- After a shaky first half, the Warriors responded with a championship-level surge to remind the Raptors why they've won three of the past four titles. The series now shifts to Oracle Arena for Games 3 and 4 locked at a 1-1 tie.
On the way into the NBA Finals, a number of Warriors players admitted they weren't sure what to expect from a Raptors team they'd never really seen before. "We hardly know Toronto's team," Steve Kerr confirmed before Game 1. "And even if you include the two games this year [in November and December], players from both sides were out. You can't glean a whole lot from those two tapes." Then, after the Game 1 loss, Klay Thompson put an end to that particular talking point. "We're not very familiar with this team," he said, "but that's no excuse. I know we'll respond like the champions we are."
At the time, the Raptors had just controlled Game 1 from start to finish, winning on both ends of the floor, making the Warriors look a lot more vulnerable than the Blazers or Rockets ever did. Klay’s matter-of-fact confidence prompted a double-take. Then, about 20 minutes later, Draymond Green emerged and struck the same note, saying "I like where we're at." Steph Curry hit the podium and said the same thing. "We're down 0-1," he said, "but it's not the end of the world." Then, three days later in Game 2 Sunday night, each of them showed up and showed us why this team has been so impossible to beat for the past five years.
Despite a shaky first half and a wild Toronto crowd and multiple key injuries, the Warriors survived to tie the series at 1-1 with a 109-104 win in Game 2. After the Raptors went on a 10-0 run to make it a two-point deficit at the very end, the game was sealed when Shaun Livingston froze the Toronto defense with a ball-fake and hit a wide-open Andre Iguodala to bury a three with seven seconds left. "He's hit a lot of big shots in the Finals," Kerr said after Game 2. "He was unfazed."
Unfazed is a good way to explain the entire team. It sounds cliche, and it's understandable if anyone wants to roll their eyes here, but that was a game where the Warriors played like champions. Or, to be more specific, they played like a group of veterans with a complete absence of fear in moments that would break ordinary basketball teams.
One of the most pivotal sequences Sunday came at the end of the first half. With 90 seconds to play in the second, the Warriors were down 56-45. They had gotten a favorable whistle through much of the second quarter, and even an 11-point deficit seemed generous. The Raptors' size was bothering them again, the offense looked lost in the halfcourt, and the Toronto crowd was losing its mind. It was beginning to look like the OKC series in 2016—when the Thunder overwhelmed the Warriors with size and matchup problems—and it felt like a game that might get out of hand in the second half.
Then Draymond found Klay for an open three. It was an eight-point game. Then, after a Raptors bucket on the other end, Curry closed the half with a midrange jumper, a running lay-up, and two free throws. The Raptors could answer with a single Pascal Siakam free throw. Somehow, after trailing by double digits for most of the half, the Warriors went into the locker room down only five.
"Just staying in the game at the end of the second quarter was very important," Kerr said afterward. "I think we were down 12 and the place was going nuts. We couldn't score. And Steph and Klay both got loose and the game loosened up a little bit. We weren't exactly making stops, but we cut the lead to five and could kind of breathe at halftime. I think our guys felt renewed life at that point and came out and just had a great run to take control of the game, and we were able to finish it out from there."
From there, Golden State opened the second half on an 18-0 run. The defense smothered the Raptors wherever they went, Curry found ways to stay effective despite constant traps, the ball was moving, and for the first time in a game-and-a-half, it was the Raptors who looked overwhelmed. "We had four or five decent possessions," Nick Nurse said of that third quarter, "and we just came away empty on all of them. And then we had probably four or five that were not good possessions, either."
Golden State's performance went beyond Curry (23 points, four assists, three steals), Klay (25 points, five rebounds, five assists), or Draymond (17 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists). There were 21 crucial minutes and two huge shots from Quinn Cook to help kill a Raptors run early in the fourth quarter. Iguodala hit the aforementioned three and helped key the elite defense in the second half. Andrew Bogut and Livingston provided useful minutes to help keep things together in the second half. And DeMarcus Cousins, a surprise starter, had to play 28 minutes after Kevon Looney left the game with a sprained collar bone.
Cousins wasn't perfect. He's struggled on defense at times, and he's still working himself back into shape after returning from a strained quadriceps he suffered in the first round. When the team announced he was starting just minutes before tip-off, it seemed like a crazy gamble. Ultimately, though, Kerr's faith in Cousins paid dividends. He played with confidence as the game unfolded, and when Looney left, the Warriors weren't nearly as hopeless as they would have been without Cousins, who finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
If Looney's sidelined for longer than Game 2, Cousins will continue to be tested. The same goes for the entire Golden State team. As long as Kevin Durant is on the sidelines, the depth will be a question mark. Players like Cook will have to continue stepping up, while veterans like Livingston and Iguodala will have to play more minutes than Golden State would prefer. Curry traps will continue. Klay's hamstring is a wild card. Draymond's offense comes and goes. The series shifts back to Oracle now, but the Raptors will have the chance to make this close regardless.
Still, Game 2 was a statement on its own. That entire performance was a reminder that as much as this team has been defined by threes and defense, and lately, by superstars and titles, the real Warriors hallmark has always been that absence of fear. As shaky as they can sometimes look without Durant, it remains incredible to watch them respond to setbacks and find ways to make it all work anyway—cutting off the ball, locking down on defense, hitting huge shots. This is a proud team, they are supremely confident, and the more they've succeeded over the years, the harder it's become to ever make them blink.
We saw that toughness at the end of the Rockets series. We saw it again in multiple double-digit comebacks against the Blazers. Sunday night, Toronto saw it, too. Now it's on to Game 3.