NBA Finals Picks — No Surprise: Warriors Are a Viable Underdog in Game 1

Date | AuthorCharles Jay

Last Updated: 2019-05-30

It looks like the “smart money” is backing the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, moving the home team into the favorite’s role. But is this team, appearing in the its first championship series, the smart choice? The Golden State Warriors attempt to conclude their quest for a third consecutive world title as these teams meet for Game 1 at 9:05 PM ET on Thursday at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

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The Raptors did defy the odds after going down two games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, but they deserved to win as they played better and better defense as the series progressed. As we enter the Finals, their Defensive Rating in the playoffs has improved more than four points per 100 possessions as opposed to their regular season figure. Maybe that’s to be expected, but you could make the argument that they have the best defender and two-way player on the floor in Kawhi Leonard, especially as Kevin Durant will miss this game with a troublesome calf strain.

Toronto also made tremendous strides over the course of the conference finals series when it came to production from the bench. The second unit people made a heck of a difference, and the most impactful player may have been Fred VanVleet. After going through an awful stretch in which he hit just five of 35 from beyond the arc while awaiting the birth of a child, he has stunningly made 14 triples in 17 attempts after the baby’s arrival. And his plus-minus for the series was a robust +39.

And another reserve, the athletic Norman Powell, made for a very profitable combination with Leonard, as they’ve been +15.3 points per 100 possessions during this post-season. Golden State got great work from its bench in the last couple of games of the series against Portland, but the Warriors have only gotten 21% of their points from the reserve crew.

Will they beef up a little in that area with the possibility that DeMarcus Cousins suiting up? He was declared “pain free” by coach Steve Kerr, who says he has done an excellent job rehabbing quickly from a torn quadriceps. After some scrimmage, he may be able to play a few minutes. Remember, however, that the Dubs have been 4.2 points per 100 possessions better when Cousins was not on the floor. And Kevon Looney has been doing what the Warriors want Kevon Looney to do, as he has an “eFG” or Effective Field Goal Percentage, of 72.5% in the playoffs, giving them a much-needed offensive presence in the paint.

In the NBA Finals odds posted on this game at BetAnySports – with reduced juice for better prices – the Raptors are the slight Game 1 favorites at home:

Toronto Raptors -1 (-109)
Golden State Warriors +1 (-101)

Over 213.5 points (-107)
Under 213.5 points (-103)

We leave open the possibility that the Raptors might come into this thing very fired up. And the four days they have had off might be just the right amount of rest, compared to the full ten days it has been since the Warriors last competed.

But do you really want to sell Golden State short here, or make the assumption that they are going to be “rusty,” or something like that? Surely some of you remember when they went through a similar break, a couple of years ago, when Durant was in his first year with the team and they met the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals. They came out very sharp, shooting 50% from the field in the first quarter. Could they do the same, and take advantage of some Toronto jitters?

They will move the ball around a lot quicker and a lot more effectively than what Toronto is used to this season. And they have been surprisingly good on the offensive glass, with a rebounding rate of 30.1%. If there is a chink in Toronto’s armour, it’s that they aren’t a particularly powerful rebounding team (just a 48% rate), despite the presence of Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka.

Toronto doesn’t start these playoff series well, does it? As of right now, over the history of the franchise, they are 4-14 ATS when it comes to Game 1. We’re not sure whether that continues, or if there is reason for us to expect it to. But since Steve Kerr became head coach in Oakland, the Warriors have won 18 of 19 in the opening game of a series. They have captured six of eight on the road in the playoffs this year.

And can they play without Durant? They have won 31 of the last 32 straight-up when they have Steph Curry and are missing KD.

And they’re the dog here? We are just fine with the G-State side here.

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