- Now down 3–1 in the NBA Finals, a shorthanded Golden State squad simply needs all of its players to step up if it hopes to pull off a daunting comeback.
As presently constructed, the Raptors are better than the Warriors. There’s no other conclusion to be drawn after Toronto took a 3–1 lead in the NBA Finals with a commanding, 105–92 victory in Oakland on Friday night. For much of this series—outside of two bafflingly poor offensive stretches in Game 2—the Raptors have outclassed the Kevin Durant-less Warriors. Toronto has more depth, more shooting, a more nimble defense, and the best player in the series. And if Golden State has any hope of pulling off a 3–1 comeback of its own, it either needs Kevin Durant or some next-level performances from those healthy enough to play.
There are so many ways in which the Raptors have been better than the Warriors through four games. The most obvious is shooting, specifically outside shooting, and how that’s rewarded Toronto while hurting Golden State. The Raptors have outshot the Warriors from three in three of the first four Finals games, and not coincidentally, Toronto has won each of those contests. But it’s not only getting shots to fall that’s made the Raptors so formidable, it’s stretching out the Warriors’ defense while shrinking their own on the other end.
Toronto is getting contributions from up and down its roster. Marc Gasol hit a huge, late-in-the-shot-clock three in Game 4. Serge Ibaka nailed an open three as a trailer after a big defensive play. Danny Green hit a clutch three in the fourth quarter after entering for Fred VanVleet. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were the only two Dubs to hit shots from beyond the arc, while everyone else combined to shoot 0-for-8.
The Raptors are already an incredibly disciplined team defensively. And what’s made them even more dangerous in this series is, without Durant, the Warriors have—say it with me, everyone—consistently played lineups that feature non-shooters in most spots on the floor. Even when Steve Kerr briefly went small in Game 4—finally putting Draymond Green at center—Golden State couldn’t capitalize, because Toronto could cheat off everyone else to suffocate the Curry-Draymond pick-and-roll. The Raptors’ defense is too good to give them a handicap by playing nonfactors. What worked against the Rockets and Blazers hasn’t carried over for the Warriors. Curry has been good but he can’t dominate, and even his pick and rolls haven’t bent the defense the way they have in the past. Toronto is overloading on the Splash Brothers, and no one else on the Warriors can take advantage.
On the other side of the ball, the Raptors’ depth is hurting Golden State’s typically stout defense. Kawhi Leonard can score against anyone, even Klay or Andre Iguodala, and he alone commands immense attention. Toronto’s guards are adept enough at shooting that the Warriors’ bigs are forced to show on pick and rolls, and that’s creating problems everywhere else. Golden State’s frontcourt simply can’t keep up with the shooting and athleticism of Toronto’s, and that in turn is leading to breakdown after breakdown defensively. Boogie Cousins and Kevon Looney were both obviously far from 100% in Game 4—with Cousins looking especially rough—and Andrew Bogut won’t be the savior.
It’s looking more and more like the Warriors’ win in Game 2 was a fluke. But why was it a fluke? Because Iguodala and Quinn Cook combined to shoot 5-of-9 from three. Because Cousins somehow scored 11 points in 28 minutes while holding up on the defensive end. Because Kawhi struggled from the field while Toronto shot under 30% from three. Can those factors be recreated? That’s what the Warriors will need to win without Durant, because there are no fixes left. Kerr can’t magically find a lineup that works or change someone’s ability to shoot. Even letting Curry run pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll runs the risk of, uh, running him into the ground while not guaranteeing results. It sounds asinine, but Golden State simply has to play better. Those nonfactors on offense have to make themselves a factor. The bigs who have struggled defensively have to meet the challenge. And the bounces that have gone Toronto’s way will instead have to favor Golden State.
Short of Durant returning and immediately playing at a high level, that’s what the Warriors have to hope for at this point. The Raptors are peaking on both ends of the floor, with a well-balanced roster that’s thoroughly exposing Golden State’s current limitations. Without KD, the Warriors are woefully shorthanded. And what the first four games of the Finals have proven is that the Dubs have nowhere else to look for answers. As long as Durant is missing, the Raptors are the superior team. And as long as that’s the case, Golden State’s best bet is for most of the players left on the floor to surprise everyone in a way they largely haven’t through four games.