'Special' Warriors can still be beaten: Zubac

Los Angeles Clippers star centre Ivica Zubac says Stephen Curry and company are tough to beat but he's not writing off the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals.
Los Angeles Clippers star centre Ivica Zubac says Stephen Curry and company are tough to beat but he's not writing off the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals.ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG

Los Angeles Clippers centre Ivica Zubac is used to standing out in a crowd.

The 2.16m Croat is one of the tallest players in the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the 22-year-old is not averse to making eye-catching predictions, too.

When Game 1 of the NBA Finals tips off in Toronto on Friday morning (Singapore time), the Golden State Warriors will be the overwhelming favourites to win a fourth NBA championship in five years.

But Zubac feels that it is premature to write off the Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors, who have the firepower to pull off a massive upset over Stephen Curry and Co.

Just ask the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who were booted out of the NBA play-offs after losing 100-94 to second seeds Raptors in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday. The Raptors won the best-of-seven series 4-2.

Zubac, who made an appearance at the Jr NBA Singapore 2019 national training camp at Heartbeat @ Bedok yesterday morning, told The Straits Times that the Warriors are not unbeatable.

When asked if Finals debutants Raptors can achieve the improbable, he said: "For sure. Golden State are the favourites, but I think both teams from the East have been really good this year and (Raptors) have a chance. They are going to have home-court advantage (in the first two games), so I think it'll be an interesting finals."

Zubac knows first-hand the size of the task Leonard and his Raptors face. The Clippers and Warriors met in the first round of the NBA play-offs last month when Golden State emerged 4-2 winners.

"Everyone knows they have got great players, but the way they move the ball and their chemistry is special," said Zubac, who scored a game-high 18 points for the Clippers in Game 1 against the Warriors.

"And, in the play-offs, their defence has been on another level. Draymond Green has been amazing, and they're tough to beat."

He added that despite the amount of talent on the Warriors' roster, they also put in a lot of effort in preparing for their opponents.

"Against us, they knew every one of our plays, and our individual preferences, what we liked to do," said Zubac.

"Stuff like if you drive left or right, what your percentage is from the three-point line, and whether it's better to foul you and put you on the free-throw line.

"They kill teams with their unselfishness and chemistry, and being prepared."

Zubac, who was traded to the Clippers from the LA Lakers in a deadline-day deal that many have described as a blunder by now-resigned Lakers head of basketball operations Magic Johnson, is impressed by the popularity of basketball in Singapore.

Pointing to the 200 boys and girls that had gathered at Bedok yesterday morning, he said: "I didn't expect it to be like this. There are a lot of kids who play, and some really talented ones, too."

A Singaporean playing in the NBA one day may be a pipe dream, but Zubac said: "I don't know what the system is like in Singapore, but you have to start from very young.

"Talking to some people here, maybe in Singapore parents are sometimes not as supportive for their kids doing the sport. But, to make it, they need support from the parents and the system."

Five boys and five girls aged 11 to 14 from the ActiveSG Basketball Academy programme were named as 2019 Jr NBA Singapore All-Stars and will travel to Jakarta for the Jr NBA Asia Qualifier next month.

The five boys are Tan Jing Yuan, Prasant Selvakumar, Soo Wei Jie, Lim Yi Heng and Jayson Tan Zhi Sheng. The girls selected are Rachael Loo, Kerine Tan En Qi, Maeve Loo, Kayla Lim and Iris Yuen.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2019, with the headline ''Special' Warriors can still be beaten: Zubac'. Print Edition | Subscribe