NBA Finals Tips: Back Kawhi’s quality to shine with Durant out

Does Kawhi Leonard think he's Michael Jordan or something?

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Golden State Warriors will be hoping Kawhi Leonard’s used up all his juice in the last two rounds of the playoffs. He’s turned the perennially disappointing Raptors into a possible NBA champion this season. And almost singlehanded too.

Back in 2017, Leonard looked to have the Warriors nailed – at least in the opening half of game one – when lining out for the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. He helped San Antonio build a 20 point half-time lead before unfortunately twisting his ankle, an injury that cost him the rest of the series.

It also cost the Spurs a win as they threw away the lead and were swept 4-0.

The way Leonard’s playing this year, we could be due a repeat performance in the finals – and this time for a full series.

He hauled Toronto past two MVP-level players in Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo to get them to their first-ever Finals series this season. The Raptors brought him in to lift them past the mediocre playoff performances, and you can see the confidence his steely presence brings coursing through the rest of the team now.

He’s scoring at over 31 per night in the postseason and if Toronto are to give Golden State a test, he has to keep that up. The line for his total points is 30.5 tonight and he should meet those expectations with the Raptors at home and still buzzing after making the Finals.

Kawhi Leonard Over 30.5 Points @ 11/10

TORONTO, ON – MAY 25: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors hoists the Eastern Conference Championship trophy after defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in Game Six of the NBA Eastern Conference Final at Scotiabank Arena on May 25, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Raptors defeated the Bucks 100-94 to win the Eastern Conference Championship 4 games to 2. NOTE TO USER: user expressly acknowledges and agrees by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Licence Agreement. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

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The main factor in this game and the series is Kevin Durant though. The former Thunder forward is just about the most lethal scoring presence in the league but will miss at least the first game of the series and probably more because of the calf strain that ended his involvement in the Conference Seme-Finals.

If he’s out for a prolonged period it could swing the series in Toronto’s favour. Though many say that Golden State have been better since he was sidelined, the fact is he poses so many problems for opponents that he essentially makes the Warriors unbeatable.

They still have Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and their long-distance shooting and gritty play lifted them to the championship prior to Durant’s arrival, so they don’t necessarily need him, but it certainly makes Toronto’s task a bit easier.

Leonard is one of the best defensive players in the league too, and he’ll be assigned to cover Curry on most plays while Durant sits. If KD comes back, that gives them a decision to make, but until then, they’d expect this to be a tight series and hope to take advantage of the Warriors’ bad fortune. If they don’t win tonight, they’re not going to when Durant is back.

Toronto to Win @ 4/5

October 16, 2018; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) congratulates guard Stephen Curry (30) for making a three-point basket against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Since KD’s been out there’s a pep in the step of Draymond Green. The Warriors grinder is often overshadowed by the other stars in the Bay Area, but his play is a big part of Golden State’s success.

Maybe he was feeling a bit left out back in November when he got into a public spat with his teammate Durant, who is expected to leave the Warriors as a free agent this summer. They’ve patched things up since then, but Green’s play in the Portland series was noteworthy because the team seemed to be back playing the way they used to.

He’s averaging almost a triple-double per night in the playoffs. That includes over 11 rebounds per night in the last series. With the line set at 10.5 rebounds for Green tonight, I’d strongly fancy the over.

Draymond Green Over 10.5 Rebounds @ 11/10

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*All odds correct at time of posting