OAKLAND — When it was made official about 30 minutes before tip-off that Klay Thompson would not suit up for the Warriors because of his strained hamstring — joining Kevin Durant in street clothes — the first reaction was “this is going to look like Stephen Curry at Davidson.”
It did. He put up a career playoff-high of 47 and was at the heart of everything Golden State did on offense. He was brilliant.
The second reaction to was: The Warriors are in a lot of trouble on defense.
That proved to be the bigger problem. When Golden State won the second half of Game 2 (and that game), it was with Thompson on Kawhi Leonard, which put Andre Iguodala (on Pascal Siakam) and Draymond Green (on Kyle Lowry) in better help positions. It worked.
In Game 3, without Thompson, the Warriors simply could not get stops. Leonard had 30 points, Lowry 23, and the Raptors shot 52.4 percent as a team, and hit 17 threes. Toronto simply made good plays and hit their shots on their way to a ridiculous 126.8 offensive rating.
The result was a comfortable 123-109 Toronto win in Oracle to take a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is Friday night at Oracle.
“Toronto played an excellent game, made big shots every time they needed to,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We never could get over the hump. Every time we fought back and kind of got it to six, seven or eight, whatever it was, they made big shots.”
The Warriors didn’t play Thompson because they didn’t want to risk aggravating his hamstring issue, believing this is going to be a long series, something Warriors coach Steve Kerr suggested.
“The whole point was to not risk a bigger injury that would keep him out of the rest of the series,” Kerr said of the decision to sit Thompson. “So that was the decision we made, and I feel very comfortable with it.”
Now they need to play Thompson — and maybe Kevin Durant, who is expected to play on the court with teammates at the team’s facility on Thursday, Kerr said — for Game 4 or this may not be a long series.
That the Warriors see long series speaks to their respect for the Raptors. This is an outstanding Toronto team that is going to take a full-strength Golden State to have a chance beat.
The Raptors felt like they were themselves on Wednesday, compared to Game 2.
“We tried to play with more pace up the court, and we tried to play with more pace in the half court,” Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse said. “I thought you just saw a lot more cutting and passing, obviously 30 assists, you saw a lot more shots go in, that helps, right?”
That full Raptors team showed up in Game 3, with the supporting cast making plays — Toronto hit 17-of-38 threes, 44.7 percent. Lowry had 23 points but also dished out nine assists, setting the table for the role players. Danny Green and Siakam each had 18 points (Siakam also had nine boards), and Marc Gasol added 17 points.
Those Raptors took advantage of the Warriors porous defense. All game long the Raptors got the shots they wanted, made the extra pass, and knocked down the clean looks they earned.
Golden State’s defense was quietly kind of pedestrian all season (11th in the league in defensive rating), but it was overlooked because the offense was so good, and because for stretches the Warriors could summon up the elite defense that won them back-to-back NBA titles.
Shorthanded this series — they really miss Kevon Looney on that end, not just Durant and Thompson — the Warriors have only played that kind of defense for two of the 12 quarters. Maybe only one quarter.
In Game 3, the Warriors went right at DeMarcus Cousins, and he struggled. Toronto got him into space on the pick-and-roll and he couldn’t move, taking poor angles to recover for his lack of mobility. At other points, Gasol just backed Cousins down.
The themes of this game were clear early.
It was the Curry show on offense for the Warriors from the opening tip — he scored or assisted on nine of the 10 Golden State first quarter buckets. Toronto’s defense was able to keep the other Warriors in check early, Curry started on 2-of-4 shooting, but the rest of the team was 0-of-6, including 0-of-4 from three. Toronto got out to a 15-7 lead and was up by 10 for stretches of the first quarter. The Raptors 36-29 after one, but it felt like the Warriors were still in it.
Curry got some rest to start second and the Warriors were -5 in a little over three minutes, but when he returned the Warriors were able to hang around. Toronto had a stretch of nearly 5 minutes without scoring, and it kept Golden State in the game. The Raptors led 60-52 at the half, but the Warriors were within striking distance when they shouldn’t have been.
That’s because of Stephen Curry’s 25 points in the first half on 7-of-13 shooting overall, including 4-of-8 from three. Plus he did this to Kyle Lowry.
In the third it’s more of the same — the Raptors couldn’t pull away, the Warriors can’t close the gap — until with about three minutes left in the quarter the Warriors looked gassed, Curry in particular. Toronto stretched the lead to 16 because the Warriors simply could not get stops. It was 96-83 Raptors after three.
In the fourth, the Warriors would make a mini-run, the Raptors would hit a big shot to stop the run, and the momentum died. The Warriors just could not get the stops they needed.
Toronto will come out in Game 4 looking to take control of the series, will the Warriors have the health and defense to make it is a game becomes the big questions.