Even after the final buzzer in Game 1, the creeping feeling was still there. Wait, that’s it? The Warriors run isn’t coming?
Playing Golden State has a wicked way of putting a pit in your stomach. Having the two best shooters in history gives them an awesome ability to equalize any game. Couple that with Kevin Durant coming back later in the series, and wins are also at a premium outside of an individual games’ runs.
The Warriors’ patented run never came in Game 1. It came in Game 2. The turning point of Sunday night was an 18-0 push by the Warriors to start the third quarter. Before Raptors fans had even had a chance to get back into their seats at Scotiabank Arena, Golden State had seized the lead after a five-point halftime deficit. They would eventually extend their lead to as many as 13 in the quarter, then finished off a “box and one” zone run from Toronto in the closing two minutes of the game to tie the series.
The minutia of how the run happened is a testament to the championship pedigree of the Warriors, and shows just what the Raptors are dealing with in this Finals.
First, to discombobulate Toronto, Golden State changed up their defensive matchups to open the quarter — putting Draymond Green on Kyle Lowry, moving Andre Iguodala to Pascal Siakam, and Klay Thompson on Kawhi Leonard. The first change really opened up Green’s ability to switch and rove, which left the Raptors slowly hunting matchups and eating up clock. This resulted in a few haggard offensive possessions — the Kawhi miss below, a Danny Green turnover, and a Kawhi missed two.
Coming out of a subsequent timeout, the Raptors failed to turn momentum, as Marc Gasol was called for an illegal screen and Kyle Lowry had a lost ball turnover. Five empty possessions is enough to elevate Golden State, which is exactly what they did.
On offence, the Warriors finally unlocked a useful centre matchup by using back cuts to utilize Cousins’ court vision. On these two plays, Kawhi Leonard — who had a poor quarter for defensive awareness by his standards — loses an assignment in transition defence, while Cousins makes the pass for the basket.
Leonard earned his work back on the other end at the end of the quarter, baiting the Warriors into fouls and working the free throw line in a bonus situation. Still, the Raptors couldn’t quite get enough going to get back into the game until the final minute.
This is what makes Golden State great. When they unlock something, it’s not going to hurt you for a 12-2 run — it’s going to rack up quickly and more dramatically. The 18-0 run to start the third swung Game 2 in their favour and left a lot of film for Nick Nurse and the Raptors to study heading into Wednesday’s Game 3.