TORONTO – Dynasty versus dinosaurs.
The Golden State Warriors’ road to a fifth straight NBA Finals has detoured to a new destination – and this one requires a passport.
The Toronto Raptors, a team that arrived in the NBA 24 years ago as the dinosaur-logoed basketball franchise in a hockey-loving country, have finally made it to the championship round and will host Game 1 on Thursday night.
It’s the first time the finals will be played outside the U.S., a refreshing change after a record four straight seasons of the same matchup.
“Different for us obviously, having been in Cleveland four straight years, but this is more the rule. That was the exception,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You’re not supposed to go to the finals four straight years and you’re definitely not, if you’re lucky enough to do that, you’re not supposed to play the same team four straight years.
“This is more what the finals normally feel like, where you’re going against a team you frankly don’t know that well and that you haven’t seen that often over the previous few years.”
Stephen Curry lived in Toronto when his father Dell played for the Raptors at the end of his career, but otherwise it’s a new feeling even for these Warriors, who are one of the most championship-experienced teams in NBA history.
They joined the Boston Celtics from 1957-66 as the only teams to reach five straight NBA Finals, and are trying to become the first team to win three consecutive titles since the Los Angeles Lakers of 2000-02.
Besides facing a different opponent for the first time during their run, the Warriors won’t have the luxury of starting the series at home for the first time. They also won’t have Kevin Durant for at least one more game, though none of that rattles a team that has played in 22 finals games in the last four years.
“We have been here before,” Curry said. “We understand the hoopla and the pandemonium around the finals and how different things are when it comes to just the schedule and the vibe. So we have seen a lot and we’ll be ready for it.”
The Raptors are new to this stage, but their players aren’t. Kawhi Leonard was MVP of the 2014 NBA Finals, when he and Danny Green won a title with San Antonio. Serge Ibaka made it to the finals with Oklahoma City in 2012, and even players such as Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol have played in Olympic finals.
“It’s just the same basketball game,” Leonard said. “It’s 5-on-5. It’s still two hoops. So you just go out there and play hard and live with the results.”
The Raptors had already moved away from their purple uniforms with the red dinosaur, and their reputation as a loser is extinct, too. They have won 50 games in four straight seasons and have the best record in the East over the last seven, but couldn’t get over the hump until this year, thanks largely to the acquisition of Leonard last summer.
He hit the winning shot in Game 7 of the second round and then led Toronto’s charge back from a 2-0 deficit against Milwaukee in the conference finals to win four straight against the team with the NBA’s best record.
They made history just by bringing the finals to Canada and the doorstep of their rowdy fans in Jurassic Park . But Lowry has more in mind.
“For me it’s all about winning, and when you get to the point where you make it to the NBA Finals, you won but you still got more to do,” he said. “So getting here doesn’t do anything but getting here. We still want to try to win this.”
Some other things to know abou the NBA Finals:
DeMarcus Cousins (torn left quadriceps) may be ready to return but it could be a little longer for Durant (strained right calf). Kerr said the two-time NBA Finals MVP, already ruled out for Game 1, hasn’t practiced and would have to do so before returning.
Golden State has won 12 straight Game 1s, including all four in the NBA Finals since 2015, and Gasol was asked for Toronto’s key to getting the series off to a good start.
“Every possession from the jump ball,” he said, “competing, communicating, solving issues as we face them. Do not overreact to whatever.”
Kerr won a championship four years ago in his first season as an NBA head coach and now Nick Nurse can do the same. He was promoted last year after the Raptors fired Dwane Casey, and earlier in his career had been a head coach in both the NBA Development League and the British Basketball League.
Three-peat for No. 3?
Another title would be the Warriors’ seventh and move them into third place in NBA history behind only the Celtics (17) and Lakers (16).
Curry, already the career leading in NBA Finals 3-pointers, needs two more to reach the century mark.
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