How Warriors Are Preparing for New NBA Finals Challenge Raptors Present

OAKLAND -- After beating the Portland Trail Blazers seven days ago, the Golden State Warriors were in a bit of purgatory waiting for an NBA Finals opponent.

The wait ended Saturday afternoon, when the Toronto Raptors eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, securing their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.

With the series set, the Warriors now can focus on game planning toward their third straight NBA title.

"Finally!" Shaun Livingston shouted after practice Monday afternoon. "Let's get it started, you know, exciting for everybody. Just to put a team, put some names, you know, put some faces now, start getting the game plan."

In the week following its Game 4 win in Portland, Golden State took two days off before returning to practice Thursday. Without an opponent set, the Warriors went through a full scrimmage Thursday afternoon, which included DeMarcus Cousins, who is rehabbing from a torn right quad. After taking Sunday off, the Warriors coaching staff presented scouting reports for the team.

"You can't put a game plan together if you don't have an opponent," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "When you don't have the opponent, you're going through your own rituals. As soon as you have the opponent, now you have individual player tendencies. You have team actions that they run that you're going to have to deal with. Trends. All those things that go into a playoff series."

Toronto presents a variety of challenges for the Warriors. Under coach Nick Nurse's tutelage, the Raptors won 58 games, finishing with the league's fifth-best offense. In the Eastern Conference finals, they held Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo to just 44 percent shooting over the final two games. 

Perhaps the Warriors" biggest challenge will be stopping Kawhi Leonard. Three years ago, when Leonard was with the Spurs, the All-Star scored 26 points through three quarters in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, giving San Antonio a 78-60 lead. After Leonard injured his ankle, the Warriors used a 18-0 run to take control of the game, in a series they ultimately swept with Leonard on the bench.

This postseason in Toronto, Leonard is averaging 31.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 18 games. On the other end, he's one of the best defenders in the league, and he helped slow down Antetokounmpo.

"He's gifted physically with his strength and his wingspan and foot speed and all that type of stuff," Warriors point guard Steph Curry said. "Most good defenders can't play into their hands, can't get into a battle for position. I know what my strengths are and how to go at it, so I got to play to those.

"At the end of the day, whatever the matchups are, whoever is on you, you just got to make them work within the way that we create open shots and create offense. Be able to adjust to whatever they decide to do on that end."

While the Raptors took both regular-season games from the Warriors, the wins come with a caveat. In their first meeting, Kevin Durant -- with Curry sidelined -- scored 51 points in a 131-128 overtime loss. Two weeks later, without Leonard, the Raptors won by 20 points at Oracle Arena. 

"It's not really much if you can take off of it 'cause guys were out, you know, guys were planning stuff," Livingston admitted. "We're kind of different teams." 

Golden State's fifth straight Finals appearance also will bring the champs to unknown territory. Aside from not playing the Cleveland Cavaliers and the potential absence of Durant, the Warriors will open a championship series without home-court advantage. Fortunately for Golden State -- which has struggled with complacency -- the team has seemed to find a different level of focus away from the Bay Area. In eight road games, they're averaging more points (118.8), shooting a better percentage (48.8) than at home, and have closed each series on another team's home floor.

"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. We started on the road and split the first two games, and had to win a Game 7 on the road. This group has done this before.

"We're obviously playing against a great team in front of a great crowd. It's a different challenge, different routine, but we're up for it and ready to it." 

During this year's postseason, Toronto has built a unique home-court advantage. In addition to selling out every game in Scotiabank Arena, fans have packed the adjoining area named "Jurassic Park" outside of the arena. During Saturday's 100-94 win over the Bucks, spectators overflowed the area, which usually accommodates 1,200 people.

With Game 1 approaching, Kerr isn't concerned about the noise getting to his team.

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"Our guys are used to it," Kerr said. "We got a lot of hand signals for our play calls, for our defensive coverages, all that kind of stuff, so I'm not too worried about that."

For the last week, the Warriors waited to know their NBA Finals opponent. Now, with the championship round just three days away, they finally do the necessary preparation in their three-peat quest. 

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

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