I think there is little question that the Toronto Raptors have proven to be better than what the Golden State Warriors have been able to put on the floor. That is to say, if Kevin Durant had been able to play healthy in this series, it might have made a difference, but he hasn’t, and that leaves handicappers with what they have in front of them.
A decent argument can be made that the Raptors should/could have won all five games, and indeed they have been able to score more points than the Warriors in sixteen of 20 quarters. They have also been able to take things that may have been perceived as disadvantages and either erase them or reverse them. For example, they have actually out-rebounded the Dubs. They have been able to handle the slow pace and the faster one. And in fact, because Golden State has so many guys who are hurting, speeding things up can be a GOOD thing for them.
The Raptors were good enough that they went 17-5 in the games Kawhi Leonard DIDN’T play for them. And now he is the odds-on favorite to be the MVP of these Finals (listed at -200, in fact).
Here are the NBA Finals odds, as they stand now at BetAnySports, on Game 6. They are reflective of reduced juice, which offers the most value of any deal that is available in the online sportsbook industry. They are also reflective of wagering action which has taken the game from four points down to where it is now:
Golden State Warriors -2.5 (-108)
Toronto Raptors +2.5 (-102)
Over 211.5 points (-105)
Under 211.5 points (-105)
So you have to ask yourself what are the variables that would steer this game in one direction or the other. Durant would have been one of them; when you score 51 points on Toronto in a single game in the regular season, then eleven points in 12 minutes (or less) after a long layoff, you would be a difference-maker for as long as you’re in there.
But he’s gone.
One fluid variable may be the way things are managed from the sideline.
There is a really good argument that Steve Kerr has been out-coached by Nick Nurse, and there wouldn’t be any excuse for it, since Nurse is, literally, a rookie head coach in this league.
I don’t want to get into a lot of revisionist history here, although when you’re trying to handicap these games you are almost required to look at things in retrospect.
And I’ve always thought there were some questionable things Kerr’s done, especially when it comes to playing big men 25 minutes or more in one game and sitting them down in the next. Sometimes you can over-coach; over-think yourself. With a team like this, maybe it’s just a matter of pushing a few buttons and not getting in their way.
Of course, we know that isn’t really the case, especially when you are playing a team over and over again and adjustments are constantly being made. Kerr’s head coaching skills are not necessarily so unique and essential to the situation, as the not-so-estimable Luke Walton took this team to 24 straight wins and a 39-4 record when Kerr sat out with a back injury three seasons ago.
I lost some respect for Kerr as well, as he said he was “shocked” that Durant’s injury could have been exacerbated to the point where it could affect his Achilles. Dr. Alan Beyer of the Hoag Orthopedic Institute, who has a radio show and makes himself available as a source for reporters regarding this kind of thing, has been heard from throughout this whole episode, and he was quoted by CBS Sports as saying this, before Durant stepped on the floor for Game 5: “With a weakened calf, you’re worried about significant re-injury and even tearing the Achilles tendon further down.”
And now we know he was right. Other doctors feel the same way. And Kerr acts as if he was blind to it. I wonder what some of Durant’s teammates are thinking about that. It could be, yes, a “variable.”
Another variable here, almost by definition, is another guy who’s had Achilles problems, but has most recently been coming back from an injured quad. DeMarcus Cousins has been useful in two of these five games and rather unproductive in the other three. We know he is an offensive force when he is right, but on this team he’s not able to do it game after game. And he is also a defensive liability. But when Kerr needed him, he responded to fill some of the vacuum left by the loss of Durant on Monday.
Maybe if they really ran some stuff for him, and gave him enough help on defense, he could provide enough scoring punch for them to close the gap between themselves and Toronto.
Cousins had been known as a “coach-killer” earlier in his career at Sacramento. Wouldn’t it be ironic if he wound up actually saving his coach in this situation? We’re not saying Kerr is in danger of losing his job, but if the Warriors somehow won this series, he might be saved from some of the criticism he might have to endure in the wake of the Durant crisis.
I’m doubting that, however, because of other variables. I don’t think the Warriors are going to make twenty triples, and don’t think the Raptors are going to shoot 25% from beyond the arc again, with Danny Green, the league’s second most accurate three-point shooter, getting shut out again. Under those circumstances, Toronto still only lost by one point, and they had to lose a late lead to do that.
Lastly (only because I’m tired of typing), we turn to the variable of the officiating. Marc Davis, who was voted the third worst referee in the NBA in a player poll, is the crew chief, and the Raptors have managed an 8-0 straight-up record with him on the floor.
That’s one factor I have certainly taken into consideration in siding with Toronto – whether this is the last game at Oracle Arena or not. Jeez, it’s not like it’s Madison Square Garden.
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