Warriors, Raps open showdown

NBA finals 2019

TORONTO, Canada (AFP) - Golden State star guard Stephen Curry likes how the Warriors are playing as they seek a third consecutive title starting in Thursday’s opening game of the NBA Finals against Toronto.

Chasing a fourth crown in five seasons, something no team has achieved in half a century, the Warriors enter the best-of-seven showdown with more finals experience than the Raptors, in the first final of the team’s 24-season history.

“I like the energy we’re coming in with for game one,” Curry said Wednesday. “We’ve been here before. 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.

“We’ve seen a lot and we’ll be ready for it.”

But they aren’t dismissing the Raptors because they are newcomers to the finals.

“They have a very good team and they’re here for a reason so you can’t take them lightly just because they haven’t been here before,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “They have our respect and we’ll come correct tomorrow.”

The Warriors are 5-0 without star forward Kevin Durant, sidelined by a right calf injury, and center DeMarcus Cousins is questionable with a torn right quadriceps muscle.

But Golden State relied on solid play from Curry — averaging 27.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists — as well as reserves and improved play from forward Draymond Green to keep their title quest on course.

“His leadership has been great,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Green. “He’s slimmer, sleeker and faster and that confidence has allowed him to be more poised on the floor.

“You’re seeing the best of Draymond right now. He’s in great condition, an unbelievably high level of play and very poised.”

Green is averaging 13.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 1.4 steals as well as backing up his claim to be the NBA’s best-ever defender.

“If you’re trying to do something meaningful, if you don’t have the mindset that you’re the best ever, you failed already,” Green said. “That has been my mindset since I can remember — that I am the best ever at what I do.

“That will give me a shot at being the best.”

Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, gladly bows to Green’s self-confidence.

“He should feel that way about himself,” Leonard said. “You have to come into these games confident and know what can you do on the floor. I don’t know how to just compare myself against him. I don’t really do that.

“Both bring energy to the game. We want to play defense. We want to stop the player in front of us. And that’s pretty much it.”

Having won an NBA crown and the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award in 2014 with San Antonio, Leonard has had some advice for his teammates in their NBA Finals debut.

“It’s still between the lines,” said Leonard. “You’re playing 5-on-5. We’re still playing basketball. We have a scheme. Just focus on that and don’t focus on the outside attention.”

Leonard is the playoff scoring leader at 31.2 points a game with 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists as well.

“Kawhi has played really well so you want to make it as difficult as possible on him,” Curry said. “He’s tough. He has been playing amazing this whole playoff run and really all season. He’s always at his own pace and never seems to get rushed or be in a hurry.”

Golden State figures to switch multiple players to defend Leonard.

“We have some beyond capable defenders to guard him, take on that one-on-one challenge,” Curry said. “That’s going to be important.

“We’ve had some amazing contributions from everybody on the bench. We’re going to have to play smart. Just play with confidence. We know what we’re capable of.”

Just as Curry can expect to see Leonard and plenty of other Raptors defenders.

“It just really comes to being smart and being in those situations before and knowing what’s going to happen,” Leonard said, citing years of film study and matchups.

Thompson likes rap singer Drake, a devoted Raptors fans, but will skip much of his music this week.

“If it’s one of his soft R&B songs, I’m going to skip it because I’m in kill mode right now,” Thompson said. “I’m trying to get these four games.”