The Toronto Raptors took Game 3 of the 2019 NBA Finals with a 123-109 beatdown of the defending champion Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors are down 2-1 in the series with All-Stars Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant out of the lineup Wednesday night due to injury. It’s up to the team’s other players to step up now until the two starters return.
For the Raptors, as good as Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry were, it was the role players that spelled the difference. From timely threes to defensive stops, the Northerners showed that they are more than just the sum of their parts.
Which team will win it all at the end of the Finals? No one knows for sure but there are at least five players who will determine how long or short the series is going to be. Let’s take a look at who they are and what makes them critical to their team’s chances at winning the championship:
The Warriors have one of the premier postseason reserve players in the league with Iguodala. The 14-year veteran hit the game-deciding three-pointer in Game 2 of the Finals. It evened up the series 1-1 as the Warriors took homecourt advantage from the Raptors. But when the series shifted to Oakland with Golden State missing the services of Thompson and Durant, Iguodala failed to step up his game to fill the void left by either one of his injured teammates.
For the Warriors to succeed against the Raptors who are hellbent on taking the title away from the two-time defending champions, Iguodala has to contribute a much more on offense while sustaining his stellar work on defense. He scored 11 points in Game 3 but for the Warriors to succeed without their two of their top players, they will need him to score close to the 20s. That’s a bit of a tall order to ask from Iguodala, the Finals MVP in 2015 when these Warriors took home their first trophy.
The 35-year old forward can’t complain about the burden placed on his shoulders because if he doesn’t produce, there’s virtually no chance for them to win a third straight title.
4. Marc Gasol
An 11-year veteran, Gasol had never once set foot on an NBA Finals game until Game 1 of the series against the Warriors. He played sensationally and the result was a lopsided win for the Raptors with the Spanish center scoring 20 points. He was the team’s third-leading scorer for the game behind only Pascal Siakam and Leonard. In Game 3, Gasol once again scored in double figures with 17 points and dished out four assists.
Gasol’s presence makes the team’s offense run smoother with his uncanny passing ability. As a scorer, he can take his man down low and shoot from the outside all the way to the three-point area. It’s no wonder that the team lost the Game 2 when he struggled offensively.
Moreover, for the Raptors to win, Gasol has to win his matchup with Cousins whether it’s taking him outside on offense or boxing out the younger and stronger Warriors center for rebounds.
3. Danny Green
Among the role players from both teams, the Raptors starting shooting guard could be the most pivotal as he is expected to space the floor for the team’s slashers. If he gets good looks and nails his threes (Games 1 and 3), Toronto is dangerous. If he doesn’t get enough opportunities to score and doesn’t produce (Game 2), then the game will be a grind and the Raptors have a slim chance of winning.
Green was fifth in the league in three-point shooting percentage in the regular season at 43.2 percent. In the Finals, he is once again scorching the nets with a 47.6 percent shooting from downtown.
In one critical sequence in the waning minutes of the third quarter in Game 3, Green turned a shaky eight-point Raptors lead to a 14-point margin after he made back-to-back threes. Leonard was then able to draw fouls while driving to the hoop as Green nailed another three before the quarter ended. He finished the game with 18 points including six trifectas.
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He’s also a lockdown defender tasked with guarding one of the best shooters in the game in Thompson and, at times, Stephen Curry as well. As 3-and-D players go, Green is one of the best.
Additionally, his postseason and championship experience with the San Antonio Spurs cannot be understated. The poise and ability to stay locked in while playing in a hostile environment is essential to the Raptors winning this series.
2. Pascal Siakam
A Most Improved Player candidate, Siakam is showing everyone in these playoffs that he is a force to be reckoned with. With his playoff career-high 32 points in Game 1 of the series, he gave the Raptors a much-needed secondary threat on offense for the Warriors to worry about. His all-around brilliance was also evident in the Game 3 victory.
Meanwhile, in Game 2, Siakam mostly shot blanks in an ugly 5-of-18 performance that essentially told the story why Toronto lost the ballgame, 109-104. If he had made just three more baskets, they could have won the game and sent the Warriors back to the Bay Area with a 2-0 deficit in the Finals.
The Raptors need Siakam to be at the top of his game every night if his team has any chance of snatching the title away from the Warriors’ collective fingers. Steve Kerr’s boys are too comfortable playing in the Finals spotlight. It’s up to Spicy P to show them a different flavor from what they’re accustomed to from their opponents prior to this series. Rather than shrink from the bright lights, he has to raise his game up another notch if they have any hopes of winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
1. Kevin Durant
Was there ever any doubt that Durant would be No. 1 on this list? There’s a reason why he’s a two-time Finals MVP and why the Warriors pursued him in the summer of 2016. After a historic 73-9 regular season, the Warriors couldn’t finish the job in the Finals that year despite leading 3-1 in the series. The result was a 4-3 series win by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Golden State had to have a player who could create a shot for himself when the offense bogged down which led to the Durant signing and the subsequent two consecutive championships since.
This is why his injury is so pivotal to the Warriors’ success or downfall.
While it’s true that the Warriors still have a shot at winning the title this year even without KD in the lineup, their margin for error increases with a player of his caliber in. The 34.2 points per game playoffs average should come in handy as he adds to the Raptors’ headaches. The opposition doesn’t know who to guard when there are three players capable of scoring at will on the floor at the same time. He’s also an additional body who can guard multiple positions especially as a help defender in containing Leonard or Siakam.
Simply put, Durant is arguably the greatest luxury that any Finals team has ever had in league history and the biggest x-factor that could turn the tide for either team.