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Game 1 Turning Point: Kawhi and Pascal stop the Warriors’ run before it even happens

No lead ever feels safe against the Golden State Warriors, but the Raptors held onto theirs last night, as Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam combined to quell a late Warriors run.

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It gets said over and over again, yet can’t be stressed enough: when you play against the Golden State Warriors no lead feels safe. It feels like sitting in a room with a time bomb, like sprinting along the edge of a precipice, a constant sense of dread hangs over any game in which the Warriors trail.

We’ve seen it too many times, if your offense goes cold the Warriors will get out and run, piling on points in increments of three. Suddenly your lead has gone from 11 to two in less than two minutes, and then the best shooter in NBA history, now feeling himself, stops just past the logo in semi-transition. We’ve seen it so many times that it feels inevitable. A team builds a lead by making enough shots to keep the Warriors out of transition, then they blink once, go cold only briefly, and they’re dead.

Everyone was waiting for it to happen last night:

The Raptors, who lead by 10 at halftime last night, maintained a solid lead throughout the third quarter, finishing the frame up seven. The third is a quarter that the Warriors are known to dominate, and Stephen Curry, the catalyst for so many of their apocalyptic runs, played the whole frame. Losing the period by just three points felt like something of a win. Then, the Raptors actually built on that lead in the early going of the fourth, getting the lead back to nine at the 8:11 mark of the fourth.

At that moment, something problematic happened. Kyle Lowry picked up his fifth foul, and was subsequently pulled from the game. Lowry had had a cold night shooting the ball, but he remained integral to the Raptors attack, seeking out transition opportunities and ensuring they did a good job of running their offense. With Lowry exiting the game the Raptors’ shot quality seemed sure to dip, as it so often has throughout these playoffs.

The Raptors lucked out on the first few possessions of the Lowry-less stretch. Serge Ibaka vomited up a contested midrange jumper on their first offensive possession, while on the other end Stephen Curry was freed up in a set of screens for a relatively open 3-point shot. Despite the disparity in shot quality, both missed. Pascal Siakam grabbed the board off the Curry miss and pushed the ball up the floor. The Warriors’ defense collapsed to meet him and he found Danny Green wide open in the corner. Green stuck the jumper to put the Raptors up 12, their biggest lead of the night. The Warriors called a timeout with 7:32 remaining.

And after that timeout was when it most felt like a Warriors run was about to surge up and overwhelm the Raptors. First Kevon Looney beat Marc Gasol on a cut to the basket. Then the Raptors, their offense stagnant without Lowry, dribbled out much of the clock only to have Kawhi Leonard get stripped by Looney, leading to an Andre Iguodala slam on the other end. The lead was still eight, but it felt like the start of every past Warriors run. A team gets stuck in the mud offensively and the Warriors run it down their throats. The next possession the Raptors were stagnant yet again. The shot clock was winding down and, though Kawhi Leonard had Kevon Looney on a switch, nothing was developing for them. Leonard was going to have to take a tough shot. If he missed, the Warriors could easily get out and run.

He didn’t miss:

The Warriors, as they often do, still attempted to push the pace off the make. Draymond Green quickly advanced the ball into the frontcourt, and immediately tried to take Pascal Siakam off the dribble. Siakam stuck right with him, emphatically rejecting Green’s layup attempt.

Following this the Raptors would milk every offensive possession for all it was worth, for the last six minutes they drained the clock and slowly squeezed the life out of the Warriors. The five point margin that the Raptors’ picked up on this set of possessions proved instrumental in halting any of Golden State’s momentum. The run, which felt imminent all game long, never happened. The Warriors would never even get within two possessions of the Raptors’ down the stretch, allowing the Raps to close out Game 1 of the NBA Finals in relative comfort.

(Of the NBA FINALS!)