By Rickey Hampton, Editor and Founder of TheAfricanAmericanAthlete.com
The National Basketball Association playoffs shine a spotlight on every participant, from the coaches and players, to even those who officiate the games.
And the Finals are where the light shines the brightest. It can illuminate greatness, as well as expose failure.
After all, the entire basketball world is watching.
As the Toronto Raptors get set to host the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals, some things have become crystal clear.
First and foremost, the Golden State Warriors are great. That’s not a news flash considering they just qualified for their fifth consecutive Finals appearance, and will be favorites to capture their fourth title, and third in a row.
But there has never been a team in the NBA to lose arguably their best player, Kevin Durant, and seem to play even better. Durant has been out of action for part of the Houston series and all of the Portland series.
And, if anything, the Warriors have played better.
In fact, there are those who will even argue the Warriors are better without Durant. People don’t even mention that all-star center DeMarcus Cousins has been out with an injury through the playoffs.
I am not one of those people.
You can’t be better when you lose a 6-foot-11 scoring machine, who can get buckets against anyone.
What Durant’s absence (and Cousins to a lesser degree) actually demonstrates is the Warriors are so good they can beat you two entirely different ways.
The backcourt of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson pairs two of the greatest shooters in NBA history. When Durant is out, they get more aggressive, and that spells troubles for opponents. But the heartbeat of the Warriors is Draymond Green, who is playing some of the best basketball of his six-year career.
Green is the catalyst that ignites the Warriors offense.
They can beat you with the ball going through Durant, and letting him play one on one against opponents. Or, they can play like they are playing now with stunning ball movement that is on par with the great Celtics teams of the ’60s, and the Knicks of the early ’70s.
And while we continue to marvel at the Warriors’ prolific offense, we often overlook what an outstanding defensive team they are. Green, a superb defender, keys the defensive attack, that has consistently been able to cover for Steph Curry’s less than stellar on-ball defense.
While the Warriors have had their close calls during this run of championships, they have always managed to prevail. It only took an extraordinary effort from LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavalier in 2016 to keep this from being on the brink of five consecutive titles.
It will take a Herculean effort from the Raptors to win this series, and they are capable. This is a tough, battle-tested team, that has the home-court advantage, which could be big in this series.
The Raptors also have Leonard, who during the 2019 playoffs, has been extraordinary, averaging 31 points a game, knocking down clutch shots, and playing lock-down defense. In his first season in Toronto, Leonard has established himself as arguably the game’s finest player. Actually, Leonard has been one of the NBA’s best players for a long time now.
He is often called the best ‘two-way’ player in the game. In my mind, that makes him the best player in the game today. If he is dominant on the offensive and defensive end of the court, what’s left for him to do?
Of course, the Warriors dealt with LeBron James playing some of the best playoff basketball that’s ever been played and beat his Cavalier teams three out of four times.
The Raptors have the best player in Leonard. But the Warriors have the best team. That’s with, or without Kevin Durant, or even DeMarcus Cousins. And with another title, the Warriors will have placed themselves in the conversation as one of the NBA’s all-time great teams.