The whole city was riding high the last three days, as the Toronto Raptors won their first ever NBA Finals game. The juggernaut Golden State Warriors they were matched-up against were feeling, as a result of injuries and depleted depth, more vulnerable than they’d ever been. The Raptors were one home win away from seizing control of the series, positioning themselves as the team to potentially end this Warriors’ dynasty. Kawhi Leonard was going to re-sign, Kyle Lowry was re-writing all the narratives. Everything was perfect.
And yet, the Warriors are still the Warriors, and tonight, in very typical Warriors fashion, they were able to build the Raptors’ hopes up, only to dash them, winning a tight 109-104 game on the back of a crushing third quarter run.
The game was something of a two-man show to start, with Klay Thompson carrying Golden State while Kawhi Leonard dominated for the Raptors. Toronto’s floor spacers missed some easy early shots, but Leonard got them going, scoring on multiple levels, nailing pull-up jumpshots and powering his way inside for a layup and trip to the free-throw line. Meanwhile, Thompson scored Golden State’s first nine points, finishing the quarter with 11, en route to 25 on the night. The Raptors were making things tough on Thompson, forcing him to speed up his release and shoot over contests, but he caught fire nonetheless, and couldn’t seem to miss all throughout the first half.
Golden State got in the bonus early, and a couple of careless fouls from the Raptors let them build a small lead at the line late in the first. However, the Raptors’ bench offered a counterpunch, a pair of baskets from Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet helped re-capture the a one point lead for the Raptors, as the frame end 27-26 in their favour.
The second quarter saw the bench pick up where they left off to end the first, jumping on a Golden State reserve lineup that was lacking in offensive firepower. They were led again by VanVleet. He wasn’t getting all his jumpers to go, but FVV attacked the basket and got some tough finishes to fall through. He put up seven points in the frame, and would wind up with 17 points overall, putting in another stellar, though less efficient, performance.
After the Raptors’ bench built on their lead, Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard re-entered to add to their momentum. With Leonard getting to the line and Lowry drilling a three, the Raptors were able to get their lead to as big as 12.
That lead began to evaporate late in the quarter though, as the Raptors suffered a few bad breaks, including a questionable blocking call against Kyle Lowry on which the playoff leader in drawn charges seemed to have his feet set. Adding to their issues, Stephen Curry, quiet for much of the first half, caught fire late in the second. Curry had only four points midway through the second, but ended the half with 16, as he poured in a volley of long-range threes. Still, the Raptors’ would head to the break with a 59-54 advantage.
I wrote a few days ago about how fragile every lead against the Warriors feels, and how miraculous it felt when the Raptors’ were able to avoid succumbing to one of the Warriors’ signature runs in the second half of game one. Tonight, the Raptors’ entered the half with an even more tenuous lead then they held in game one, and this time they failed to hold the Warriors off. The third quarter was defined by the combination of a cold shooting stretch from the Raptors, which saw them miss several easy, open shots and some inspired, swarming defense from the Warriors, which saw them turn the Raptors over five times in the quarter. It all culminated in the Warriors scoring the quarters first 18 points, as they took total control of the game.
A phenomenal individual run from Leonard would give the Raptors a sliver of hope. Kawhi would score 10 of his 34 points in the third, many of them coming in the dying minutes of the frame to help breath life back into the struggling Raps. Ultimately, the Raptors would enter the final quarter down 88-80, a margin that felt large, but not unsurmountable, following the late quarter push.
The fourth was chaotic from the jump. The Warriors had a bench heavy lineup out on the floor with Cousins and Thompson as their only starters, which would normally be a good sign for the Raptors. However, Cousins proved valuable as a playmaker, he hit cutters and shooters off of movement, and would ultimately end the night with six assists in an impactful performance. Meanwhile, Warriors backup point guard Quinn Cook answered three-point makes by Lowry and Danny Green with threes of his own, and as a result the bench stretch was less fruitful than it might have been for the Raptors.
The stretch was ended in bizarre fashion, as Klay Thompson nearly did the splits attempting to draw a foul on a three-point attempt, resulting in an injury that forced him to sit out the remainder of the game. Thompson, taken out of the play, motioned for his team to take a foul, which they failed to do, and the resulting 4-on-5 turned into a three-point make for Serge Ibaka. Through all the chaos, the Raptors trailed by only seven midway through the fourth, and would have a fighting chance down the stretch.
What followed was a truly agonizing stretch of basketball. The Raptors made an adjustment defensively, going to a zone which the Warriors, now lacking shooting with Thompson sidelined, could no longer easily punish. They clamped up defensively, allowing just five points in the final six minutes.
Their defensive effort was counterbalanced by some abysmal shotmaking, as the Raptors, despite often generating quality looks, went nearly as cold as the Warriors in the back half of the quarter. Part way through the scoring deluge, the bad breaks the Raptors suffered to close the first half came back to haunt them, as Kyle Lowry fouled out of the game on a silly gamble for a backcourt steal. Fouling out would cap a disappointing night for the Raptors’ point guard, who would finish with 13 points, but only two assists and a team-worst -17 plus/minus.
The rut would end with just over a minute remaining as the Raptors caught a huge break of their own. With the Raptors down eight, Kawhi was fouled en route to the basket, and following the play Curry launched the ball skyward, in frustration with the call, an automatic technical foul. Leonard would drain each of the ensuing three free throws, making it 106-101, and suddenly the game felt winnable again. Seconds later, Draymond Green committed an out-of-bounds turnover, on a play that was initially ruled as Warriors ball, but was overturned by replay.
The subsequent Raptors’ offensive possession was chaos, as the Raptors missed a pair of shots, one a VanVleet three, and one a Kawhi floater, but secured the offensive board both times. Finally, Danny Green drained a three to bring the Raptors within two, but the time taken off the clock by the misses and offensive rebounds meant that there was only a three second difference between game and shot clock. The Raptors would need something of a miracle.
The Raptors scrambled defensively, nearly forcing a Warriors turnover on several occasions, but ultimately, the double teaming defense would see Andre Iguodala wide-open at the three point line. Iguodala, even with five seconds remaining on the Warriors shot clock, took the shot without hesitation, and drilled it to put the dagger in the Raptors.
And so, the series will head to Golden State tied 1-1. Losing this game feels like a gut punch to the Raptors’ momentum. Still, if there’s one positive to take away from it, the Raptors’ didn’t fold when the Warriors’ went on their dominating third quarter run. They fought back, and made it a game that went right down to the wire. They’ll need to show that same mental resilience in Oracle Arena when the series resumes Wednesday.