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  • The NBA Finals are tied at 1-1 after the short-handed Warriors stole a game in Toronto. The Raptors—after a crucial fourth-quarter strategy switch—may have let Game 2 slip away.
By Rohan Nadkarni
June 03, 2019

The Raptors may have blown a golden opportunity to go up 2–0 in the NBA Finals. The championship round is tied at one game apiece after the Warriors’ gutsy, 109–104 win Sunday night. Game 2 was a bafflingly weird contest, featuring poor shooting most of the night, numerous defensive alignments, and key injuries. At the end of all the chaos, Golden State emerged with a win, while Toronto will be kicking itself after the game was left for its taking in the final few minutes.

After an Andrew Bogut alley-oop tip-in put them up 106–94 with 5:39 seconds left in the game, the Warriors hit only one more field goal the rest of the night—an Andre Iguodala three with just under six seconds remaining—and somehow still won. Toronto completely changed the tenor of the matchup by switching to a box-and-one defense for the final minutes of Game 2, but its offense couldn’t deliver as the defense stepped up.

The box-and-one, which went into effect after the Bogut score, completely flummoxed Golden State. Fred VanVleet chased Stephen Curry all over the court, while the remaining Raptors zoned up. The Warriors scored zero points against this look. Toronto was emboldened to employ the rarely seen strategy after Klay Thompson left the game with a leg injury earlier in the fourth. The Warriors had no shooters on the court outside of Curry, and the Raptors took advantage by hounding him and forcing everyone else to make plays with the ball. The Warriors couldn’t solve the riddle, and all Toronto had to do was score on the other end.

But the Raptors themselves struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball. Toronto scored only four points between Bogut’s tip-in and three Kawhi Leonard-free throws with one minute and eight seconds remaining. The Raps went over five minutes scoring only four points while their defense held the Warriors scoreless, and that ultimately cost Toronto the game.

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The Raptors simply blew a bunch of chances during this stretch. Pascal Siakam missed an open corner three. VanVleet couldn’t hit a kickout three off an offensive rebound. Kawhi turned the ball over in semi-transition. If Toronto wanted to win Game 2, it had to take advantage of these opportunities, but its execution lacked during this most critical stretch. The numbers over the final five minutes and 39 seconds were grim for the Raptors. They shot only 2-of-12 from the field, including 1-of-6 from three. Toronto also missed two free throws for good measure, though at least one of those misses turned into two points after an offensive board. 

The Warriors deserve credit for playing stout defense of their own. Their lumbering bigs, Boogie Cousins in particular, more than held up as the Dubs’ offense cratered. The Raptors could not force advantageous switches or blow by Cousins in the decisive minutes, and those failures proved costly. Marc Gasol, a Game 1 hero, followed up a 20-point performance with only six points Sunday night, losing his matchup with Cousins. (The Curry-Quinn Cook-Iguodala-Draymond-Boogie lineup had a 0.0 offensive rating but 50.0 defensive rating in four minutes together in the fourth. That defensive performance—coming while Cousins was being relentlessly targeted—was equal parts spectacular and surprising. Overall, Golden State had a 75.4 defensive rating in Boogie’s 27-plus minutes.)

Meanwhile, Leonard scored 34 points in Game 2, but he continues to look a few steps slower compared to his peak earlier this postseason. Kawhi shot only 8-of-20 from the field, and hit only one shot in the fourth quarter. Leonard missed all of his field goals over the last six minutes of the game, and his turnover with close to two minutes to go proved incredibly costly. Kawhi did contribute with timely offensive rebounds and solid defense, but his struggles are notable. Leonard seems to have completely lost his first step, and he’s mostly incapable of beating his defender off the dribble. Kawhi also left many of his threes short, shooting only 2-of-9 from beyond the arc.

Again, there is so much to talk about—and will be talked about—after Game 2. Cousins starting and playing effective minutes. The sheer resiliency of the Warriors, winning without Kevin Durant and then Thompson for most of the fourth. Yet another triple double for Draymond Green. Golden State starting the third quarter on an 18–0 run, and playing some outstanding defense of its own. The Raptors blowing a 12-point second-quarter lead.

But I will keep coming back to the final five minutes of the fourth. Toronto unequivocally suffocated Golden State’s offense with the box-and-one. The Raptors just couldn’t make the Warriors pay on the other end, even with some good looks. A Danny Green three made it a two-point game with 26.9 seconds left, but with only a 2.9-second difference between the game clock and shot clock, Toronto was stuck in no-man’s land on defense, leading to the wide-open three that Iguodala buried to ice the victory.

It should have never come to that. The Raptors had what they needed to win Game 2. They just couldn’t execute—or hit shots—during the do-or-die moments. If Thompson and Durant are both healthy by Game 3, that stretch of five minutes and 39 seconds could end up being a significant factor in who is ultimately crowned a champion.

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