STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The NBA finals begin tonight. The Golden State Warriors are in their fifth-straight finals. You could be forgiven for thinking it's some kind of "Groundhog Day." The Warriors have won the last two titles, three of the last four. But there is also something new here. The Toronto Raptors are hosting Game 1. So this is the first time that at least part of the championship series for the NBA will be played outside the United States. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now. Hi there, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So can we change the name to the World Series of Basketball?
GOLDMAN: (Laughter). Go ahead. You might need a trademark on that.
INSKEEP: I suppose so. Anyway, this is kind of exciting.
GOLDMAN: It is kind of exciting. It's a bit of a big deal that games this significant are being played outside the U.S. The NBA, like all major pro sports leagues, has been pushing its product around the world in recent years, regular season games in Mexico City and London. But this is the finals. So yeah, it's a big deal.
INSKEEP: The Warriors, we're familiar with. And we'll get to them. But Toronto maybe needs a little more introduction. What has brought the Raptors here?
GOLDMAN: Well, what has brought the Raptors here is a lot of very good defense. And this could be - it could be - a problem for the Golden State Warriors because they haven't been challenged defensively like this. They have kind of long and rangy players who can get out at the three-point line and contest those three-point shots. They also have a guy named Kawhi Leonard. And if you haven't heard of him, he is being compared right now to Michael Jordan, Steve. He's a fantastic small forward, playing great offensively and defensively.
But everyone really needs to settle down with the Michael Jordan comparison. If he beats one of the all-time great teams in Golden State then we can start with the MJ comparisons. Still, very good player.
INSKEEP: And if you're going to say that the Warriors are still one of the all-time great teams, does it matter whether Kevin Durant is in or out when you're making that statement now?
GOLDMAN: Well, this is a question that has been raging since he went down with a calf strain five games ago. And in fact, he is not going to play in tonight's Game 1. And his status is really up in the air for the entire finals. The Warriors would love to have him back. Without Durant, they're different. There's more of this kind of constant motion and movement. More players are involved, with Steph Curry and Draymond Green, more proactive in the offense. With Durant, the Warriors add a devastating offensive weapon. He's so tall, and skilled and hard to guard, with him playing the offense often works around to him taking the final shot, which means maybe less of the magical motion we've been seeing the last five games without him.
But to be clear, Golden State wants him back. But the key is working him back into the game so the Warriors don't lose their flow and just stand around and wait for Kevin Durant to make a great play.
INSKEEP: Although, you make a great point. They have never depended on a single player, have they?
GOLDMAN: They have not. You know, the smart basketball people at the TrueHoop blog described the Warriors' offense, which has been playing so well, as a Cuisinart. It's a whirring mix of speed and movement...
GOLDMAN: ...And they call guard Steph Curry the engine and electricity of that Cuisinart. And he's playing so well now. And he drives defenses absolutely crazy. They have to start guarding him as soon as he crosses half court and pay attention to him constantly, whether he has the ball or not. Draymond Green is also playing phenomenally well in the absence of Kevin Durant. He's like a second point guard out there, even though he is a forward. The Warriors' offense right now is just cooking.
INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.