriors coaching staff presented scouting reports for the team. .
"You can't put a game plan together if you don't have an opponent. When you don't have the opponent, you're going through your own rituals," Kerr said. A's soon as you have the opponent, now you have individual player tendencies. You have team actions that they run that you're going to have to deal with. Trends. All those things that go into a playoff series."
Toronto presents a variety of challenges for the Warriors. Under coach Nick Nurse's tutelage, the Raptors won 58 games, finishing with the league's fifth-best offense. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they held Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo to just 44 percent over the final two games.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Warriors will be stopping Kawhi Leonard. Three years ago, when Leonard was a member of the Spurs, the all-star scored 26 points through three quarters in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, putting giving the Spurs a 78-60 lead. After Leonard injured his ankle, the Warriors used a 18-0 run to take control of the game, in a series they ultimately swept with Leonard on the bench. This postseason in Toronto, Leonard is averaging 31.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 18 games. On the other end, he's one of the best defenders in the league, helping slow down Antetokounmpo.
"He's gifted physically with his strength and his wingspan and foot speed and all that type of stuff," Curry said. "Most good defenders can't play into their hands, can't get into a battle for position. I know what my strengths are and how to go at it, so I got to play to those. At the end of the day, whatever the matchups are, whoever is on you, you just got to make them work within the way that we create open shots and create offense. Be able to adjust to whatever they decide to do on that end."
While Toronto took both games from the Warriors in the regular season, the wins come with a caveat. In their first meeting, Kevin Durant - with Curry sidelined - scored 51 points in a 131-128 overtime loss. Two weeks later, without Leonard, the Raptors beat Golden State by 20 points at Oracle Arena.
"It's not really much if you can take off of it cause guys were out, you know, guys were planning stuff," Livingston admitted. "We're kind of different teams."
Golden State's fifth straight Finals appearance will also bring the champs to unknown territory. Aside from not playing the Cleveland Cavaliers and the potential absence of Durant, the Warriors will open a championship series without homecourt advantage. Fortunately for Golden State - who has struggled with complacency - the team has seemed to find a different level of focus away from the Bay Area. In eight games, they're averaging more points (118.8), shooting a better percentage (48.8) and have closed each series on another team's home floor.
"Starting on the road presents a different challenge," Kerr said. "There's a different rhythm to the series. It helps having gone through this last year against Houston. We started on the road and split the first two games and had to win a game seven on the road. This group has done this before. We're obviously playing against a great team in front of a great crowd. It's a different challenge, different routine, but we're up for it and ready to it."
During this year's postseason, Toronto has built a unique homecourt advantage. In addition to selling out every game in Scotiabank Arena, fans packed the adjoining area outside of the arena named "Jurassic Park." During Saturday's 100-94 win over the Bucks, spectators overflowed the area, which usually accommodates 1,200 people. With Game 1 approaching, Kerr wasn't worried about the noise getting to his team.
"Our guys are used to it," Kerr said. "We got a lot of hand signals for our play calls, for our defensive coverages, all that kind of stuff, so I'm not too worried about that."
For the last week, the Warriors have waited to know their Finals opponent. Now, with the championship round three days away, they can finally get the necessary preparation in their quest for a third straight title.
"I like the challenge and the unfamiliarity of this kind of schedule and flow," Curry said. "We've been there before and we've experienced a lot, and we think something this is we're capable of doing."