Raptors-Warriors NBA Finals is great TV – regardless of ratings

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Lee Eric Smith

Wednesday night, the Toronto Raptors shocked the NBA, seizing back home-court advantage with a 123-109 win at Oracle Arena. It was a thrilling game, with the Raptors overcoming a 47-point explosion by Steph Curry and controlling the game throughout.

After Game 4 in Oakland on Friday, the game schedule quickens – if either team gets on a roll, a champion could be crowned by next Tuesday. But if these games are going to be like this, I am in ZERO rush.

A lot has been made of the fact that TV ratings for this year’s Finals have taken a significant dip – Neilsen shows a dip of more than 20 percent for the first two games. You might think that these Finals are boring. And you would be wrong. There are a few reasons rating would dip this year:

No Canada. No brainer here: Neilsen doesn’t track ratings in Canada, where excitement over the first ever-NBA Finals played on Canadian soil has exploded viewership across the Great North.

No LeBron (or Kobe). People still want to tune in to see their favorite players. And this is the first time since 2006 that the NBA Finals hasn’t featured the King or the Black Mamba – and even that 2006 Finals featured Shaq and a young Dwyane Wade beating a young Dirk Nowitski and the Dallas Mavericks.

No rivalry. Rightfully so, the recent Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry drew comparisons to the Lakers-Celtics rivalry of the 1980s. Even before that, we had the mini-rivalry of the Miami-Heat vs. the San Antonio Spurs.

But for many of us, this is our first time really even seeing the Raptors. I mean, did you know who the heck Pascal Siakam was before Game 1? Do you know who he is now?

No (perceived) competition. So we have the defending champion Warriors – now in their fifth straight Finals – against the “puncher’s chance” Raptors. Despite a wire-to-wire win in Game 1, nobody gives the Raptors a serious chance to win the series. So why watch?

I actually have an answer to that one: Because it’s really good basketball. The first two games were highly entertaining and competitive down the stretch. Former Memphis Grizzly Marc Gasol even had a nice Game 1 with 20 points and seven boards.

If you’re not watching these NBA Finals, you’re missing out. Both teams are playing at a very high level. Former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is reminding us who he is. Toronto’s defense is giving Golden State all it can handle.And you’re missing out on the coming-out party for Pascal Siakam.

And if you’re wondering why I mentioned Siakam twice in the same column, well, you’ll just need to watch to see why.

About Kevin Durant

If I have to listen to one more person criticize Kevin Durant about his move to Golden State…

This nonsense flared up again after Durant went down in the Houston series. The Warriors went on to make quick work of Houston and then swept Portland 4-0, prompting the ridiculous question: “Are the Warriors better without KD?”

No. No. And NO! Different? Sure. Better? No way. If you’re Golden State, these Finals are showing the reason you go get a Kevin Durant: Guys get hurt, and you don’t want your title hopes snapped along with someone’s hamstring. Having multiple superstars isn’t just about raw firepower; it’s an insurance policy.

If you’re Kevin Durant – or any hooper, really – you want to play with the guys you think will help you win. In a pickup game, nobody deliberately picks less talented players just so they can prove a point. Game chooses game. As for proving points, Durant is a two-time Finals MVP. Mic. Dropped.

Durant may be cleared to play in Game 4 this weekend – yet another plot point in this intriguing international matchup. If he’s at full strength, it’s likely the Dubs will three-peat. In fairness, they may well win it without him.

But either way, stop disrespecting KD’s game.

A puncher’s chance

Many fans were shocked to see Toronto win Game 1 at all, let alone controlling the game so thoroughly. Count me among them – sort of. I mostly think it’s folly to dismiss an Eastern Conference Champion before the game tips off – even in a weaker Eastern Conference, you still have to be really good to get to the NBA Finals.

Then again, these are the Warriors, and they did sweep LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavs 4-0 last June. So while I’ve picked Golden State to win the championship in six games, I do believe Toronto can get at least two games in the series, and with a few lucky breaks, may pull off the upset.

Those lucky breaks have been coming in the form of injuries that have shredded the Warriors bench. Despite Demarcus Cousins’ return in Game 2, and Kevin Durant’s expected return in Game 4, the Warriors have several key players playing wounded: Andre Iguodala (calf); Klay Thompson (hamstring) and Kevon Looney (fracture).

Toronto’s strong Game 1 showing and Golden State’s depleted roster have combined to create a question mark around these Finals. If the Raptors want to hang a banner at Scotiabank Arena, they won’t get a better chance than right now.

Hibernating Bears

If you’re wondering why it’s taken me so long to mention your Memphis Grizzlies, it’s because there’s not much to report. While the team has seemingly finished its front-office overhaul, their coaching search has been remarkably quiet.

Conventional wisdom says they’d want a new coach in place in time for the NBA Draft on June 20. Conventional wisdom also says they’ll select Murray State PG Ja Morant no matter who is coach, so maybe there’s no rush.

And maybe they’re waiting for other chips to fall around the NBA. There are rumors that despite recent success in Philadelphia, Brett Brown may be fired. Mike D’Antoni may be available if contract negotiations in Houston continue to flounder. The Grizz would definitely play faster under D’Antoni.

And then there are the highly regarded assistants, like San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon. She’s got the know-how and the Popovich pedigree, and as perhaps the most progressive of the four major leagues, the NBA may well be ready for a woman head coach.

But this is all speculation. We simply won’t know who the Grizzlies’ next coach will be until they want us to.

Lionel is a Laker

We know who the new Grizzlies coach won’t be – Lionel Hollins.

Hollins and Jason Kidd will be on the staff of incoming Lakers coach Frank Vogel. So that’s THREE head coaches on the same staff. It would be an embarrassment of riches if it weren’t also a seeming recipe for disaster.

I trust Vogel, Kidd and Hollins to put their minds together to form a formidible brain trust around LeBron James. But there’s no avoiding the appearance that the Lakers have not one but TWO insurance policies in place in case things with Vogel go sideways.

Obviously, we’ll have to see how the draft and free agency goes, but the Lakers will again be the epicenter of NBA drama – regardless of whether they’re winning or not.

Draft is two weeks away. Until then…

GRIND ON!