The NBA Finals are officially underway with the Golden State Warriors taking on the Toronto Raptors. The Golden State Warriors are making their fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. The Toronto Raptors are playing for the crown for the first time in franchise history. Join the Highlander in previewing if the Warriors can continue their reign against the Raptors.

Preview was written before the publication of this issue, which was after the start of the NBA Finals.

Who or what will be the determining factor in who wins this series?

Ricardo Garcia: The determining factor in this series will be the benches for each team. Both teams’ benches have grown thin over the season. The Warriors’ bench has grown thin due to the fact they can’t afford decent bench players, and the Raptors essentially gave it up when they traded for Marc Gasol. When the star players are sitting, someone has to step up, and both teams’ benches have few players who can do that.

Cameron Sadeghi-Movahed: I think the determining factor in whoever wins this series will be the defensive prowess, especially on the interior. I think defense and rebounding will be huge, and I think the Raptors have the advantage there because of the length and the amount of versatile role players they have. They can throw a lot of bodies at Durant in Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka. Danny Green can guard Curry, Siakam can even run around and chase Thompson, so they have a lot of versatility. Defensive rebounding will be critical in this series. I think both teams will shoot well, but defense and rebounding will be the determining factors in who wins this series and I think the Raptors have the advantage.

What do you think each team’s primary gameplan should be?

RG: The Warriors’ primary gameplan should be to smother Kawhi Leonard whenever he has the ball. The strategy worked on Damian Lillard, and he made some horrendous passes in the Conference Finals. The Raptors’ gameplan should be to physically bump and knock down Stephen Curry, even at the expense of a few fouls. This would help the Raptors wear him down and prevent him from moving off the ball so much.

CSM: The Toronto Raptors should be attacking the basket and attacking inside, going inside, possibly posting up Ibaka and Gasol, hitting them on pick-and-roll situations. Leonard should be driving all day long. They shouldn’t be settling for jump shots against a team that is very small inside, so I think they should be going to the basket and attacking hard. For Golden State, I think they should have a spaced out floor, have good spacing, set solid screens, move the ball around, try to get some movement out on the perimeter. A lot of screens for Curry will lead to a lot of open opportunities, and I think for the Warriors it will be mainly about off-the-ball movement and solid-ball movement.

Who do you think will win this series? Why?

RG: Warriors. The closest thing to Golden State the Raptors have faced this postseason are the 76ers, who took them to seven games. The Raptors are tired and the Warriors, who have been laboring with a few key injuries, had nine full days of rest. With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson now healthy, and the return of DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant looming, the series is tilted in the Warriors favor. This is also the last Finals that will be played at Oracle Arena before the Warriors move to the Chase Center in San Francisco. They’ll likely attempt to end the series in Oakland to honor the fans for over four decades of support. Meanwhile, I’ll use my next paycheck to get ready to buy some new Championship merchandise.

CSM: I think the Toronto Raptors will win this series in seven games. Toronto has a greater bench mob than the Warriors do. The Raptors have players like Fred Van Vleet, and Jodie Meeks, among others who all have the ability to chip in and contribute. The role players outside of Leonard and Lowry, such as Siakam, the Raptors have so many guys who can perform.I think Toronto will win in seven games. They have the bench, and that’s what I really believe. I think their bench and their role players are going to pull through, along with Kawhi Leonard’s stellar play.

Who will take home the Finals MVP award this year?

RG: Stephen Curry will win Finals MVP if Kevin Durant is out for at least two games. If Durant returns for game two, then his chances diminish slightly, but he still has a great shot regardless to make his mark in this series.

CSM: The best player in the world right now, Kawhi Leonard, will win the Finals MVP award. He is so solid defensively, he can lock down anyone. Kevin Durant really struggled at the end of games against Toronto this year because he could not get past Leonard. I think in the one home game they played, Durant at the end of the game was trying to cross up Kawhi Leonard, but he got pick-pocketed by Leonard, who was able to take it down and score. Leonard has the offensive and defensive prowess. Offensively he can make any shot. He can score from anywhere on the floor. He’s so good at attacking. His passing has gotten so much better in these playoffs, and he’s finally finding the open net. He’s collapsing the defense and finding open shooters. If it wasn’t for Leonard, Van Vleet wouldn’t have had those seven threes against Milwaukee because of all those drive-and-kick situations.

Do you think this series will have free agency implications? We know Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson will all be free agents. How do you think this series will affect their summer and where they end up?

RG: This series will not have any free agency implications. I fully expect Thompson and Durant to stay in Golden State, since the Warriors can give them both the most money. Plus, nobody wants to see this golden dynasty end. Leonard should also stay, now that he can see he can carry his own team to the Finals.

CSM: I think Klay Thompson could become a Laker, potentially. We’ve heard those rumors. I’m not sure about Durant. I really do think Kawhi Leonard will stay in Toronto, because Kawhi has always wanted to be that ball-dominant star. You could even tell in San Antonio that he wanted to be a ball-dominant player even though he had to stand in the background with Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, but in Toronto, Kawhi is the star, Kawhi is the leader, Kawhi is the one that has the ball in his hands at the end of the game, closing game after game. I think Kawhi stays. Durant stays, and I think Klay Thompson goes to the Lakers considering that Thompson used to live in the Rancho Santa Margarita area. I believe he went to Rancho Santa Margarita High School. His father is a former Laker and lives in Ladera Ranch, so he’s a big Southern California person, and Kawhi is too. Klay Thompson will go to either the Clippers or the Lakers. I think this series will affect them because I don’t think Klay Thompson will have a good series. Klay Thompson historically hasn’t done that great in the Finals. Even in the first Finals victory that started the Dynasty, he really struggled against Cleveland. He missed a lot of shots. I think he averaged less than 15 points per game, and he had a really low shooting percentage, so Klay Thompson will be going to the Lakers in my opinion.

Is this the end of the Warriors dynasty?

RG: No, this is not the end of the dynasty regardless of what free-agency decisions happen. If Durant leaves, so be it, but the Warriors still have the core four that began this run in 2015. Durant’s hypothetical departure would free up money for the Warriors to sign solid bench pieces, so, in essence, the team will be able to rely on solid minutes from their backups when Curry or Thompson are on the bench, much like they had in the past.

CSM: Yes it is because they are running into a better, solid, sturdy, defensive team that can attack the basket, and that is a vulnerability for the warriors. It is the end of the Warriors dynasty. They may have to break up players. Maybe Green leaves, Thompson I believe will leave. This is the end of the Warriors dynasty.

What is your series prediction?

RG: Warriors in six. If the Warriors do fall behind at some point, they have the championship pedigree to come back and win; they have won their previous four playoff series when trailing at any point. All the Warriors need is one road win in their in great shape to win their third consecutive title.

CSM: Raptors in seven. Home-court advantage is huge, especially for Toronto. Golden State doesn’t have home court advantage this year. We know how big of an advantage it is for them to start off hot, especially being up 2-0. That’s really how Golden State wins these finals. They get home court, they get hot, they shoot hot at home and then they’re up 2-0. Being down in a 2-0 hole is always difficult to climb out of. The only team that really climbed out of a hole against Golden State was that LeBron-Kyrie 2016 miracle year, with Richard Jefferson and Kevin Love. I just think Toronto in seven. Toronto is deeper this year, they have the hottest player in the world, the most consistent player in the world. They are just too big, too strong and too long for this Warriors team. So Raptors in seven.