Everyone loves a good vs evil match-up. We flock to the cinema every summer to see the latest Marvel movie, where our heroes unite together to fight against the forces of darkness. Sports are quite often, no different. This coming Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors is one such occasion, that has all the hallmarks of a classic, memorable battle between good vs evil.
It is a period of unrest.
Franchises across the galaxy have spent the past decade striking from hidden bases, winning only minor battles.
During these battles, spies managed to steal secret plans to Bob Myers’ ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR.
But the galaxy has seen weakness in the Empire’s ultimate weapon once before, and now they see it again.
Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Masai Ujiri races home aboard his starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save his people, change the foundations of the association and restore competitive basketball….
The forces of evil.
— Matt Ufford (@mattufford) March 19, 2015
The NBA’s all powerful super-team; built through a combination of sheer luck, Bob Myers’ craftsmanship, Joe Lacob’s trust, some sizeable salary cap increases and Kevin Durant’s unwavering desire to be remembered as a champion. Make no mistake about it. This is a once-off; this team consisting of multiple hall-of-famers, two of the greatest shooters of all-time and undeniably two of the greatest players of all-time, will not happen again.
During their mighty reign, they have unveiled three championship banners, five conference titles, five division titles and become the third highest valued franchise in the NBA. Just to put that financial rise in some perspective… here’s a graph showing their value since 2003.
Now, they have aspirations to challenge the New York Knicks as the NBA’s highest valued franchise. One would imagine they’ll get there too, especially with their move to the Chase Center across the bay set for next season. For which, they have already secured $2 billion in contractually obligated income.
The Warriors have changed the game over the past decade, becoming the model franchise and a superbrand worldwide, attracting both hardcore and casual fans alike. They’ve spaced the floor unlike any team in history, achieved historic feats and adopted a casual locker room culture which has enhanced performances on the court and kept players happy off it (until this season, at least). I’m sure Stephen ‘Darth’ Curry knows how to deal with any outcries.
On the court and off it, this past decade belongs to the Warriors and that is why they must be stopped, whatever the cost.
The ultimate juxtaposition; the forces for good
The Toronto Raptors are the quintessential wild child of the NBA, an experiment and the direct result of the crazy decade in which they were formed. I mean seriously, who names a sports franchise the Raptors? How do you think that board room pitch went?
Person 1: Hey, did you see that new film with dinosaurs in?
Person 2: What? Jurassic Park?
Person 1: Yep. I was thinking, you know this new NBA franchise David Stern is giving us?
Person 2: Go on…
Person 1: Well, wouldn’t it be really cool if we named them the Toronto Raptors. You know, after the ones in the film?
Person 2: That’s cheesey as f*ck, but I like it.
For 24 long years, the team from outside America has struggled, battling valiantly to retain its unique identity and trying desperately to introduce basketball to a nation of puck and ice lovers. In that time, they’ve raised just six division titles and suffered more heartbreaking setbacks than several of the NBA’s other franchises combined.
Now, they’re finally making their first trip to the Finals. The whole of Canada is behind them and they’ve finally raised a conference title banner to their rafters. In Kawhi Leonard, they’ve also found a superstar who’s all business, when it matters the most.
This Finals match-up against the defending champions could not have been staged better. David vs Goliath might be a stretch, but it is certainly more reminiscent of the Rebel Alliance’s struggles vs the Galactic Empire in George Lucas’ STAR WARS. For so long, the team from the North have striven to have their opportunity on the games grandest stage, and now they’re here.
Standing in front of them is the most powerful superweapon the association has ever seen: the Death Star, some might say. A team with few weaknesses, if any. Yet even the slightest weakness can be a game-changer, as Luke Skywalker once proved.
Five years after he upset LeBron James and the Miami Heat, Kawhi ‘Skywalker’ Leonard is back on the greatest stage and back facing yet another super-team looking for a three-peat. He’s not alone, his former Spurs teammate Danny Green is also here – a man who once lit-up the Finals.
And then there’s Marc Gasol, who for so long struggled out West vs Golden State. He now finds himself with an unexpected chance at redemption on the biggest stage of his life and let’s not forget, Serge Ibaka. He – who once participated in those incredible Thunder vs Warriors match-ups – is also here and ready to face off against the old enemy.
This Raptors team is stacked with players who, for so long, have struggled to compete in the era of the Warriors. A sort of Rebel Alliance of mercenaries if you will; at varying stages of their careers. Now assembled, they have a shot at immortality.
There’s just one big question.
Do the Warriors have a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port?
In these playoffs, they’ve allowed 110.2 points per 100 possessions, a mark which ranks ninth among the 16 teams and is 1.8 points per 100 possessions more than the average (108.4). Their defense is not brilliant.
The Raptors defense, on the other hand, well that’s a different story. The dinosaurs’ defense has improved as the playoffs have gone on and they are currently holding opponents to a .417 field goal percentage. That’s the best in franchise playoff history.
Their offense hasn’t been half bad either, having outscored their opponents by 148 points with both Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard on the floor. That’s the best cumulative plus-minus among two-man combinations.
This is also crazy; if they keep up their current pace and the Finals last at least five games, then the Toronto Raptors have a shot at the Warriors all-time three-point record of 778 attempts. They currently have 621. They’ve made 34.5 percent of those too. The three-point revolution which was started by the Warriors has hit Canada folks.
So you’re telling me there’s a chance?
A small weakness in the armour, but if one team has proven its heart and ability to exploit teams’ weaknesses this postseason, it has been Toronto.
Of course, the Warriors offense, despite the absence of Kevin Durant for the last five games, has never been better.
Toronto is at a disadvantage everywhere except fan support and if a fully-armed and operational Warriors team suits up against them at any stage of this series, it will be over fast. So, the stage is set and the pace has quickened. Friday morning, 02:00 BST will see Kawhi ‘Skywalker’ Leonard and the Rebel Alliance commence their attack on the Death Star’s main reactor.
You do not want to miss this.
Let us know which side you’re on for the 2019 NBA Finals using #nbaintheuk on twitter, instagram and facebook.
Feature photo – Ezra Shaw / Getty Images / NBAE / Disney / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington
Crawl Text – Star Wars Intro