Get off the fence: A guide to picking a side to root for in the 2019 NBA Finals

It's been over two weeks since the Rockets were ripped from the playoffs at the hands of the fearsome Golden State Warriors, and the overall level of basketball interest has waned noticeably across the city. But if you love pro hoops that's all about to change as the league prepares for its first new Finals matchup in four years (Well, 50% new). And while the conference championships have been plenty of fun with some remarkable moments mixed in, theres just nothing like the NBA Finals.

With that being said, unless you have some money on the line it can be a little difficult to get invested in the outcome when you don't have a rooting interest in either team. Well, we here at SportsMap have done the work for you and are proud to present the definitive guide to picking a side as a neutral fan.

The case for Toronto

Gamblers Delight - Whether you have money on the series or not, if you're a fan of the degenerate arts might I point your attention to one of the highest rollers in professional basketball, Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

Having already established his reputation as a shark around the card table (especially around the likes of James Dolan), Masai traded one of the cornerstones of his franchise for a one year rental of then injured superstar Kawhi Leonard. This move is the equivalent of putting your wife's engagement ring on the table at the end of a long night of almost winning, and when the series is over we'll find out if Masai blew it all for nothing or if he gets to slip the ring back into his pocket as if he knew it was going there all along.

From Canada with Love - While it may be exciting that the Raptors are the first team to push the Finals to the international stage, thats hardly a compelling reason to root them on in a best-of-seven series. But considering how diverse of a population we have here in Houston, it wouldn't be surprising if you find yourself having some overlap in background with one of the seven nationalities that spans Toronto's roster (none of which are actually Canadian, but Drake is like six feet away from the bench at all times so you guys are represented).

Perhaps you have an affinity for African phenom's Pascal Siakam or Serge Ibaka, or maybe you would like rooting for the fiery Spanish passion of Marc Gasol and, ugh… also Serge Ibaka? International basketball is confusing. Between Caribbean representation from Chris Boucher and the waning force that is Linsantiy, theres plenty of room to engage in the kind of sports fueled nationalism usually reserved only for the FIFA world cup. One thing is for sure, this teams only in favor of building a wall if it keeps Greek Freaks out of the paint!

The Case for Golden State

Evil Corp - This postseason Kawhi Leonard is averaging 31.2 points on 62% true shooting, a feat accomplished only by the likes of Lebron, Jordan, Kareem, and Shaq. And yet it still feels like it could barely be enough to even keep things competitive against the team that "ruined basketball". If you like cheering on the bad guy, the Darth Vader or Dick Cheney of the story, the Warriors are your team.

I'm not saying the team or their fans are evil (although it is difficult to make a case that the people of Oakland are "Good"…), but if you are just starting to root for Golden State in 2019, you are the embodiment of evil and sunlight is probably not your friend. And thats ok! Rooting on the Warriors is the perfect fit for you, (also have you heard of the Yankees or Patriots) and you wont be disappointed how deep their bag of tricks runs. The Warriors can do anything from setting unlimited moving screens, injuring Kawhi in the playoffs, or even worse they could…

Play the Best Basketball, Probably of all time - It's the most unfair thing they do actually. The Warriors combine one of the most complex and intricate offensive schemes with a penchant for high caliber defending, and guess what they actually do it better without 2x Finals MVP Kevin Durant playing. They've broken countless records and are probably gunning for the Harlem Globetrotters winning percentage at this point in their dynasty. So if you like blowouts and hate the teetering, lead switching nature of competitive basketball, its time to say hello to the best drug the Bay Area has to offer, winning.

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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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