The climax of the NBA season has finally arrived, just eight months after training camp started in the fall.
The Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors are the only teams left standing from their conferences and are now locked in a fierce competition for the 2018-19 NBA title. Toronto defended its home court with a 118-109 win in Game 1 of the Finals. Raptors All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry combined to shoot just 7-of-23 from the field, but a few of the team’s other key players stepped up.
Taking into account all games played in the past week, let’s decide on which players have either lifted or dropped their stock the most.
NBA Playoffs Week 7 Risers
Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors (Raptors leading 1-0 against Golden State Warriors in NBA Finals)
No star shined brighter in Game 1 of the NBA Finals than Siakam. The 25-year-old forward followed up an 18-point effort against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals with 32 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal on 14-of-17 shooting from the field in Game 1 against the Warriors.
Aside from Siakam, this is the list of players who have scored at least 30 points in a Finals Game 1 during the first three seasons of their career: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan.
That’s absolutely amazing company. Expecting Siakam to measure up to any of those legends is unreasonable, but the fact is that he is one of the NBA’s top young stars with a lot of skill on both sides of the floor. We’ll see if he can live up to the pressure that he’s created for himself with such a stellar Game 1.
Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors (Raptors leading 1-0 against Golden State Warriors in NBA Finals)
Gasol was one major X-factor that I identified heading into Game 1. Would he continue to play a more passive role in the Raptors’ offense and struggle as a rebounder, or would he step up against Golden State’s young bigs?
Even though the veteran big man fouled out on Thursday, his efficient 20 points in 30 minutes were vital to the Raptors’ success. He was pretty solid on the boards (seven defensive rebounds) and allowed just two combined offensive rebounds to Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins.
Gasol’s main impact in Game 1, though, was on defense. His excellent instincts and smarts on that end helped keep the Warriors’ pick-and-roll from finding the success it has found for much of the postseason. Let’s see if the Warriors can try and do a better job of exploiting Gasol’s slow feet in Game 2 as opposed to letting him stifle them with his basketball IQ.
Danny Green, Toronto Raptors (Raptors leading 1-0 against Golden State Warriors in NBA Finals)
Green scored 11 points in 30 minutes on 4-of-9 shooting from the field and 3-of-7 shooting from long range in Game 1. That’s a very average game from regular season Green, who averaged 10.3 points in 27.7 minutes on 46.5 shooting from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range.
For Green in these playoffs, though, that kind of production is an extremely helpful development for the Raptors. Green’s last eight games heading into the Finals saw him average 3.9 points per game on 20.9 percent from the field and 20 percent from behind the arc. Keep in mind, he was still playing 26.4 minutes per game in that stretch.
I guess one game of solid shooting doesn’t guarantee that Green is out of his slump, but it has to be a confidence boost for the 31-year-old wing. The fact that he contributed two blocks and no turnovers in Game 1 is just an added bonus.
NBA Playoffs Week 7 Fallers
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks (Bucks lost 4-2 to Toronto Raptors in Eastern Conference Finals)
We’ll start here with a guy who is now eliminated, but didn’t do much to help his stock down the stretch of the Bucks-Raptors series.
Middleton had an efficient 30 points in the Bucks’ Game 4 loss, but he was mostly non-existent as Milwaukee lost four straight games to end the series with the Raptors. In Games 3, 5 and 6, the Bucks’ wing averaged 13 points in 40.3 minutes per game on a true-shooting percentage of 41. It’s nearly impossible to win when you’re getting that sort of production from your supposed No. 2 option on offense.
It will be fascinating to see what will happen with Middleton’s free agency on the open market. Will teams offer him a max contract? Will one of those teams be the Bucks? If the Bucks don’t offer him max money, will he still want to return? After Middleton’s and the Bucks’ poor finish to the postseason, there’s a lot more uncertainty about what is going to happen with him this summer.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (Warriors losing 1-0 to Toronto Raptors in NBA Finals)
An important preface to this inclusion is that Green’s uneven performance in Game 1 of the Finals came after four straight gems in the Warriors’ sweep of the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals. It’s just one bad game following several great games.
However, Green did struggle quite a bit against Toronto on Thursday. Though he reached the bare minimum numbers for a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists), he shot 2-of-9 from the field, didn’t register a blocked shot, fouled five times and turned the ball over six times.
Toronto isn’t respecting Green’s outside shot at all, instead daring him to try and charge at the rim and challenge the length of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Green will sometimes draw defensive fouls, but he is generally pretty out of control as a slasher and doesn’t have great touch around the rim.
In this series especially, the Warriors badly need Draymond’s inconsistent three-point jumper to start falling more.
DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State Warriors (Warriors losing 1-0 to Toronto Raptors in NBA Finals)
This may be a bit harsh, because Cousins played his first game in more than six weeks on Thursday. He is definitely still feeling the effects of his quad injury suffered in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Cousins didn’t look ready at all to compete in his eight minutes in Game 1. He had a lot of trouble running up the floor in transition defense and he was slow to react on defense, committing two fouls. Toronto attacked his lack of speed in transition, and it hurt the Warriors.
The bright spot from Cousins was his passing. He had two nice assists in his limited playing time, so maybe that is something he can build off. Right now, he really needs to get his wind back if he’s going to be justified in getting minutes against a great Raptors team.