We’ve had plenty of time between the Eastern Conference Finals and this NBA Finals, which seems like the first time during this playoff run that we’ve had room to breath. It’s been nice. But rest is for the weak. So we at Raptors Republic have had a variety of series preview pieces. There have been too many to name, but here is a deep dive from me and another from Adam McQueen. The problem, of course, is that we’ve only had content from the Toronto point of view. The solution, then, is to bring in an outside voice. Let’s speak to the enemy. Brady Klopfer is a writer at Golden State of Mind, as well as on the LA Sparks beat. He was generous enough to offer his time and help preview the series by answering some of my questions. These questions are very similar to ones I asked the RR staff, so the contrast between Toronto-focussed answers and Golden State-focussed ones is interesting.
Louis Zatzman: Watching the Raptors’ run to the finals from an outside perspective, have they surprised you? Did you expect them to represent the East?
Brady Klopfer: The Raptors were my preseason pick to win the East, and my pick to win the series vs. Milwaukee. So I can’t say I was particularly surprised that they made the Finals. But that didn’t make their run – and the manner in which they won – less impressive.
Louis: On the other hand, a number of observers thought this was the year the Warriors fell. They haven’t looked that way since. Which Warriors are the Raptors getting, the shaky, end-of-and-empire team, or the in-their-prime dynasty that swept Portland?
Brady: It’s closer to the latter than the former, but I don’t have full confidence in that. The potential returns of Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, while beneficial, threaten to disrupt the flow that the team has developed.
At this point, the Warriors have earned the benefit of the doubt. They’ve flipped the switch too many times over the years, including the final weeks. Steph Curry has realized a need to be aggressive, Draymond Green lost 20-plus pounds and is back to being arguably the best defensive player alive. Durant is an unstoppable force, when healthy. The potential for collapse looms, but right now the team is clicking better than at any point in the last year.
Louis: Who will be the best player in this Finals?
Brady: This is a weird answer, but, while I don’t think it will be Durant, it’s dependent on Durant’s health. If Durant is out, I think Curry is the answer, for the gravity he creates and the offensive impact he puts on every single game when he’s aggressive.
If Durant is healthy, then I’m picking Kawhi Leonard, who has been the playoff’s top player in my eyes. While he has strong defensive value in any series, he has the potential for maximum defensive value when matched up with Durant.
Louis: The Raptors’ defense has absolutely erased three teams in a row. Will the Warriors be able to score consistently?
Brady: The Warriors are way too strong offensively to be stopped, but Toronto has the scheme and individual talent to throw some obstacles in Golden State’s way. I think the Warriors will score well on the whole, but there will be stretches where the offense stagnates and gets sloppy. The question, to me, is can Toronto sustain those stretches long enough to negate the inevitable runs.
Louis: Conversely, the Warriors defense is terrifying, especially when Draymond Green is unleashed as an all-switching demon. How would you expect Toronto’s offense to hold up against Golden State’s defensive system?
Brady: This is a truly fascinating matchup. I don’t expect the Warriors to put Green on Leonard – Andre Iguodala or Durant will get that assignment – but Green will make a huge impact as a rover. Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney have the ability to play Leonard well when switched. Toronto having so many shooters can combat that, and their interior scoring options pose a problem that Golden State hasn’t had many answers for.
Long story short: the Raptors will have to work really hard to score, but they absolutely can.
Louis: Call it.
Brady: I can easily see this series playing out either way. But I’ll go with Warriors in six.