When the Golden State Warriors took the world by storm during their breakout 2014/15 regular season, they also made a few sharp gamblers quite some money along the way. The team had shown star potential the season prior, but not many people foresaw the meteoric rise in such a sudden fashion. Once the Warriors established themselves as a legitimate juggernaut, Vegas’ odds on them adjusted, as Vegas always does. But, they missed on one thing.
The third quarter. During that period, Golden State were absolutely eviscerating opponents. Eating their damn souls. They posted a league-high 14.5 net rating, yet Vegas hadn’t noticed. In the ensuing years, the Warriors continued to dominate in the third quarter, even when other teams overtook them in total scoring margin. Throughout the course of their run of five consecutive NBA Finals appearances, Golden State has averaged a 15.9 net rating in third quarters but a far more reasonable 9.2 across the entirety of the game.
On Sunday evening, the Toronto Raptors felt the full force of that tasty pay-off bet. The Warriors outscored Toronto 31-24 during the third quarter, including a gut-wrenching 20-0 run that deflated an arena hoping to send the defending champions home down 0-2 for the first time over their five year run. It was a clinic of epic proportions against the best defence in the playoffs.
Warriors assisted every basket in the second half. 22 baskets. 22 assists.
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 3, 2019
Draymond Green and Stephen Curry played the entire 12 minutes of a quarter that the Warriors clearly needed. Green responded to criticism of his defence on Pascal Siakam in Game 1 with a resounding bang, reclaiming his title of the league’s foremost swiss-army knife. When he wasn’t blowing up Toronto’s passing sequences, he was dissecting their stretched defence with a pair of rebounds and assists to go along with six points on 3 for 3 shooting. Toronto, the aggressors of the first six quarters of this series, were finally punched and stumbled onto their heels.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Toronto Raptors befell to a siege of triples, transition buckets, and backdoor cuts in a furious third quarter Every team does. It doesn’t make the loss any less disheartening.
Golden State began to beat Raptor defenders down the floor on leakouts and their scrambling transition defence were becoming more bemused on every knifing Warrior pass. Toronto allowed the Warriors to score seven of their 13 fastbreak points in the third stanza, and the presence of a seemingly rejuvenated DeMarcus Cousins added to their decision-making woes whilst retreating.
“We have gotta be able to get our defence set up,” said head coach Nick Nurse. “It becomes a lot harder when you’re not taking care of it [ball] or scoring.”
Kyle Lowry, who fouled out late in the fourth quarter, echoed his coaches’ sentiments.
“Missing shots and not getting back on defence hurt us,” said Lowry. “Not being able to set up our half-court defence hurt us.”
The pressure that mounted upon Toronto with every missed shot became palpable. Golden State were compounding the nervous energy by forcing uncharacteristic turnovers, subsequently raising the pace and busting the game wide open. In Game 1 Toronto only had 10 turnovers, in the third quarter alone they had coughed up seven. The energy had been sufficiently drained from Scotiabank Arena. Green and Andre Iguodala’s harassment of the Raptors starting backcourt changed the tenor of the matchup:
After dying on the court following a thunderous Marc Gasol screen in the second quarter, Iguodala returned from the locker room as the reincarnated White Walker version of himself. His sole intent was to cause mayhem.
While the Warriors had honed in on specific players to disrupt Toronto’s offensive flow, their own superstars were magnetizing defenders to such a degree that the role players had acres of space to shoot. Curry bent the Raptors defence his way screening off-ball and sucked defenders to him like moths to a flame on his own pick-and-rolls. Previous afterthoughts, Alfonzo McKinnie and Quinn Cook, were playing as if they were in an empty gym.
Granted, the Raptors were recipients of some, let’s say, dubious refereeing decisions. Lowry’s foul trouble limited his minutes in that backbreaking quarter and capped the feistiness of his game-changing defence. Still, the Warriors put on a basketball clinic and only headed to the free-throw line twice during that apocalyptic 20 point run.
I don’t blame Toronto’s gameplan to sell-out in order to close the space of certain shooters, however the backend of their defence busted open worse than when I tried on my suit from high school graduation. Back door cuts were aplenty and Andrew Bogut used every bit of his remaining four-inch vertical to slam home two alley-oops. There is no option but to pick your poison against a historic offence but the Raptors were getting outworked as the shotclock wore on, an area that they excelled in to diffuse Golden State in Game 1. Defence doesn’t end after the first pass or rotation — the Warriors help defence was desperate and frenetic to slam doors shut, while Toronto were just a half-step slower than what we have become accustomed to over the postseason.
Fortunately, this game does not indicate a doomed future for Toronto over the rest of the series, much like their emphatic Game 1 victory was not a surefire sign that a cakewalk of a sweep was about to ensue. These Raptors are a resilient bunch. Despite an underwhelming performance, they whittled Golden State’s lead down to two with just under thirty seconds remaining and had a very real chance of winning until Iguodala’s dagger three. They won every other quarter throughout the game. It just wasn’t quite enough.
Attempting to snag a road win at the Oracle with Kevin Durant’s return looming is a daunting proposition —the Warriors are 35-8 at home the past five years — but it would be foolish to count these Raptors are out. Wednesday will test if they possess the heart required of an NBA champion.