Kyle Lowry, Raptors Beat Stephen Curry, Warriors Without Injured Kawhi Leonard

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2018

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 12:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors dribbles on his knees while being guarded by Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors at ORACLE Arena on December 12, 2018 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors finished their season sweep of the defending champion Golden State Warriors in a potential NBA Finals preview with a 113-93 victory on Wednesday at Oracle Arena.

Toronto moved to 23-7 overall, snapping a stretch in which it went 2-3 in its previous five games, further solidifying its position atop the Eastern Conference. Golden State fell to 19-10 and had its four-game winning streak come to an end.

The visitors turned to a balanced attack with Kawhi Leonard sidelined, and all five starters scored in double figures. Kyle Lowry spearheaded the effort with 23 points, 12 assists and five rebounds, while Serge Ibaka added 20 points and 12 boards.

Kevin Durant stuffed the stat sheet for the Warriors with 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but Stephen Curry (10 points), Klay Thompson (14 points) and Draymond Green (two points) combined to go 2-of-16 from deep and never found their typical strokes.

           

Raptors vs. Warriors Best Bet for NBA Finals

The Raptors weren't supposed to thoroughly dominate the two-time defending champions. Not without Leonard, anyway.

Yet that's exactly what they did with Lowry and Ibaka each tallying double-doubles.

Lowry sliced through the Warriors defense and either scored himself or set up teammates, while Ibaka controlled the boards and demonstrated his soft touch around the basket.

The showing was even more impressive considering the Raptors were without big man Jonas Valanciunas for extended stretches. He suffered a dislocated left thumb when Green made contact with him while swiping at the ball.

Even without Leonard, Toronto looked like the best team in the Eastern Conference. On Wednesday, ;OddsShark shared the latest championship odds, and only the Warriors (-155; bet $100 to win $64.52) had more favorable odds than the Raptors' +750.

Bettors may be looking for underdog value, but there isn't a better gamble than Toronto and Golden State facing each other in the NBA Finals.

The one thing holding the Raptors back from the Finals the last three years—LeBron James—is now in the Western Conference, and Leonard is arguably the best two-way player in the league. He can take over a playoff series by serving as a go-to scorer or shutting down the opponent's best player.

Toronto isn't just Leonard, though. Playoff-tested veterans such as Lowry, Ibaka, Valanciunas and Danny Green give the team others to lean on in heated moments. The supporting pieces also fit together nicely and fill different roles, with Fred VanVleet providing an offensive spark while Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby attack the rim and add versatile defense.

The end result is a team that is second in the league in offensive rating and seventh in defensive rating, per NBA.com, and can win in a number of ways.

Toronto will also likely have home-court advantage against challengers such as the Boston Celtics, who have an inconsistent offense that is 12th in the league despite seven straight wins, and the Philadelphia 76ers, who are not particularly deep after trading Dario Saric and Robert Covington for Jimmy Butler and with Markelle Fultz sidelined again due to his shoulder.

Golden State figures to be be waiting in the Finals.

There is no reason to overreact to a regular-season result for the two-time defending champions. The only thing that matters is their health come April, May and June after four straight trips to the NBA Finals, and they will eventually add four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins when he recovers from his Achilles injury.

The quintet of Curry, Durant, Thompson, Green and Cousins is something fans would expect to see at an All-Star Game, let alone on the same team.

Best of luck to anyone countering that in the Western Conference. The Houston Rockets team that took a Warriors squad without Cousins to seven games in last season's playoffs has a worse record than everyone in the conference but the Phoenix Suns and no longer has Trevor Ariza or Luc Mbah a Moute.

No Western Conference team can stop the Warriors come crunch time, and the safest bet for their Finals opponent is the same Raptors squad that handled them Wednesday.

           

What's Next?

Both teams are on the road Friday, with the Raptors at the Portland Trail Blazers and the Warriors at the Sacramento Kings.

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