We have a new NBA Finals matchup! After four straight years of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers meeting in the league championship round, the Toronto Raptors have emerged from the Eastern Conference to challenge the Warriors this year. Game 1 will be hosted by the Raptors on Thursday (9 p.m. ET on ABC).
Toronto has frequently advanced one or two rounds in the Eastern Conference over the past few years, but the additions of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Marc Gasol as well as the improvement of Pascal Siakam have them looking like a legitimate title contender this year.
Golden State has faced some adversity in the postseason, from tough series against the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets to injuries to Kevin Durant and Demarcus Cousins. However, the squad is rested now and has looked fantastic with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green leading the charge in the Western Conference Finals.
Which of these excellent teams will strike first in this Finals series? We’ll break down the important issues that will impact the answer to that question and then give our NBA Finals predictions for Game 1 of the Golden State Warriors vs Toronto Raptors.
Will Marc Gasol’s Size & Skill Shine Through Against Golden State’s Young Big Men?
Gasol has had some good moments in this postseason, especially defensively. For the most part, though, he has been underwhelming. He has averaged just 8.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 31.2 minutes per game with a 54.3 true-shooting percentage.
Sure, Gasol is 34 years old, but those numbers aren’t what you’re looking for from a guy who just made the Western Conference All-Star team two years ago. He has a favorable matchup, on paper, against Golden State and its undersized centers. The Warriors’ DeMarcus Cousins is only questionable for this game, so expect to see a lot of Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell defending Gasol.
Golden State’s bigs have very good athleticism, but Gasol has a definite height, strength, skill and experience advantage on both Looney and Bell. He needs to bully them in the post for rebounds and easy shots in the paint instead of just staying on the perimeter.
Which Team’s Superstar Will Be the Best Player on the Floor?
One of the most fascinating questions about this series is this: who is the best player on either team? Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry both have strong arguments, as does Kawhi Leonard. However, Durant is doubtful for Game 1, which likely means Curry and Leonard are the two guys who will submit their arguments for the title on Thursday.
When Curry is dominating offensively, the Warriors are almost unbeatable. Golden State has a 68-7 record in the last five years when Curry makes at least seven three-pointers in a game.
Leonard has been quite consistent as a scorer in the postseason. When he is both scoring well and making good reads as a passer, he is downright unguardable. The Raptors are 17-4 this season when he dishes out at least five assists in a game.
Curry’s three-point bombs open up everything for Golden State’s offense, while Leonard makes the Raptors’ offense more unpredictable when he’s acting as a strong facilitator.
Will the Warriors Make Fred VanVleet a Defensive Liability?
A huge part of the Raptors winning the last four games of the Bucks’ series was the play of Raptors guard VanVleet off the bench. He wasn’t much of a factor in Game 3, but he knocked down an insane 14 of his 17 three-point attempts in Games 4, 5 and 6.
FVV’s shooting was a big reason he averaged 32 minutes per game in the last three games of the series. However, the Bucks also didn’t do much to target the undersized guard in mismatch situations when the Raptors were on defense. VanVleet is a solid defender when he goes against smaller guards, but he just can’t handle players who are considerably larger than him.
If the Warriors attack VanVleet on defense with guys like Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, the Raptors will have no choice but to reduce VanVleet’s minutes. That will definitely put a damper on the amount of offensive impact he can make with his red-hot shooting.
Our Preview’s Golden State Warriors vs Toronto Raptors Game 1 NBA Finals Betting Picks & Predictions Verdict
I think this game could go either way. The talent on the rosters is quite even with Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins both likely out. Golden State’s superior chemistry and amount of rest heading into the series is balanced out by Toronto’s home-court advantage.
The NBA Finals often bring nerves and very cautious, patient offense. Both teams’ defenses come into this series playing better than their offenses. As such, expect a low-scoring game. Here are our Golden State Warriors vs Toronto Raptors Game 1 NBA Finals predictions:
- The Raptors are a 1-point favorite with almost every trusted sportsbook. I recommend betting on the Warriors +1pts @ -110 with Bookmaker or Intertops.
- For the reasons I gave above, it is very reasonable to expect a game where both teams score very close to 100 points. The smart play here is taking the under 215 total points @ -110 with Bovada.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.