If the Toronto Raptors’ easy victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday was unexpected, the first half of Saturday’s game against Golden State was entirely all too predictable. Coming off a big win, the Raptors might’ve been feeling themselves a little... and the Warriors showed them who’s boss. But Toronto flipped the script in the second half.
The First Nine Minutes or so Were Fun... Then it was 15 Minutes of Terror
For about nine minutes, this looked like a good old-fashioned shoot-out. Both teams were hitting every shot (a combined 7-of-7, by seven different players, to start) and slacking off a bit on D. But the Warriors D began to lock in, and the Raptors defense kept hitting the snooze button.
Only a fine early start (6-of-9) from DeMar DeRozan kept the Raptors in the game, but once he started to force things a little (one for his last five shots in the first), things started to go south. A 32-31 Warriors lead grew to 43-35 by the end of the quarter, and the Warriors didn’t let up in the second.
The Raptors scored a mere two points in the first 4:53 of the second quarter, to the Warriors’ 14. But the score doesn’t tell the story; it’s how easy the Warriors made it look. That 5-man Raptors bench unit that carved up the Cavaliers the other night? They looked like a bunch of high schoolers out there in the second quarter. The Warriors defense smothered everything the Raptors did on offense, and on the other end, Shaun Livingston and Klay Thompson abused Fred VanVleet in the post; David West played the paint like Jakob Poeltl wasn’t even there; Norman Powell reverted to pre-Cavs game Norman Powell; and C.J. Miles was ice cold.
By the end of the quarter the Warriors’ lead had grown to 27, and this game looked over.
I Can’t Help but Appreciate the Beauty of that Warriors Run
Putting the Raptors fan hat aside for a minute. Damn, that was some beautiful ball the Warriors played in the first half. It’s easy to roll your eyes at their greatness, after they added Kevin Durant two summers ago to a roster that had just won a record 73 games. They’re stacked, it’s a super-team, it’s too easy, they’ll be in the finals every year etc. It’s all true; I know I’d like to see a more unpredictable NBA season.
But, as a basketball fan, you have to appreciate the beauty of the ball they play when everything is clicking. The ball movement, the cutting, the switching on D, the shooting... My God, the shooting.
It’s terrifying to watch if you’re on the other side, and yet... it’s incredible to see basketball being played at that level.
It Would’ve Been Easy to Give up Watching at Halftime
When your team is missing its second best player and trailing by 27 to the champs, it’s tough to sit through halftime and come back engaged in the second half. My only thought was, “let’s see if the Raptors can at least correct some of the problems of the first half”—namely, give a better effort on defense and not allow so many open looks, and move the ball better on offense to generate more quality shots.
They did a heck of a lot more than that.
After giving up 81 points on 71 percent shooting in the first half, the Raptors held Golden State to 46 in the second, on 41 percent shooting. They out-rebounded the Warriors 29-12. The Raptors went 5-of-10 from downtown and had 34 points in the paint (to the Warriors’ 12); they even outscored Golden State on the break 10-6.
They fought and made it a game. I’m sure the Warriors got a bit overconfident, I’m sure they let their foot off the gas, I’m sure they were tired. But the Raptors could’ve quit and they didn’t.
Major Props to the Raptors Bench for a Bounceback Second Half
On Thursday, the Raptors bench showed the world what they can do. On Saturday, during the second quarter, they looked very much like a work in progress. But in the second half, they came to play.
Confidence in young players can often be fragile. Just look at Powell, who has had some great highs as a Raptor but has gone through some serious funks. I’m impressed that this group didn’t let a terrible first half affect their play in the second.
VanVleet looked unplayable in the first half; in the second he had 11 points, five rebounds and 3 assists. Pascal Siakam was making plays around the hoop and guarding Kevin Durant as well as anyone possibly could. Poeltl was rolling to the hoop and his teammates were finding him. Miles knocked down two 3-pointers. Even Powell had a positive impact with a couple of solid defensive possessions before being replaced by DeRozan down the stretch.
The fact that Casey left that DeMar+bench group out there to close the game out says everything.
Let’s Talk About the Final Two Raptors Possessions
First of all, the fact that the Raptors even got themselves back in the game enough to have those two possessions—after being down 27 to the champs—was incredible. Unfortunately the Raptors came up empty both times so that means a lot of second-guessing today.
On the first play, the Raptors were trailing by 1 after Stephen Curry missed two free throws; the clock read 45.0. DeRozan took the ball in the backcourt, dribbled around a screen, and with Kevin Durant on him, pulled up for an 18-footer and missed.
It’s easy to complain about this shot. No ball movement, DeMar iso, boring old midrange shot. Sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad shot.
In the moment my first thought was, well, I wish DeRozan had tried to get in the paint, because he’d been successful driving to the hoop all quarter. But Durant gave him enough space to shoot; and that’s DeMar’s money shot. It wasn’t forced. Durant got a hand up, of course, but it was a clean look. I have a hard time believing the Raptors could have gotten a better shot against the Warriors.
(If you want to complain about anything on that play, complain about the poor screen that C.J. Miles set. Neither Curry, guarding Miles, nor Durant, on DeRozan, had to expend any effort to get around it and thus, no thought was given to switching.)
Durant scored on the other end, which gave the Warriors a 3-point lead with 21 seconds to go. The Raptors inbounded and attempted to run a series of dribble hand-offs to get C.J. Miles an open look... but the Warriors snuffed it out, fought through every screen, and didn’t give Miles an inch. He tossed up a heavily contested 3-pointer that bounced off the iron.
All the credit on that one goes to the Warriors defense, particularly to Kevon Looney; on the first handoff, he forced Fred VanVleet to veer backwards to the left, meaning when Miles took the next handoff, he was much further out than I suspect he wanted to be; ideally, you want the player handing off to occupy the defense long enough for your shooter to shoot. Instead, Miles needed two dribbles to get to a better spot, and Looney stuck with him the whole time.
The Raptors ran a play to try and get their best three-point shooter a good look, and the Warriors defense played it perfectly. That’s why they’re the champs.
It was a great second-half effort and I appreciate that the Raptors made it worth watching. Although they haven’t yet proven that they can beat the champs, they’ve proven that the matchup is at least a heck of a lot of fun.