When Golden State go on a roll, opponents tend to panic. But Kawhi Leonard and Co kept their cool in a fevered Oracle Arena on Wednesday night
Toronto outplayed Golden State on Wednesday night to take a 2-1 lead in the NBA finals, and many would have us believe the Raptors merely needed to turn up to secure a victory over a Warriors team without Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney.
Thats unfair. Golden State had four All-Stars on court. And in Steph Curry, they had the guy thats made the whole thing tick throughout their championship run. Curry was in rare form on Wednesday night as he tried to drag his teammates kicking and screaming to a win. Curry had 25 points at half-time to the rest of the teams 27. In the second-half, Curry finished with more field goals than the rest of the Warriors starters combined. It didnt matter. Any decent Golden State stretch was answered with a dagger from one of the Raptors.
When the Warriors burst onto the scene in their new incarnation in 2014, they played with a fluidity and at a tempo that was unprecedented. Everyone in the league was left asking: how do we defend this? And how do we replicate it? That fear factor is now well and truly gone. Almost everyone plays a version of the Warriors style now, including Toronto. It may not be as free-flowing or dripping with as much star-power, but the ethos and principles are similar. Teams are used to it. They have formed habits.
Golden State can still crank it to unstoppable levels and they are hopeful they will have Thompson and Durant back for Game 4 [Editors note, Durant has since been ruled out of Game 4]. When they went on their 18-0 run in the third quarter of Game 3, suddenly everything felt inevitable. In years past, that kind of run would have sunk the Warriors opponents for the rest of the series. Teams felt they needed to score on every possession in case the Warriors get truly rolling. It was mentally and physically exhausting, and the teams shot selection would become more erratic and desperate. But when the Warriors made their run last night, the Raptors didnt panic. They strolled back down the court and hit their own clutch shots.
In fact, the Raptors have stamped their own intimidating style on this series. They play feisty, sophisticated defense with the odd middle-school defense chucked in to help. And their shooting has been superior to a Warriors team that has missed Durant for the entire series. Toronto can switch between bigger bully-ball lineups and smaller, match you shot-for-shot units. Coach Nick Nurse has done a near-perfect job toggling between the two.
There was an illustrative moment as the clock wound down in the first quarter on Wednesday. Curry hit one of his long-distance, what-are-you-even-thinking threes. The Oakland crowd, which had risen to its feet in anticipation, went suitably bonkers. This was Currys house, his time. The Raptors lead was cut to four.
Past opponents would have wilted under the pressure. Toronto did not. With 13 seconds left in the quarter, Kawhi Leonard, languidly walking the ball up the court, shuffled a pass to Kyle Lowry, who in turn flipped it to Danny Green for the open three-pointer. The lead was back to seven.
Danny Green, who had vanished earlier in the playoffs, hit big shot after big shot. Prior to Wednesday night, Green was averaging one three-pointer per game in his last six playoff outings. He hit six last night on 10 attempts. Lowry, who has been excelling at the little things but failing to put up, you know, actual numbers points, rebounds, assists nailed five three-pointers on his way to a 23-4-9 night. The Raptors were plus-14 with him on the floor. Pascal Siakam feasted on the Warriors miserable bench units, too.
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