- Steph was unbelievable. Draymond made plays. But the Raptors had a response for every Warriors run as Golden State's second Splash Brother watched from the bench.
OAKLAND — Klay Thompson had never missed a playoff game before Wednesday night, but in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, he was sidelined with a strained hamstring. That injury, coupled with Kevin Durant's ongoing recovery from a strained calf and Kevon Looney's broken collarbone, left the Warriors alarmingly shorthanded and it presented the Raptors with a golden opportunity midway through the series. "Game 3s are always key," Steve Kerr said before the opening tip Wednesday. "No matter what the score of the series is, there's a pretty big swing in momentum."
Now the momentum belongs to the Raptors. As great as Steph Curry was carrying the Golden State offense, the Raptors took control of the game with a seven-point lead after the first quarter and never looked back, claiming Game 3 123-109. When Golden State fought back and threatened to regain control, Toronto responded over and over again to keep the game out of reach. The entire night was a killer display of clutch shotmaking from a team that seized its opportunity and never let go.
The Warriors deserve credit for refusing to make anything easy. Curry was unbelievable. Against a defense harassing him wherever he went, he put up 47 points on 14-31 shooting, eight rebounds, and seven assists. Andrew Bogut chipped in with 22 surreal minutes off the bench, wobbling around and making a significant impact on both ends. Draymond Green played 41 minutes and added 17 points, flying around on defense and playmaking for Curry on the other end. There were several stretches when it looked like this game had a chance to become the kind of legendary Finals win that would be talked about for years to come.
Each time that kind of game looked possible, Toronto closed the door. "We expect them to make runs and baskets," Nick Nurse said afterward. "I thought we answered a lot of runs. Down to seven a bunch and came back and scored a bucket or hit a three or whatever. Each time they chipped, we answered back. And that's what you got to do if you're going to keep your lead."
Late in that second quarter, for example, the Warriors were rallying before the half almost exactly the way they did in Game 2. A 14-point Toronto lead had been cut to 8 after a flurry of Curry points and a lay-up from Draymond Green. The fans at Oracle were going nuts on every possession. It looked like the Warriors might make it to halftime with the game up for grabs. Enter Kyle Lowry, who responded by burying a deep three and then added a layup right before the second quarter buzzer. The Raptors lead was eight at the end of the quarter, but the Golden State deficit would've been just three if not for the answers from Lowry.
In the third quarter it was more of the same. After Toronto extended the lead back to 14, the Warriors went on another 7-0 run that brought the crowd alive with a run that seemed to open the door to a classic second half. That flurry was then snuffed out by a cold-blooded Kawhi Leonard three from 28-feet. Back to double-digits. A few minutes later in the third, when Curry brought the Warriors within 8, Fred VanVleet answered with another three to extend the lead back to double digits. Then, with the Warriors back within 8 in the final minutes of the third, it was Danny Green's turn—he buried a pair of threes to make the lead 14 again.
In the fourth quarter, with the lead back down to seven, Serge Ibaka stepped into a 20-foot midrange jumper on the wing, then added a putback layup on the next possession, then blocked a DeMarcus Cousins layup at the other end. The lead was 11 at that point. A few minutes later, when a Curry midrange jumper brought the Warriors back within 11, Lowry responded with a three. 14-point lead. On the next possession, Lowry added a fadeaway from the free throw line. 16-point game. The Warriors could never get within single digits from there.
Lowry had been struggling through the first games of this series, going for 10 ppg on just 6-20 shooting. "I had a little talk with him before the game," Nick Nurse said afterward. "He told me he was going to let it rip tonight." He responded by finishing 8-16 for 23 points and nine assists, and that performance was a microcosm for the entire Toronto team Wednesday.
On the Warriors side, Curry responded to the adversity as well as anyone could've imagined. "Steph was incredible," Kerr said. "He does things that honestly I don't think anybody has ever done before. The way he plays the game, the way he shoots it and the combination of his ball handling and shooting skills, it's incredible to watch. He was amazing."
Toronto was just too good all night long. Going forward now, there will be questions about Klay, who previously told reporters that he would do everything he could to play in Game 3. "If I can just be out there even at 80 percent," he said on Tuesday, "I can be very effective. I'll do whatever I can to get to that full hundred. But if not, I'll still be out there and trying to do what I can to help my team win." Given that he was still sidelined despite that approach, maybe the injury is worse than we realized. Couple that uncertainty with the ongoing drama surrounding Kevin Durant and the attrition elsewhere in the Warriors rotation—Bogut, Quinn Cook, and Alfonzo McKinnie are now crucial role players—and this is the most vulnerable the Warriors have looked since Game 7 of the Finals in 2016.
This Raptors team may not win a championship—despite the question marks, the Warriors are still favored in the series—but this was a championship-level response from a team that has been responding that way for a solid month now. Back in the middle of the second round, when Toronto was down 2-1 to the Sixers and Pascal Siakam was questionable to play Game 4, the whole world began writing Kawhi free agency stories. Then the Raptors won Game 4 to regain control of the series. Then came Game 7, when Kawhi Leonard exorcised 20 years worth of playoff ghosts. Then in the Conference Finals, down 2-0 and blown off the floor in Game 2, the whole world began wondering if the Bucks could beat the Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Raptors won the next four games of the series.
On Sunday night in Game 2, Toronto was up double-digits with a chance to send Golden State into a real crisis down 2-0. Then the lead disappeared, the Warriors rallied, and on the way back to Oracle it once again looked like the Raptors were on life support. Game 2 was a missed opportunity, but that was a mistake the Raptors did not make twice. "We got a bunch of guys who are professionals," Lowry said. "We got a good veteran group. And we all understand that this is our job. Never get too up, never get too down."
In the end, Game 3 was another sign that this Raptors team is different than the Rockets or Blazers teams that cracked under Golden State's pressure, and different from all the Toronto teams that have wilted in the past. From top to bottom the players on this roster are proud, smart, and tough. Each time this team responds, it becomes tempting to wonder whether all of this has taken on a life of its own for a team and a playoff run that we'll remember for a long time. After a year of outsiders wondering whether the Warriors were the '04 Lakers, the Raptors certainly have moments where they look like the '04 Pistons.
The Warriors, of course, are not going away. "Everybody wants to see us lose," Draymond Green said afterward. "So I'm sure people are happy [Durant and Thompson are] hurt. We just got to continue to battle and win the next game. Go back to Toronto, win Game 5. Come back to Oracle, win Game 6, and then celebrate. Fun times ahead."
Game 4 is Friday.