- Which version of Klay Thompson will show up for Game 4? And can the Warriors' defense find answers against Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors? Four questions that could help decide the eventual 2018-19 champion.
The Raptors are two wins away from an NBA title, the Warriors are looking vulnerable, and Game 4 of the Finals is coming Friday night in Oakland. Here are four questions to set the table for what's next.
1. Can the Warriors defend without Kevon Looney? As much as the Warriors missed Klay Thompson in Game 3, they were still able to rely on an otherworldly performance from Steph Curry to score 109 points. It was the defense, and 123 points from the Raptors, that really killed Golden State on Wednesday night. That side of the floor is where Kevon Looney's absence loomed as large as the Kevin Durant and Klay injuries. All night long the Warriors' big men were abused in pick-and-roll, drawing extra help on Toronto drives, and ending with wide-open looks for Raptors shooters. By the end of the night, the Raptors had buried 17 threes, tied for a record in a Finals road game.
Looney was supposed to be the linchpin for the Golden State frontline in this series. His versatility on defense is why the Warriors were able to survive without DeMarcus Cousins and Durant over the past two rounds. Meanwhile, the alternatives on the Golden State bench—Cousins, Jordan Bell, Andrew Bogut—might be doomed regardless.
All of it leaves Golden State in a tough spot. If Durant doesn't return soon, Draymond can't anchor the frontline by himself. So this is the biggest question the Warriors will have to answer for the rest of the series: can the defense get stops, and can Golden State survive with Cousins/Bogut/Bell stealing minutes along the way? Or, instead of Durant, is there a possibility that it's Looney who makes the dramatic return? It would be a Willis Reed moment made specifically for people who spend too much time listening to the Dunc'd On Podcast. Let's do it.
2. What if this is when Kawhi steals the series? It sounds strange to say this about a superstar who's currently averaging 29 points through three games, but Kawhi's had a quiet Finals thus far. For one, the Warriors have done an excellent job shading help defenders toward his drives to disrupt his rhythm. Kawhi also looks sluggish moving up and down the floor with a leg that's been injured since early in the Bucks series. No one is sure how severe the injury actually is, but he's been more earthbound even as he continues to produce at a superstar level.
If I were a Warriors fan, I would be wary. Kawhi can play better than he has. He can dominate in the midrange, he can hit from outside, and when the game slows to a grind, he can take over. The Raptors have gotten a great win at home (Game 1) and a killer game from their role players (Game 3), and now Golden State is wobbling. Game 4 would be the perfect time for Kawhi to step forward and provide a knockout punch that changes the entire series and sends the Warriors into full-on crisis mode.
3. Will we see 'Game 6' Klay Thompson?
Reminder that Klay remains the absolute best:
As for the version of Klay we'll be getting in Game 4: His shooting alone will help the Warriors' offense breathe, and he should be significantly better on defense than Quinn Cook (27 minutes in Game 3) or Jonas Jerebko. Having said that, Klay's at his best when he's guarding one-on-one and terrorizing defenses with back-cuts and movement. Which is to say, mobility matters. In theory, a sore hamstring could limit a lot of what makes Klay so dangerous. Then again, Klay has played through injuries in the past—a bad sprained ankle in last year's Finals—and always manages to make it look easy. We'll see.
4. What if Kevin Durant never returns? The most talented player in basketball is on the sidelines and nobody has any idea when he'll be back. It's pointless to speculate here, except to say this: For almost a week now everyone has assumed that Durant will, indeed, return at some point in the second half of this series. But maybe that premise was flawed. If KD were anywhere close to healthy, Game 4 seems like the perfect opportunity to come back to play savior, yet he's still going to be on the sidelines, and he's still not capable of scrimmaging. In his absence, there's now a legitimate question: in the event that KD isn't coming back, should the Warriors still be favored to win this series?
For that matter, if Durant's not coming back, there's a real chance that Friday night is the last game the Warriors ever play at Oracle. Tip-off is at 9 p.m. EST.