The Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals thanks to a career game by Pascal Siakam and a team effort by seemingly everyone on the Toronto roster. Golden State took Game 2 in Ontario on Sunday, 109-104, largely because those two things were reversed.
Siakam scored just 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting, getting blocked three separate times inside of 10 feet. The paint was where Siakam thrived in Game 1, but eight of his 13 missed shots were inside the key on Sunday. Golden State appeared to have a plan for the rangy forward, staying put on his pump fakes and forcing him into bad floaters away from the rim.
As a team, the Warriors clamped down on defense. Kawhi Leonard had a game-high 34 points, and went to the free-throw line 16 times. However, Leonard struggled from the arc, shooting just 2-of-9 from 3-point range. The Raptors superstar did look a little hindered, coming up short on his long bombs, but Golden State’s effective rotations and continued high pick-and-roll traps forced the ball out of his hands away from the basket.
Essentially, everything the Raptors did right in Game 1, Golden State targeted in Game 2.
That included toning down the rest of the Toronto squad around Leonard. Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, and even Fred VanVleet all saw their contributions diminish in efficiency, even if only slightly, from Thursday.
Most noticeable was that of Marc Gasol, who looked to be a floor-stretching factor for the Raptors in Game 1. The veteran Spaniard scored 20 points in that matchup, going 2-of-4 from 3-point range. It was just enough to pull the Warriors defense out by half a step, allowing Toronto’s cutters to operate more freely.
But Gasol seemed reticent to pull the trigger on Sunday, even when he had wide open chances and his team needing to make up ground with under four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. As a result, he had less of an impact, scoring just six points on seven shots. He did not his a three.
Even worse was the effect that had on Toronto’s passing. Gasol was able to act as a hockey assist guy in Game 1, but without the threat of his 3-point shot in Game 2 things slowly started to trickle down. The Raptors ended with just 17 assists to Golden State’s 34.
Nick Nurse has been an innovator during these playoffs, and perhaps most surprising was just how many times we saw Toronto run Golden State’s split cuts (where a guard screens for another guard, then cuts diagonally toward the ball after defenders jump the shooter on the arc). The Warriors got wise to this strategy in Game 2, and were able to take away some of the passing lanes for Toronto. The Raptors’ turnovers went up by 50 percent from Game 1.
We knew that the Warriors were going to come out strong and with a game plan after Game 1. Golden State said that their main a disadvantage in the series was that they didn’t feel like they had a good read on this Raptors team. But their coaching staff is one of the best in the NBA, so the fact that the Warriors were able to respond on Sunday shouldn’t be a surprise.
The Warriors took the smart route. They know they can’t stop Kawhi Leonard, and there have been times during these playoffs that the Raptors have been denigrated for not having a roster worthy of a player of Leonard’s caliber. That was certainly the case in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Golden State decided to take that advice to heart, and executed a plan that allowed them to shut down the rest of the Raptors contributors en route to a tough, gutsy win.
The series now switches back to Oakland where we don’t know which players will play. Klay Thompson was injured in the fourth quarter, and his left hamstring might be a real concern. Kevon Looney fell hard on his shoulder, and didn’t return in the second half. And of course, we still don’t know if Kevin Durant will play.
For now, both teams have gathered significant tape on each other, and are heading back to the Bay all square, 1-1. We have a real series on our hands, and now that one team has stolen a win on the other’s home court, the fun can begin.
Nurse’s task now will be solving Golden State’s defense and figuring out how to get his supporting cast up and running yet again.