5. Figure out who guards the Claw
Following a topsy-turvy image-shattering season, Kawhi Leonard has returned to the basketball scene with a vengeance in these 2019 NBA Playoffs. Already a dominant two-way force, he seems to have increased his level of productivity past his All-Star level of play, reasserting himself among the best in the game as the leader of this Raptors squad.
So far during this postseason, the former Finals MVP has averaged 31.2 points on 50.7 percent shooting along with 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. This is to say nothing of his effort at the defensive end, where he’s routinely summoned the strength to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player for stretches at a time.
Leonard has turned this Toronto team from a conference-final hopeful to legitimate championship contender. Subsequently, slowing him down will be the key to stifling an offense that struggles to consistently produce outside of him. Luckily for the Dubs, they aren’t short on perimeter defenders. The issue is figuring out who among them will officially step up to the challenge.
Klay Thompson seems like a logical option. The lights-out shooter was named to his very first All-Defensive Team this season and has developed a reputation of ball-hawking some of the true elites of the game. The issue here, though, is that his presence on Leonard leaves the task of guarding Kyle Lowry to Stephen Curry. Although not as poor a defender as he’s made out to be, Golden State would be better off conserving Steph’s precious energy for the offensive end.
With a similar frame and experience guarding superstar forwards, Andre Iguodala will see some run against Kawhi in this series. However, Iggy is in the midst of nursing a tight calf suffered in Game 3 of the conference finals. He failed to play in Game 4 and even if he were to suit up for Game 1 of the Finals, the 35-year-old can only last for so long.
Rather than commit a single defender to Leonard, head coach Steve Kerr will likely spread the effort across multiple players on the roster. He’s emptied his bench quite a bit over the last few games in an effort to combat all the injuries he’s been forced to deal with and is sure to continue that trend even if Durant returns.
Draymond Green will switch onto Kawhi and even Alfonzo McKinnie will see some action. For Golden State, it’s about throwing multiple looks in order to throw a player at the peak of his basketball powers off his game, if only slightly.