‘We don’t really know these guys’: Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors speak at NBA Finals media day
Wednesday marked NBA Finals media day, where players, coaches and management from both the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors spoke to reporters ahead of Game 1 Thursday night.
The day got started with Raptors President Masai Ujiri talking about the team and how much of an opportunity it is for the city of Toronto and Canada to have its lone team in the NBA Finals for the first time.
“There’s so much excitement, passion, energy that we’re excited to get started so. Welcome to Toronto,” he said.
“It’s gonna be crazy here tomorrow, it’s gonna be crazy here on Sunday. It’s gonna be crazy here a few days because that’s the mentality of our fan base. And we know it’s across the world. That’s something special about here.”
All eyes on the stars?
Ujiri made bold moves at the end of last season when the Raptors were swept out in the second round by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He fired coach Dwane Casey, the day after he won coach of the year, and replaced him with first-time head coach Nick Nurse. Then he shocked fans when he traded All-Star and fan favourite DeMar DeRozan for former Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs.
But with the team in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, the risk seems to have paid off and now all eyes are on team leaders Kyle Lowry and Leonard to potentially take this team to a championship.
“Our tone is set by Kyle Lowry. And I think that the way he plays, his attitude towards the game and winning,” Ujiri said. “The mentality of Kyle really translates. The mentality of Kawhi … these guys are built a certain way and we do our best to study and you hope when these players are put together that the chemistry comes together.”
Leonard has been on a historic run in the playoffs, averaging 31.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and shooting just over 50 per cent.
“Kawhi is quiet but he is relentless. His work ethic, it’s almost crazy,” Ujiri said.
Lowry, who came into the playoffs with a lackluster reputation of being a meek playoff performer has been dominant. Despite playing with what some have called an “oven mitt” on his left hand after injuring his thumb earlier in the playoffs, Lowry does more than what is seen on the scoreboard.
“He’s tough and scrappy and just a very high IQ basketball player,” Warriors Steph Curry said. “He always seems to be in the mix, whether it be taking a charge or getting a loose ball or getting a steal, knocking down a big shot, I know he’s heard a lot of noise throughout these playoff runs in Toronto trying to get over the hump and whatnot, but he’s just a very solid basketball player that knows how to play the game and knows how to impact it.”
A feeling out game?
The Raptors took the two regular-season games between the teams but fast forward to Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and you have two very different lineups facing off. Since the teams last met, the Raptors have added Marc Gasol for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and CJ Miles, lost Anunoby to injury (though he might make his return at some point in the series), and Leonard, who sat out one of the regular season games, is playing full time at seemingly 100 per cent.
“It’s the big thing we’ve been talking about,” Bell said. “We don’t really know these guys, we’ve watched a lot film but we’ve never played against the team they have now and they haven’t played the team we have now. It’s definitely a big difference so it kind of makes it more interesting.”
The Warriors will also be showing a different look with Kevin Durant missing for at least Game 1 due to his calf injury.
“We’ve changed the way we play a little bit, made some tweaks,” Bogut said. “We obviously go much deeper into our bench — 11, 12, 13 guys sometimes. They’re probably thinking the same thing. Game 1 is going to be a big feeling out game.”
WATCH: Raptors, Warriors hold media day ahead of NBA finals
The return of OG? The return of KD?
Toronto Raptors OG Anunoby forward underwent an emergency appendectomy the night of April 11, after he said he experienced a lot of stomach pain, headaches and couldn’t sleep. The 21-year-old has missed the entire playoff run but is hopeful he can return at some point against the Warriors.
“It’s been hard not being able to play but still, I’ve just been supporting my team, watching a lot of film, watching the guys play — I’ve been learning a lot,” Anunonby told reporters.
He said he’s still experiencing some pain but has been able to work on his conditioning and shooting.
The 6-foot-eight Anunoby averaged seven points, 2.9 rebounds and 20.2 minutes per game in the 67 games he played during the regular season.
The Raptors could benefit from his size and length in the matchup against the Warriors.
Though it is unclear how sharp Anunoby could be after sitting out for so long, he would provide a much needed boost as another switchable defender against the defending champs, especially if Kevin Durant, who has been out since May 8 makes his return.
Durant, who injured his right calf in the second round against the Houston Rockets, traveled with the team but coach Steve Kerr announced Monday he would not be playing in Game 1.
Despite missing their leading scorer, however, the Warriors have gone 5-0 since Durant went down.
Warriors big man DeMarcus Cousins is still listed as questionable for Thursday night. Cousins tore his quad in the Warriors’ series against the Los Angeles Clippers April 16 but has made progress and practiced with the team for the first time this week.
5 days versus 10 days?
The Warriors enjoyed 10 days off between their Western Conference finals win against the Portland Trailblazers in four and the Raptors were handed five after they defeated the Milwaukee Bucs in six in the Eastern Conference finals. For both teams, the rest was welcomed, as both have a number of players not at 100 per cent but having that much time off could also be seen as a detriment.
“You could look at it either way. You could say it helped them (Warriors) a ton to get healthy or you can say they’ll might be rusty from sitting of those days,” Green said. “It probably helped us quite a bit to have five days off. You don’t know, we might be rusty too.”
“But regardless you have to go out and play basketball,” he continued, adding Game 1 is kind of a feeler game while both teams figure each other out.
Warriors Andrew Bogut echoed Green’s sentiment and said you could argue both sides but at the end of the day, his team needed the extended break and aren’t too worried about it.
“Depending on who wins Game 1, you could write a story saying it helped or hindered us,” he said. “We had a lot of guys that were banged up, at that point with Andre, and KD and Demarcus.”
The forward, who is on his second go-around with the Warriors after being a part of their first two runs to the Finals, including their 2015 championship, said the time was cherished as they were also provided the opportunity to spend time with family before the NBA Finals “circus” started.
The Drake effect?
Is the Drake effect real? The superstar rapper and global ambassador for the Raptors has been gaining a lot of media attention for his courtside antics during the 2019 playoffs. Between getting caught massaging Nick Nurse’s shoulders to waving goodbye to Giannis Antetokumpo, and flipping the so-called “drake curse” on its head against the Sixers, the rapper has been feeling the love and the hate from media and fans around the league.
But is he really a distraction?
“To me, he’s just being a normal fan,” Warriors Jordan Bell. “He just happens to be Drake and has the camera on him 10 times in a game.”
A Curry homecoming of sorts?
While Toronto may not be where Steph Curry was born and raised, the city holds special meaning for the All-Star after he spent two years living here when his dad, Dell Curry, played for the Raptors in 2001 and 2002.
“My wife grew up in Markham right down the street. So a lot of family history and a lot of that side of the family still lives here. So I look forward to coming back here every regular season and now to be in the finals somehow.”
During his time in the North, Curry played for the Queensway College Saints’ boys’ basketball team.
Game 1 is set to tip-off at 9 p.m. Thursday at Scotiabank Arena.
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