National Basketball Association

Raptors offer new challenge, vibe for Warriors

nba1WARRIORS (12-4) AT RAPTORS (12-6)
9 p.m. ET; ABC, SN1, SNE, SNO, SNW, SNP, RDS, City

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors are playing in their first NBA Finals, and that makes the Golden State Warriors’ fifth consecutive appearance slightly different.

The Warriors will visit the Raptors on Thursday night for Game 1 after playing the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James in the previous four NBA Finals.

The Warriors won three of those encounters and are going for their third consecutive NBA championship.

“Well it’s different,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

“On the other hand, that was the exception. This is more the rule. When you (go) into the playoffs and into the Finals, you’re not supposed to play the same team every year. So that was a special era, a special rivalry and we’re thrilled to be back, and obviously Cleveland has moved on.”

Golden State’s Stephen Curry — who attended middle school in Toronto for two years when his father Dell played for the Raptors — embraces the change.

“Different energy, different city, different views, everything should prepare us to lock in, understanding that we have a prime opportunity to start off this finals series on the road and get a win and set the tone for how it’s going to be,” Curry said.

“I like the challenge and the unfamiliarity of this kind of schedule and flow. We’ve been there before, and we’ve experienced a lot, and this is, I think, something we’re capable of doing.”

The Raptors are making franchise history with their visit to the finals, but there is no indication that they are happy just to be there.

“Obviously, it’s a great accomplishment, and we’re happy to be taking that next step, but you want to win a championship, and you want to win the whole thing,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “It’s not about just making it to the Finals. We’re not satisfied. We’re not happy to be here. We’re really hungry, and we want to go out here and have a chance to win it, and we’ve earned it, and we deserve it.”

The Raptors won both meetings with the Warriors during the regular season. Of course, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said he expects them to be different this time.

“A better team playing harder,” Nurse said. “I think both teams playing harder and playing better.”

The Warriors are dealing with injuries to DeMarcus Cousins (torn left quadriceps) and Kevin Durant (strained right calf). Durant has been ruled out of Game 1, while the status of Cousins was uncertain, Kerr said Wednesday.

While the opponent will be different for the Warriors, so, too, is opening on the road.

“I think we have always been good on the road, but starting on the road presents a different challenge,” Kerr said.

“There’s a different rhythm to the series. It helps having gone through this last year against Houston where we started on the road and split the first two games and had to win a Game 7 on the road. So this group has done this before.”

The Raptors have faced a series deficit in each round of the playoffs this year.

“Well, it would be nice not to face a series deficit; that’s for sure,” Nurse said. “But again, I think you’ve just kind of got to take it as it comes. I think you certainly didn’t want to lose the first game against Orlando, but for some reason it ended being a really good thing for us because we looked pretty good the next four times out.

“And I don’t know, we lost embarrassingly in (Philadelphia) and played pretty good from there on out. We dropped two (in Milwaukee), and I wasn’t really that despondent about it.”

Pre-Game Notes:

• This is the sixth time the NBA Finals will feature a team making its first-ever Finals appearance (Raptors) squaring off against the defending champion (Warriors). The defending champion has won the title in four of the previous five instances, with the lone exception coming in 1948 (the second season of the NBA), when the Bullets defeated the defending-champion Warriors.

• Golden State is looking to become the first team in the four major sports to win three straight titles since the Lakers did so from 2000 to 2002. The 17-year drought without a three-peat in the four major sports is the longest drought since all four leagues have simultaneously existed (since 1946-47).

• Stephen Curry capped off his stellar series against the Blazers with 37 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in the clinching win. He was the first player to have a 30-point triple-double in a series-clinching victory since the Lakers’ James Worthy in Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals against Detroit.

• This marks only the fourth time in the last 20 years an Eastern Conference team will host Game 1 of the NBA Finals, along with 2008 (Celtics), 2011 (Heat) and 2013 (Heat).

• The Raptors fell down 0-2 to the Bucks, marking the 74th time a team went down 0-2 in a best-of-seven series against the team with the outright best record in the NBA during the regular season. Of those 74, Toronto was one of only two to come back and win the series (Cavs over Warriors in 2016 Finals) and the only one to do so in six games.

• Kawhi Leonard is averaging 31.2 points per game while shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 87.5 percent from the line this postseason. In NBA history, no player has ever finished a postseason averaging 30.0+ points per game while shooting 50.0+ percent from the field and 85.0+ percent from the line (minimum 15 games).

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