This is new for this three-time champion version of the Golden State Warriors: They aren’t in Cleveland anymore.

Four years in a row they have played for the NBA championship, and four times in succession they played against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Now this is new and different. With the Warriors, it always seems to be same time next year — only this time, it’s the same time next year, just in another country, against another team, in a great city against an unlikely opponent.

Another championship run may be old hat for the been-there, done-that dynastic Warriors. This is all brand new for your Toronto Raptors.

Here we are in Toronto, and the celebration hasn’t really slowed down much since Saturday night. Half of the city is wearing Raptors gear. The other half is out trying to buy some. We may be off the streets, but our minds are racing. Collectively, our hearts are pounding.

As a sporting city, we have never been this excited, this nervous and this frenetic, all at the very same time. Maybe you’ve experienced this before. It depends on your age.

But if you’re 30 and under,  you’ve never experienced anything like this before, a best-of-seven, coast-to-coast, Goliath versus David, America versus Canada matchup, maybe the greatest shooting team we’ve ever seen against the Raptors.

The challenge is that immense. The possibilities are enticing.

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“I’m glad we had a little rest,” said coach Nick Nurse. “We needed some. And it was just the right amount. You don’t want too much. You don’t want too little.”

He thinks they’re ready for Golden State. But what’s Mike Tyson’s famous line about having a game plan?

“Everyone has a game plan until you get punched in the mouth,” Tyson used to say.

Steph Curry can punch you in the mouth by hitting a three from Mississauga. Klay Thompson can, too. Durant, if playing, can knock you out, as can Draymond Green.

They have that many weapons. The Raptors have weapons, too — they just don’t have the championship pedigree around them. Kawhi Leonard has been the best player in this year’s playoffs, having one of the great post-seasons of all time. Pascal Siakam has been occasionally great, Kyle Lowry more than that. Fred VanVleet has been enormous since becoming a dad, was not enormous waiting for the baby to come.

The answers aren’t as distinct or obvious. How could they be? This Golden State team is one for the ages, the way Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics were one of those teams, the way the Los Angeles Lakers, first with Magic and Kareem and later with Kobe and Shaq, were one of those teams, and the Bulls of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and the more subtle champions of Tim Duncan and friends in San Antonio were unforgettable.

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The baton has been passed from dynasty to dynasty in the NBA, from mini-dynasty to dynasty and, for years, the Raptors have been one of those teams with a paddle instead of a baton, moving in circles.

But Leonard hit a desperate arching jump shot in Game 7 against Philadelphia — bounce, bounce, bounce, drop and, against all odds, the Raptors won four straight after losing two in a row against the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA.

It’s still so very hard to comprehend.

That this is happening.

And it’s happening now.

And it’s happening here.

And damn, if that isn’t the Golden State Warriors over there, the team we watch on television late at night, the team that doesn’t lose, here as the favoured opponent.

Do the Raptors have a chance? They have Kawhi Leonard, which means they have a chance.

Do they have a great chance? They have Leonard, which means they have a chance — how great, it’s impossible to know.

Leonard will almost certainly be covered by Draymond Green. This puts one of the great defenders in basketball against one of the unlikely big scorers in the game. The flip side could be that one of Golden State’s great scorers, like Curry, would be covered by Kawhi.

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Whatever the Raptors do, Kawhi is central to it. The Warriors are not so singular. That — and all that championship savvy — is reason enough to worry.

But the offensive Kawhi versus the defensive Green is a fascinating place to start for Game 1.


Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Greenlikely will be tasked with defending Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard on Thursday night. Jack Boland/Toronto Sun

“A lot of (stars in the NBA) are natural, God-given scorers,” said Green. “Kawhi isn’t that.

“Kawhi didn’t come into this league as a scorer, yet he’s one of the best scorers we have in the league now. It just doesn’t look the same, but the results are the same and/or better. He’s really worked to get to where he is today … And that comes with a different mindset, a different appreciation. When you have that different appreciation, it shows in your play. It is showing in his play and it shows in their team being in the NBA Finals.”

And so it begins. The obvious and the unexpected. The dynasty and the also-ran. Twenty-one experts from the giant ESPN were asked to predict the series: Nineteen had Golden State winning. Two liked the Raptors.

Last round, just about everybody liked Milwaukee. The first thing the Warriors like best — they’re in one of the great cities in the world. They’re not in Cleveland anymore, Toto.

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twitter.com/simmonssteve


SIMMONS: Do the Raptors have a chance? Yes. How much of one is the question

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