It’s not logical, but my anxiety has an inverse relationship to how favoured the Toronto Raptors are in a playoff game. With the word that Klay Thompson would be the latest injury casualty for Golden State in this NBA Finals, missing Game 3 due to a hamstring injury, it felt like the stakes were turned up for Toronto even more.
With Thompson out along with Kevon Looney, and the ominous return of Kevin Durant still somewhere out in that dark tunnel, the need to snag home court back in the NBA Finals felt even more immediate.
Still, it takes a professional team to observe an injured opponent and put enough into the game to win. And yes, the Raptors did seemingly flirt with disaster in Game 3 despite leading from a 6-5 score until the final buzzer. They did enough, though, constantly pushing back against a Warriors team that still had Steph Curry throwing haymakers. The eventual win was by a 123-109 score, and Toronto is now two wins away from their first NBA title. Breathe it in.
The Raptors won the game with one of their more balanced performances of this post-season. All five starters for Toronto scored at least 17, led by 30 points from Kawhi Leonard. Once again, Kawhi looked less than 100% but found a way to get his points, making 10-of-11 from the free throw line and shooting 9-for-17 from the field. His seven rebounds were equally satisfying, if only for Raptors Twitter echoing “BOARD MAN” into the ether.
More visible excellence was found in the form of Kyle Lowry. As ABC veteran Mike Breen sagely put it after the game, Lowry has an innate ability — through good games and bad — to just “get up off the mat”. We got both sides of Lowry in this game, starting with some bad fouls in the first half, but ending with some clutch buckets. Lowry’s 23 points included five three-pointers and came on an 8-for-16 night from the field, and it was his turnaround jumper in the final seven minutes that snuffed out the last real run Golden State had.
Another turnaround performance came off the bench, as Serge Ibaka — who looked lifeless and inept in guarding DeMarcus Cousins in the first half — came around for a dominant stretch of play in the fourth. He’d end with a fantasy-friendly line of six points, six blocks, five rebounds, and two steals, turning a Marc Gasol bench spell into a full quarter of play.
Gasol wasn’t bad either, posting up Cousins effectively in the first half to finish with 17 points and seven rebounds. Rounding out the team effort was Danny Green, who had his first great game of the Finals, making 6-of-10 three-pointers to finish with 18 points.
Still, the Raptors had to fend off a number of Warriors runs, all started from their point guard. Steph Curry, tasked with carrying his team’s scoring load, did just that with 47 points on 31 shots, also adding eight rebounds, seven assists, and two steals in 43 minutes of play.
It was a brief glimpse at what the Warriors might be with Curry playing with a James Harden usage rate, and further exposed a theme in this series — the supporting cast for Golden State has been far too inconsistent. For a long stretch of tonight’s first half, an Andrew Bogut layup stood as the only non-Curry field goal for the Warriors. Draymond Green would lead the supporting cast with an eventual 17 points, but did so on 6-for-14 shooting. Andre Iguodala needed eight shots to get 11. Nobody else scored in double digits.
Still, the Warriors cut into a Raptors lead that hung around double digits multiple times. Late in the first quarter, a three-pointer from Alfonzo McKinnie and a Quinn Cook layup cut a 10-point Raptors lead to five. This run was answered by Kawhi Leonard, who threw down a dunk on Jordan Bell to help get the Raptors to a 36-29 lead after one.
In the second, Pascal Siakam — who finished with 18 points — put his stamp on the game by aggressively attacking the defence of Jonas Jerebko. A pair of layups put the Raptors lead into double digits. Their longest dry spell of the game followed soon after, though, as Lowry had a couple bad fouls and the offence devolved — six straight trips without scoring. The Warriors only cut into the lead sporadically, though, as Toronto took a 60-52 lead into halftime.
After the break, the Raptors really dug in on attacking Cousins. A pair of baskets by Gasol forced Steve Kerr to get into his bench for centres, which has been an area of weakness for Golden State — especially now that Looney is out for the series. Two threes from Iguodala kept the Warriors in it, but a response three from Lowry made it 72-62 midway through the quarter. Then, late in the third, three triples from Danny Green extended the Raptors lead to 16, the biggest of the game to that point, before heading into the fourth up 96-83.
The final quarter started off rough, as Ibaka fouled Curry on a three which resulted in Toronto’s lead getting cut to seven. The mistake seemed to wake Ibaka up, though, as he followed with a hook shot and a rebound in traffic to help set up five points from Lowry — another answer by the Raptors. While there were some nervous moments late, this Fred VanVleet rainbow three — which left my television screen for a not-insignificant amount of time — all but ended it.
So the Raptors lead the Finals 2-1, as the two teams head into a rare one day of rest between games. Friday’s Game 4 could feature some returning faces for the Warriors. For tonight, though, the Raptors put anxiety to bed and took care of business. Now... they’re two wins away.