Is the Golden State Warriors’ reign above the NBA finally over? The Toronto Raptors have them just one away from a non-championship season, something that hasn’t happened in Golden State since 2016.
Toronto’s 3-1 lead is heavily on the shoulders of a superstar performance from Kawhi Leonard, but a variety of other players have also been contributing to that series score. Let’s go through six players who deserve credit for playing above or below their standard in Games 2 through 4 of the Finals that happened in the past week.
NBA Playoffs Week 8 Risers
Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors (Raptors leading 3-1 against Golden State Warriors in NBA Finals)
What a beast. Leonard is putting forth a heck of an argument as the best player in the NBA today with superstar performances in shotmaking, rebounding and defense.
Since Game 2, Leonard’s averages are at 33.3 points, 11 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Those numbers are coming despite the fact that he’s facing much more defensive attention from the Warriors than any other player. The fact that he’s the current favorite for Finals MVP couldn’t be any more clear. If the Raptors win Game 5, no one else on his team deserves any votes for the award.
It seems like every time the Warriors go on a run, Leonard is there to drain a big three, hit a turnaround jumper from the midrange area or get to the free-throw line, where he’s shooting a mind-blogging 45-of-48 in the series.
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors (Raptors leading 3-1 against Golden State Warriors in NBA Finals)
With key regulars Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam shooting a combined 12-of-34 from the field in Game 4, the Raptors needed someone to step up as the Robin to Kawhi Leonard’s Batman.
Enter Ibaka, who pumped in 20 points, four rebounds and two blocks in just 22 minutes. He was a pain for the Warriors to deal with in the pick-and-roll, thanks to his confident midrange shooting, good timing as a cutter and explosive leaping ability.
In all three games this week, Ibaka has made a positive impact in three different areas despite persistent foul trouble. His scoring was his strong suit in Game 4. He had six blocks and two steals in 22 minutes in Game 3. He had 10 rebounds in 16 minutes in Game 2.
Ibaka is one of those hardworking, high-end role players who definitely deserves to win a championship at some point in his career. Can the Raptors get him that ring on Monday?
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors (Warriors losing 3-1 against Toronto Raptors in NBA Finals)
Thompson’s wet jumper was an oasis for the Warriors and their often sputtering offense in Games 2 and 4 of this series.
Golden State had a poor offensive first half in Game 2, but Thompson stayed confident in his jumper during that time, keeping the Warriors in position to come back for the win despite his hamstring injury that occurred in the second half. In Game 4, Thompson shot 11-of-18 from the field and 6-of-10 from three-point range. His teammates shot 24-of-60 from the field and a frigid 2-of-17 from downtown.
You have to give Thompson a lot of credit for pushing through his injury to play well in Game 4, especially when the rest of his team failed to execute well on offense.
NBA Playoffs Week 8 Fallers
DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State Warriors (Warriors losing 3-1 against Toronto Raptors in NBA Finals)
Cousins made this list last week for a very uninspiring eight-minute stint in Game 1. He briefly made the inclusion look silly with a strong Game 2 performance of 11 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks.
In the two games since then, Boogie has been completely bottled up by the Raptors’ post players. He has only put up 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes while shooting 4-of-13 from the field with four fouls and a whopping seven turnovers. Boogie is having trouble not only with returning to the court after his quad injury, but also with finding his role in the offense. He is either completely uninvolved or forcing low-percentage shots or passes.
On the bright side for Golden State, this poor stretch of play may reduce Cousins’ price in free agency this season, allowing the Warriors to retain him on a reasonable deal within the salary cap.
Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors (Raptors winning 3-1 against Golden State Warriors in NBA Finals)
Siakam has been OK in the past three games, but we need to remember that many people were putting him as a strong contender for the NBA Finals MVP after his fantastic Game 1.
Since then, Siakam has posted mediocre numbers by his standards. His 16.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4 assists since Game 2 look solid, but his true-shooting percentage is a very poor 45.2 and he’s achieving those numbers in 40.3 minutes per contest. He hasn’t hit a three-pointer in his last few contests, even though the Warriors are leaving him wide open on every possession.
The future is still incredibly bright for this young power forward, as he has been progressing rapidly during his three NBA seasons and is a strong defender and capable scorer. However, his big offensive weakness of outside shooting is something he needs to improve.
Alfonzo McKinnie, Golden State Warriors (Warriors losing 3-1 against Toronto Raptors in NBA Finals)
McKinnie is a relative unknown, even among NBA fans. He has faced a lot of adversity to make it to the Warriors’ roster, and he deserves a lot of credit for his hard work.
That doesn’t mean he should be getting rotation minutes in the Finals, though. McKinnie has played 37 minutes since Game 2, and he has totaled seven points, six rebounds, two assists, no steals or blocks, nine fouls and two turnovers on a pathetic true-shooting percentage of 28.4.
McKinnie’s stronger end of the floor is defense, but Kawhi Leonard is completely tearing him up whenever the Warriors reserve gets that matchup. It is basically an automatic basket or shooting foul whenever McKinnie is defending Leonard.
There’s still some promise down the line for McKinnie as a role player. He just isn’t ready for the NBA Finals.
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. These are only Jared’s news articles, most of his articles for USA Betting are sports game previews and they can be found here.