The Raptors didn’t quite deserve to win this game. And the Warriors maybe didn’t deserve to win it either. Toronto played from behind for 45 minutes, constantly getting in their own way yet still finding themselves with a late three-point lead. Golden State, meanwhile, saw their star player, Steph Curry, shut down with just three points on the night. That the game came down to a few late possessions makes some sense: over 48 minutes, the difficulties of both teams balanced each other out, getting us to a close game. One that came down to a questionable foul call, a missed buzzer-beater, and another Toronto loss, 106-105, to the Warriors.
As far as first quarters go, the feeling was in a word: sleepy. The Raptors didn’t hit a shot for over five minutes; Curry, that man of ever-present danger, didn’t even attempt a shot for most of the frame; and it seemed like both teams were deciding how much effort to put forth. The Raptors cycled through nine players (aided in part by Norman Powell, in the starting lineup on the night, and his two quick fouls) to find some combinations that worked. Toronto did get back into it, finding themselves down 31-24 after one — despite shooting 33 percent from the field to Golden State’s 46 percent. (They could have used Malachi Flynn’s 70-foot heave that went in but was released after the buzzer.)
The Raptors’ shooting got better in the second quarter (all the way up to 44 percent), but then turnovers got the better of them. After giving the ball away three times in those early minutes, the Warriors got their lead up to as large as 16 points. The Raptors couldn’t string together enough good plays in both directions until a quick 14-6 run over a three minute stretch got them modestly back into it. The Raptors were led in these efforts by Pascal Siakam’s 16 first half points, plus 10 point efforts from Chris Boucher and Fred VanVleet. The latter was also tasked with chasing Curry around, and in truth: that part of the game was working for Toronto. VanVleet (with help from the whole squad) held Curry to just 1-of-7 shooting, including 0-of-4 from three, for a mere three points in those first 24 minutes. The Raptors ended the half down by 10, yet it felt like their game plan could help power a comeback. Well, that or Curry would get hot and that would be that.
If you’ve been wondering where Kyle Lowry has been this entire time, he was indeed in the game after sitting out Friday’s contest for personal reasons. Unfortunately, he looked out of sorts through three quarters. Lowry didn’t score until three minutes into that third frame, going 1-of-2 from the line. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t active here and there — but unlike most Lowry outings, his plus/minus was in the toilet (a team-worst -19 in the first half) and Toronto wasn’t looking to him to solve their problems. This speaks to the rest of the team finding their sea legs — which is good — but yes, it also speaks to how quiet Lowry was for most of the night. Key word there being most. We carry onto the rest of the game.
The third quarter saw the Raptors chasing again for the entire 12 minutes. Mental mistakes from Powell hurt them, unfortunate offensive rebounds came back to haunt them, and the heady play of Draymond Green kept them on their heels. Toronto did shrink the lead down to four for a brief moment (and Curry was still quiet), but they could not grab hold of the lead. Coach Nick Nurse’s rotations in the third quarter also didn’t spark the same magic as they did last Friday in Sacramento — even with the Warriors shooting 17 percent from three in the third. Instead, this time we watched things like Yuta Watanabe accidentally stepping out of bounds, rookie Flynn looking a tad overwhelmed, Terence Davis producing absolutely nothing, and the squad’s defense falling into a deficit of 15 to enter the fourth.
But then Lowry — remember him? — decided he’d had enough. Down 17, Lowry hit his first bucket of the game, a three. Then he hit two more (including one from across the Bay), which helped get him to 16 points in the quarter — and helped get the Raptors to their first lead of the entire game. It was Chris Boucher, who came off the bench for Toronto but played as their only centre, with the tip-in that put the Raptors in front. Before fouling out, Boucher had an active 24 minutes with 15 points, six rebounds, and six blocks (including a shattering one on Steph). It’s taken him less than ten games to become the Raptors’ best big man.
Lowry’s heroics were not enough. After his third three-pointer game the Raptors their largest lead of the game (four points), Curry finally responded with an inevitable three, keeping the Warriors within a possession — and halting Toronto’s run at 23-5. After VanVleet hit a tremendous jumper under pressure — for two of his 21 points — the ball went back and forth before a few times before the possession that sealed it. With 7.7 seconds, the Warriors got the ball into Curry, who dished it to Damion Lee, who was apparently fouled on his three attempt with 4.3 seconds left. On the replay, it looked like Lowry had indeed nudged him — but we were also told that the foul had been called on VanVleet. A coach’s challenge review showed that VanVleet hadn’t touched Lee (despite his best efforts to crescent-kick his way into a call), which was when the refs change their tune. It was now, yes, Lowry who had fouled Lee on the floor, which was still good for two shots. Lee hit both.
With just 4.3 seconds left, the Raptors drew up a play for Siakam, getting him going downhill at the basket with the game on the line. Despite lining up a good jumper — one that I was heartened to see him confidently take in such a situation — Siakam’s attempt just rimmed out. Ironically, we’re now mad at how the last few minutes played out. Lowry missed a pair of free throws, Siakam lipped that jumper, the refs made that semi-dumb call — it’s all quite enough to get us up in arms. Still, let’s not forget that the Raptors played from behind for 45 minutes.
In all, it was a game they maybe shouldn’t have lost; but it also doesn’t quite feel like they should have won either.