They were all but written off, before the game even started. With Kawhi Leonard sitting his second straight game with a bruised hip, there was a deflated start to the Toronto Raptors’ night as they prepared to take on the pre-eminent Golden State Warriors.
It only made sense too. Toronto needed Kawhi, a full bill of health, and overtime just to beat the Warriors sans Steph Curry and Draymond Green only two weeks ago! At the very least, it was going to be a challenge.
Then, the game started. The Raptors set the tone with some tasty mismatches early, executed the best defense we’ve seen all season, and built a lead — never looking back against the defending (and, as many have already declared, future) champs to win by 20 points, 113-93.
Toronto improves to 23-7 with the blowout win, their best of the season, as Wednesday marks their first road win against Golden State in 14 years. That dates back to when Vince Carter and (hold your breath) Jalen Rose wore purple, red and white. The Warriors fall to 19-10.
Leading the way for the Raptors, with both the starters and the bench, was Kyle Lowry. A poor shooting stretch from just days ago seems distant, as Lowry had 23 points (9-for-18, 2-for-7 from three), 12 assists, and five rebounds to lead Toronto.
Beyond numbers, Lowry’s blue collar attitude impacted this game from the get-go, as Nick Nurse opened with him guarding Draymond Green at power forward. The mismatch frustrated the Warriors and especially Green, who picked up two fouls and a technical in the first five minutes to break focus. As far as tone-setters go, it was a huge sequence set up by Lowry’s willingness to bang in the post.
He wasn’t the only one. Danny Green had 15 points, just three of them coming from distance, as he worked Steph Curry into the paint on a few backdowns that were, clearly, part of Nurse’s scouting report. Again here, the Raptors found a weakness in the armour of the Warriors and ruthlessly attacked it over 48 minutes.
For the second straight game, Serge Ibaka was excellent as well in pick and roll opportunities, amassing 20 points and 12 rebounds. He was even better on defense, though, as his two blocks don’t quite tell the story of his role as rim protector. With Jonas Valanciunas leaving the game with a particularly gruesome finger dislocation, there was more emphasis on Ibaka to play big, and he did so in his 29 minutes.
For the Warriors, the story comes down to missed shots. Early on, there were a lot of good looks that rattled out for Curry and Klay Thompson, who combined to shoot just 10-of-29 from the field. The rhythm of the Warriors offense was the biggest casualty, as the Raptors took advantage in dialling up the pressure throughout, stymying any run Golden State tried to put together. For his part, Kevin Durant was very good — although not the world-beater he was two weeks ago — scoring 30 points on 22 shots.
It started with a 12-7 lead for Toronto out of the gate. The two fouls on Green forced the Warriors to dig into their bench early, while the Raptors were eager to get out and run. The game was free-flowing, as a Lowry and-one put Toronto up 22-9 for their biggest lead of the quarter. Late in the first, Nurse subbed in OG Anunoby, Delon Wright, and Jonas Valanciunas, who all played with more aggression and conviction than they did two weeks ago — resulting in pseudo-bench minutes that worked.
Jonas’ injury came early in the second quarter, though, after a hard swipe by Draymond Green caught his left hand. After a Curry three (just one of two he would make on the night) cut the lead to eight, a quick Raptors timeout started a response. Pascal Siakam hit a three (part of his 13 points), Serge Ibaka had a dunk, and Lowry made another triple to push the lead back out to 16.
Though the Warriors would convert to their death lineup, with Shaun Livingston in to replace an injured Andre Iguodala, Ibaka’s presence inside neutered a lot of the cuts and drives Golden State tried to run. The Raptors kept their foot on the pedal and led 57-41 at halftime.
In the third, there was no letting up. A Fred VanVleet triple, combined with some tough on-ball defense guarding Curry, helped lift the Raptors through an energetic stretch by the home side. The Warriors definitely showed more energy on defense to start the quarter, but Toronto was patient. They went back to some Danny Green post-ups, some back cuts on Curry’s side of the floor, and kept their lead at 82-67 after three.
Early in the fourth, Lowry shut the door. Drawing a charge and hitting a three in quick succession, he helped snuff out a transitional Warriors lineup before they could get their starters back. Following that: a C.J. Miles three (at last!) and an and-one from Greg Monroe (surprising) made it a 26-point game. From there, it was a blowout.
In a sense, those little responses by the Raptors were the story of the game. Against the Warriors, there’s always the itching sense that they can pull out a 15-0 run and win a game at any time. By playing sticky perimeter defense, by holding their bigs back at the rim, and by taking advantage of Curry’s defense on the other end, the Raptors never let that happen. It was clinical, it was beautiful, and it felt great to watch.
The Raptors now get a day off before facing Portland on Friday night. For now, we go to bed happy.