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Raptors Prove They Can Challenge the Warriors Like Few Teams Can

The Raptors looked every bit like one of the best teams in the NBA—even without Kawhi Leonard—in their 20-point stomping of the Warriors on Wednesday night.

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Raptors didn’t beat the Warriors on Wednesday night so much as they dismantled them. One could argue, fairly, that Stephen Curry missed shots against Toronto that he would ordinarily make—many flirting their way around the rim before spilling out. Klay Thompson missed all five of his three-point attempts, many of which were uncontested. No matter the defense, these Warriors are not likely to stop at 93 points again (Toronto won 113-93 at Oracle) at any point this season. This was an aberration. Some teams can outwork the Warriors when they meet in the regular season and occasionally outshoot them, but they almost never tear the defending champs apart in such systematic fashion—least of all with their best player out of the lineup.

Toronto played with glimmering intention. Whenever Kyle Lowry forced a switch among the Warriors’ defenders, it was almost always a precursor for some larger play. It wasn’t enough for the Raptors to create a mismatch—they had to create one that might cause Golden State to scramble, triggering an even better opportunity on the other side of the floor. Playing against the Warriors can be flummoxing for some, but the Raptors operated with the full knowledge of every action and reaction.

“I think the number one thing is that we are a well-coached team,” said Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin. “Coach Nurse has done a phenomenal job with our team and getting everyone to buy in just to contribute in any way that they can.” Without Kawhi Leonard, Toronto had to play an even smarter brand of basketball than usual. Lowry, a point guard listed at 6-1, spent long stretches of this game guarding power forward Draymond Green without incident. Danny Green picked out and picked on Curry, going as far as to back the two-time MVP into the basket. Fred VanVleet then challenged Curry the full length of the court, denying him even the slightest freedom. 

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Toronto used Ibaka inside to bait Golden State into the kinds of double teams it would soon regret. Pascal Siakam knew exactly when to slice into open space, and what mechanisms might lead him to. Theirs was a carefully tailored game plan executed with purpose—a remarkable thing for a short-handed team on the second night of a back to back. 

There’s good reason to believe in the Raptors based on personnel alone. Leonard is the player who makes loftier goals possible, and around him is a promising mix of length and speed, skill and activity. The credentials of a 23-7 team with this kind of construction need not be validated. Yet they were anyway on Wednesday, given that Toronto claimed as convincing a win as it could under the circumstances. No one would claim this to be the best of the Warriors. “We just didn’t quite have it,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr confessed. “It was just one of those nights where you would hope that we'd be more engaged and more energetic playing against this team, but we didn't bring it.” That was at least partly because the Raptors provided the kind of thoughtful, orderly challenge that few teams could.

It takes the right kind of point guard to orchestrate an attack against the Warriors without the slightest panic. Lowry didn’t flinch, trusting in the Raptors’ designs as they developed rather than bailing out for panicky pick-and-rolls. His persistence kept Toronto a step ahead throughout, and thus forced the Warriors to begin their own scoring attempts by walking the ball up against a set defense. “We was taking the ball out of the net every time,” Draymond Green said. “It’s kinda hard to get pace that way.” If the Warriors aren’t playing with pace, aren’t getting much from Curry, aren’t finding a rhythm, and aren’t managing their switches, who are they? It’s to the Raptors’ credit that we even have to ask. 

This looks every bit like one of the class teams in the East and in the league. Toronto could have jogged through this game and chalked it up as a schedule loss made worse by Leonard’s hip injury. Instead, they played hard and well and with incredible coherence. One of the two teams to take the floor at Oracle played 48 minutes with real direction, and it wasn’t the back-to-back champs boasting four future Hall-of-Famers. “They’re not an up-and-coming team,” Kevin Durant said of the Raptors. “They’re here.”