The NBA Finals begin Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ABC) and will feature the Raptors and two-time defending champion Warriors.
Golden State is making its fifth consecutive finals appearance while this is Toronto’s first ever.
The Warriors are favored to win their third straight title, but here are three players who could swing the direction of the series:
To be frank, Green needs to pick it up.
The 2014 NBA champion was among the most efficient 3-point shooters in 2018-19. The Raptors guard converted a blistering 45.5% of his attempts from behind the arc during the regular season but was virtually a non-factor against the Bucks in the Eastern finals.
Green made 4 of 23 shots from deep against Milwaukee, converting his specialty at an alarming low 17.4%. He was held scoreless in Games 5 and 6.
However, Green has been able to elevate his game during intense moments in the past. He had a then-NBA record 27 made 3-pointers against the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals as a member of the Spurs. Although his team lost in the end, he was just the sparkplug San Antonio needed to push the series to seven games.
Green is an excellent defender, but Toronto won’t be able to leave him on the court if he’s an offensive liability against a powerhouse like Golden State.
The oldest member of the Warriors could be critical to their success. The 35-year-old wing has been battling calf soreness this postseason and will likely play an important role in Golden State’s defensive strategy.
The defending champs are up against Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard, who has been one of the most dynamic scorers in this year’s playoffs. Leonard is leading Toronto in points (31.2), rebounds (8.8) and steals (1.6) per game during the postseason, and it will likely require a group effort to slow him.
Iguodala has proven to be an elite perimeter defender who can guard multiple positions. His approach to slowing down LeBron James in the 2015 NBA Finals helped him earn MVP honors and swung the series in Golden State’s favor. His versatility would be well-suited to bother one of the NBA’s more prolific scorers and relieve pressure from stars like Klay Thompson.
Cousins hasn’t played since he tore his quad against the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. But reports suggest he could return by Game 1 of the NBA Finals, despite the initial belief he would not return in the postseason.
“Initially, I thought it was worse than what it was,” Cousins told reporters Thursday. “There was obviously a panic, but once the doctors came out and I realized what it was, I gathered myself from a couple of days of frustration, anger, sadness and all of the above. I told myself to get back to work and do it all over again. That’s what I did, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”
The Warriors big man recovered from an Achilles injury over the offseason and averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in 30 games for Golden State in 2018-19.
Cousins averaged only 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in his first two career playoff games against Los Angeles. But the dynamic will likely be different for the four-time All-Star with Kevin Durant (calf) still sidelined.
The 28-year-old could tip the scales in a major way if he’s able to impose his will with his ability to score on all three levels and uses his physicality as he has in past seasons.
A variety of players could be poised to make their marks on the biggest stage in basketball as early as Thursday in Toronto.
4 – Here are four stats on @StephenCurry30‘s playoff career ahead of the #NBAFinals. Knowledge. pic.twitter.com/KefieSE9xa
— OptaLarry🏀 (@OptaLarry) May 24, 2019