For six quarters of these NBA Finals, the Toronto Raptors halfcourt defense had boxed the Warriors in, slowed the game down, and gave the Raptors one win and a good shot at another.
Six minutes changed all that.
The Warriors looked like the Warriors again.
Golden State took charge of Game 2 with an 18-0 run to start the third, however, this was not an avalanche of Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson threes, as we have come to expect. The Warriors got a lot of their buckets in the halfcourt with crisp passing and backcuts, layups, floaters or alley-oops off penetration. Curry and Thompson’s gravity pulled defenders to them and opened up lanes, Golden State finally started using that space as only they can. The Warriors assisted on every made basket they had in the second half, had 34 assists on 38 made buckets for the game, and assisted on 16 of their 17 layups/dunks. There was also an assist on the dagger three from Andre Iguodala that sealed the Warriors’ win.
The Warriors’ passing let them survive injuries to Thompson — a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter, after he had 25 points and had been the best player on the floor — and Kevon Looney, who left with a collar bone injury after a fall. Both left the game not to return, their status for Game 3 is not yet known (Thompson said he will play in Game 3, but the Warriors were more cautious).
That and improved defense got the Warriors a 109-104 win on the road in Game 2, tying the NBA Finals up 1-1 as they head to Oakland for Game 3 Wednesday.
Toronto had their chances, particularly getting open looks with the game on the line late, but just could not hit them. After Thompson left the game with 7:59 remaining, the Raptors went to the seen-in-high-school-but-not-the-NBA diamond-and-one defense to keep Fred Van Vleet hassling Stephen Curry — and it worked. The Warriors went scoreless on seven straight possessions.
However, in the face of a more energized Warriors defense than they saw in Game 1, the Raptors just did not take advantage of the opportunities.
“I said yesterday and today that 109 points is plenty to win the game, which is what we had in Game 1, but we gave up 118,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “So it was all about our defense and we held them to 37 percent and forced 15 turnovers and guarded the three-point line well. So it was championship defense and that’s what it’s going to take.”
The Warriors got huge games from Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins, which went a long way toward the win. Green finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, and completely outplayed Pascal Siakam (unlike Game 1). Cousins — who got the start and played nearly 28 minutes — had 11 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists in a gritty effort.
It was those assists from big men that the Raptors defense could not stop. The wings were cutting and guys were getting layups. Even Andrew Bogut had three alley-oops.
Toronto got 34 points from Kawhi Leonard on 8-of-20 shooting, and VanVleet had 17 points off the bench. But Toronto shot 11-of-38 from three, with a lot of those good looks, and that cost them.
The game started with a back-and-forth first quarter, with both teams struggling from three but Toronto still playing tremendous halfcourt defense and the Warriors still living at the three throw lines, just like Game 1.
However, the Raptors stretched the lead out to 12 in the second quarter going against a Warriors team that lacked offensive punch. The Raptors did a great job of taking away Curry’s penetration, leaving guys like Green and Andre Iguodala to create more (with no Kevin Durant for the Warriors to fall back on) and it wasn’t working.
But at halftime, it was just a five-point Toronto lead, 59-54, because of Klay Thompson.
Thompson had the first nine Warriors points while the rest of the team started 0-of-6 from the floor, and that trend continued through much of the first half. Toronto put Danny Green on Curry — who was battling an illness — and that left 6’1” Kyle Lowry on 6’7” Thompson and it let the Warriors sharpshooter get comfortable.
Thompson had 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the first half – and that was with every one of his shots contested. Thompson and Green had 20 of the Warriors 26 in the first quarter.
Late in the second, Curry started to find his rhythm. After starting 0-of-6 shooting he went 4-of-4 late, got to the line seven times, and had 16 points.
Golden State took over in the third quarter, starting the third on an 18-0 run, which was really a 24-1 run going back to the end of the first half. The Warriors never fully pulled away because of Leonard (he had 12 points in the third alone), but they had the lead.
One of the keys to that run was an improved Golden State defense. The Raptors started 0-of-8 shooting with five turnovers to start the third, the kind of run of stops the Warriors could not get in Game 1. Kerr adjusted and put Andre Iguodala on Pascal Siakam and left Thompson on Leonard, and it worked because Green and Iguodala could help more.
One other missed opportunity by the Raptors came late. They were down two with 26.9 seconds left in the game after a Danny Green made three, but rather than foul they let the game play out. That led to the Iguodala three.
“We’re trying to foul,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We had a couple chances there on Draymond, I think Livingston and then back to Draymond and then Curry got it. And we didn’t want to foul [Curry] but we put a good blitz on him. We almost made him throw it away. And I think if they’re going to take a shot and give you a chance there, I’m going to probably live with the one that ended up being taken. I’m going to probably roll with that.
“Probably we should have fouled before that.”
It wasn’t a pretty win for the Warriors, but not every victory is a work of art. The Warriors got the split they needed and now the series heads to the Bay Area. The question is, who will be healthy enough to suit up Wednesday for the Warriors?