- Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson put together another all-time moment to win Game 5 shock the Toronto crowd. Can they stave off elimination one more time and mount one final Oracle classic?
We witnessed what might be the greatest moment of the Splash Brothers era on Monday night in Toronto. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson canned a trio of threes in the final 3:32 fo Game 5, erasing a 103-97 Raptors lead and thwarting Kawhi Leonard's attempt to seize his second Finals MVP trophy. The comeback victory should live on alongside Thompson’s 41-point explosion against Oklahoma City in 2016 and Curry’s 33-point second half against the Rockets in May. But if the Warriors drop their third home game of the Finals on Thursday, Monday’s stolen victory could very well be lost to history. It may take another historic performance to avoid such a fate.
The Warriors regained their offensive mojo in the first quarter on Monday night. Golden State buried seven threes on 11 attempts, sprinting to a 32-28 lead after the opening 12 minutes. A certain 7-footer had plenty to do with the offensive outburst. Kevin Durant poured in 11 points before his disheartening Achilles injury, bombing from long range with little hesitation after missing Golden State’s last nine games. Durant’s return restored Golden State’s offensive equilibrium, igniting one of the greatest offenses in league history. Now that the four-time scoring champ is unavailable, the Warriors could return to scrounging for points.
The two losses at Oracle in Games 3 and 4 revealed some serious structural problems in Golden State’s attack, issues that will likely persist next year (especially with Durant’s all-but-guaranteed absence). The force of Curry and Thompson’s gravity allows Golden State to survive with non-shooters on the floor with the healthy iteration of the death lineup featuring Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala as the squeaky perimeter wheels. Take away Durant, though, and Steve Kerr is choosing from a platter of imperfect options for the fifth man.
DeMarcus Cousins is a heady playmaker who adds workable stretch. That said, Cousins is a disaster defending in space and has become a turnover machine in numerous spurts, adding a goaltend and illegal screen down the stretch on Monday. It’s telling Thompson’s game-winning three featured the core four Warriors pinging their way to an open shot as Cousins spent the possession trying not to get in the way. The Warriors likely don’t win Game 5 without Cousins’ scoring spree after Durant’s injury, but his status as an elimination game X-Factor won’t help Steve Kerr’s nerves pregame.
Perhaps the friendly confines spur a few triples from Quinn Cook or effective minutes from Jordan Bell on Thursday night. Kevon Looney is Kerr’s best bet at a functioning lineup, though it’s frankly amazing he’s even playing in the first place. Attrition is taking its toll. A third non-shooter will surround Curry and Thompson through much of Thursday’s matchup, adding another set of eyes on the league’s most dynamic backcourt.
So how do the Splash Brothers withstand the added dose of defenders? There are a few potential remedies at their disposal. Let’s start with Curry. The Finals have represented a serious departure from Golden State’s romp over Portland, with Toronto sporting the playoffs’ No. 4 defense (103.7 defensive rating) compared to the Blazers’ No. 9 mark (110.6). Curry had no trouble against the diminutive Damian Lillard and he faced little deterrence from Zach Collins, Meyers Leonard and Enes Kanter. Green feasted barrelling downhill on the 4-on-3, tossing lob after lob in the Warriors’ sweep. Toronto has shut down much of that action, stopping the stream of Curry-Green pick-and-rolls. Marc Gasol’s backline defense continues to goad Green into turnovers and Danny Green’s size has proved integral in at least slowing Curry. Toronto is switching less and sticking with its matchups, clogging the lane as it ignores non-threats from deep. A steady dose of pick-and-roll isn’t the answer.
Curry’s been in a relative groove since Game 6 in Houston, shimmying his way through defenses with an MVP swagger. His penetration within the final minute of Game 5 created Thompson’s triple, and he’s been roasting Fred VanVleet with glee for much of the Finals. It’s outside of the Golden State ethos, but perhaps isolating Curry will generate healthier looks late in the shot clock. Nick Nurse may break the box-and-1 glass again, and the move could prove prudent. With everything on the line, Curry should be aggressive enough to force Nurse’s hand.
Speaking of isolation, Klay Thompson has been hunting mismatches with a fervor over the last few games. The younger Splash Bro has posted up 29 times this postseason, the ninth most of any player and more than Gasol, Green and Giannis. Thompson will duck into the paint hard on the fast break if the three-point line is covered, sticking his backside into Kyle Lowry as he fights for position. Thompson earned a number of free looks early in the series, but Gasol has begun aggressively doubling on most touches within 12 feet. Thompson has been quick to recognize the coverage, turning into a fadeaway off the catch or quickly sending the ball back to the perimeter. He must remain decisive enough to generate quality looks and avoid turnovers.
Curry and Thompson defeated Houston on the road without Durant and rolled through Portland. This Toronto team is clearly a different animal. The Raptors have perhaps the highest defensive IQ in all of basketball, and they boast arguably the best defender in the league. Golden State’s supporting cast will need to shoulder at least a minor load. A couple Green threes will force the Oracle crowd to erupt, and even 10 points from Iguodala will be a relative godsend after a combined eight in his last 68 minutes. Overcoming a 3–1 deficit requires a number of small, yet impactful contributions. Just ask Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye about the 2016 Finals.
Expect the Splash Brothers to empty the clip on Thursday, attempting to spur a livelier crowd than what was on hand for the Game 4 snooze fest. Curry attacked with abandon short-handed in Game 3; Thompson appears to be riding a relative hot streak. There’s no other option than to let it fly, not while Toronto sags off Golden State’s others at every opportunity. The Warriors have enough ammunition with the best shooting backcourt in league history, yet Curry and Thompson’s efforts may still fall short against a talented Raptors squad. Monday’s victory marked another historic chapter in the Curry-Thompson era. A win on Thursday will put the duo 48 minutes from one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history.