The Golden State Warriors are in Toronto to take on Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night. The Raptors went 2-0 vs. the Warriors in the regular season, but the Warriors are -300 in the series, even as the road team for four games. Game 1 opened as -1 in favor of the Warriors, and we eventually saw the line move through 0 and get to -1 or even -1.5 in favor of Toronto. However, we have just gotten the news that DeMarcus Cousins will be active for Game 1, which I think will hold the line at Toronto -1 or even move the game back to even.
I do think that the biggest conversation heading into this game will be the usage of Cousins and how he will be implemented into the lineup. Cousins had a quad injury, meaning that he will likely not be in fantastic shape, and I would expect him to be limited to some degree. I think that the “sharp” community surrounding the game and Vegas will net underestimate the addition of Cousins. This matchup is a fantastic one for Cousins, especially when you look at how the game can possibly pan out. If we look into how the Raptors have had success in this playoff run, we will notice the slow pace and how this correlates to making shots.
“Making shots made the Raptors better.” I know, hot take central over here, but the Raptors are an elite defense and them making their shots vs. an elite Warriors offense. The Raptors will do everything in their power to get their defense set up and slow the game down into a half-court setting. If the Warriors are able to get out and run consistently and find open looks in transition, I think it will be a long night.
The Raptors want to get everything sorted away on the defensive end and then attack teams, which I think will make Cousins useful. If the Raptors struggle offensively vs. a great Warriors defense, I think that Cousins will be a luxury or even someone that doesn’t need to see the court at all. If the Raptors do make shots and get back in transition to slow the game down, I think that Cousins will be a great addition to the half-court offense for the Warriors.
He is likely to be useful as a screener, someone who can stretch the floor and someone with an elite offensive game who can create his own points if the defense is giving the guards fits. The other story around Cousins is his lack of defensive acumen, especially compared to the rest of the Warriors. Cousins is not an elite defender in any situation, but he would much prefer to be in a half-court setting following around 34-year-old Marc Gasol, who usually operates on the block or as a floor spacer from time to time.
Cousins is a big body who will give effort on the defensive end; he just can’t move with guys. Most teams look to attack Cousins with screens and switch him onto their best isolation scorers. The Raptors could do this with Kawhi, but they really didn’t do this to other players like JJ Redick or Nikola Mirotic like I thought they should have.
I am really looking to see how the Raptors matchup with Golden State defensively because there will be no Kevin Durant on the floor in Game 1. Will Kawhi be thrown onto his primary defender, who will likely be Iguodala? If I were the Raptors, I would likely start with Lowry guarding Steph, Danny Green guarding Iggy, and Kawhi guarding Klay, but I think they will be fluid with Kawhi based on who is hurting them.
The Warriors should be happy with the defensive matchup because they can hide Steph on Danny Green with Klay on Lowry and Iggy on Kawhi. If I were the Raptors, I would play VanVleet and Powell a lot and put either of those on Iggy and make Steph guard someone with some sort of offensive game just to make him exert effort on the defensive end.
I like the Warriors here +1 or at even if the line moves that way with the Cousins news. I think that Cousins has the potential to be important here, and I think that the Warriors have more answers to the Raptors than vice versa.