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  • Stephen Curry stepped up big in the absence of Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, but Golden State’s defense was a major concern in its Game 3 loss to Toronto.
By Rohan Nadkarni
June 05, 2019

The undermanned Warriors were no match for the Raptors in Game 3 of the Finals, as Toronto took a 2–1 series lead with a 123–109 win. Oddly enough, Golden State has now scored 109 in each of the first three games of this series. The Raptors, meanwhile, have fluctuated offensively. And after an incredibly poor showing in Game 2—particularly in the second half—Toronto bounced back with its best scoring night yet, three-point bombing the Dubs into submission Wednesday night. As the series continues, with or without their missing All-Stars, the Warriors need to find answers on the defensive end first.

Sans Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, Golden State actually acquitted itself fairly well offensively in Game 3. Again, the Dubs matched their scoring output from Games 1 and 2, thanks in large part to Stephen Curry’s playoff career-high 47 points. Curry had in many ways a signature playoff performance in Game 3, not only scrapping and hustling for his own looks, but creating open shots for his teammates with his aggressiveness. Even with Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala combining to hit four threes, the Warriors just didn’t have enough shooting to truly put pressure on Toronto’s defense. The Raptors were able to aggressively trap Curry with their bigs, and Golden State’s supporting cast couldn’t pick up the slack.

And yet, the Warriors may have scored enough to win. Their biggest problems were on the defensive end. The center rotation, a concern without Kevon Looney, was an issue in Game 3. DeMarcus Cousins couldn’t recreate his magic from Game 2, and this time the Raptors’ repeated efforts in attacking him paid off. Andrew Bogut was better, but his minutes had to be managed properly because of his limitations on the offensive end. This is where Durant’s injury is hurting Golden State the most. The Warriors can’t play a proper small lineup without KD, and especially without Looney. Draymond at center is Golden State’s best defensive look. But Durant’s absence is forcing Kerr to stay big, and the longer he does that, the better looks the Raptors will receive. The Bogut-Cousins duo may be able to hold up for one game like it did in Game 2, but it’s almost certainly not sustainable over a seven-game series.

Toronto sliced and diced the Dubs’ defense Wednesday. The Raptors finished with a 124.2 offensive rating, and that’s actually a little kind to Golden State because Toronto let up in the last few minutes. The Raps were absolutely incredible from three, connecting on 44.7% of their 38 attempts. Danny Green, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet combined to shoot 14-of-25 from beyond the arc, with many of those makes seemingly happening every time the Warriors threatened to make a run. If Golden State is really searching for a silver lining, it can say Toronto made its fair share of contested threes, and may not even hit open ones at the rate it did Wednesday night. But the Warriors have had trouble preventing the Raptors from getting good looks from the outside, and that’s a risky proposition.

If Durant and Thompson are missing from Game 4, Steve Kerr needs to find a rotation that can defend first and foremost. That may mean going with Bogut over Cousins, even if it hampers Golden State on the offensive end. Bogut struggled defensively in Game 2, but at least he has a history of succeeding on that side of the floor. This group could likely not cobble together a coherent offense, but the Warriors' five with the best defensive rating in Game 3 was Curry, Draymond, Iguodala, Bogut and Alfonzo McKinnie. If Kerr has the same options Friday as he did Wednesday, giving that unit some time together may not be the worst idea.

The Warriors finished Game 3 with a 110.1 offensive rating, and considering the circumstances, that’s not bad at all. (The Raptors, for reference, have a 109.2 offensive rating in the postseason.) Golden State can bet Toronto won’t shoot as well from three again, but as often as its defense has been broken down, that’s akin to playing with fire. Regardless of who is available for Game 4, Kerr has to figure out how he can slow down the Raptors. Curry himself can carry this team to a respectable offensive output. But that doesn’t matter if Toronto is scoring at will on the other end. Whether it’s finding a way to get Draymond back at center, or coming up with a new starting lineup for the fourth straight game, Kerr and the Warriors need to figure out solutions defensively first and foremost to compensate for their injured roster’s shortcomings.

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