The narratives surrounding a NBA playoff series are hard to predict coming in, and often need to adjust for the circumstances as the series goes on. Game three in Oakland was certainly one that would dictate the way the story of this series was told going forward. After coughing up a lead in game two and giving away home court advantage to the Golden State Warriors, the Raptors needed to win one on the road to regain control of the series, especially with Klay Thompson joining Kevin Durant on the injured list and the looming threat of the healthy Warriors later in the series. Were the Raptors to drop game three without those players in uniform, it would set the table for the series to be lost for the Raptors as they returned.
For a series that was tied 1-1, this was as close to a must-win game as you could get, and the Warriors hadn’t lost a Finals game at home since game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
The Raptors, however, came out with the preternatural calmness that has defined this playoff run, and took control early on with a balanced offensive effort. Once the lead was established, they would hold on throughout the game, but the Warriors showed their toughness in fighting back despite their limited rotation in this game. Steph Curry set a new playoff career high with 47 points, and many of them in truly impressive fashion, but every time the Warriors whittled the lead back down into single digits, the Raptors responded in kind with a run of their own to stretch it back out and keep Golden State at bay.
This was Golden State doing what they do best in the second half, hitting huge shots to try to trigger the run that would bring them a lead and let them control the game, and that’s when they’re at their most dangerous. As they showed in game two in Toronto, they just keep coming at you in waves until you break, and then they own the game from that point onwards, only the Raptors didn’t break in this game, showing their own resiliency that has defined this playoff run, whether that was through Kawhi Leonard earning tough points, and he had plenty of those in the second half, or through one of the perimeter shooters hitting a huge shot. Toronto hit 17 threes in game three, 11 of those coming from the starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Danny Green, who each hit momentum breaking shots at various points in the game to keep this one in reach.
The series will likely only get tougher from this point onwards, with the injured Warriors returning to the court as we move forward and that empowering both Golden State’s offense, which missed the threats of their other shooters in this game, and their defense, which struggled to keep the Raptors from generating space. However, the Raptors gained back home court advantage on Wednesday night, and got themselves two wins away from a title. The Finals is, in it’s simplest form, a race to four wins and this Raptors team has now won six of their last seven games, with all of those coming against either the Milwaukee Bucks or Golden State Warriors, and they clearly believe in their ability to hold their own against any team in the league on any court. That resiliency bodes well for the team, regardless of the lineup the Warriors can wield in later games.
While every Raptors starter scored in double digits in this game, it was the quiet excellence of Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 30 points on what felt like an off night for him, and the intensity of Kyle Lowry, who made his presence felt not just through his 23 points and 9 assists, but also through all the little things that he does to help impose his will on the game, that lead the way for Toronto. Lowry was seemingly everywhere in this game, boxing out on the defensive boards, diving for loose balls, and also hitting huge shots as the game went on.
As each series of this playoff run has gone on, Nick Nurse has found the adjustments to help the team get through their opponent and the team has raised their level to match the intensity necessary as the games went on, and that showed up again on Wednesday night to gain the 2-1 advantage in the Finals. There will be different answers required for new questions in order to earn the franchise’s first title and beat the two-time defending champions, but for the moment, the Raptors have presented the Warriors with several adjustments of their own to make, with Toronto punishing Golden State for the extra attention paid to try to take away Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam’s games, and then with each of Siakam and Leonard punishing them when the Warriors gave them space and tried to prevent the shooters from doing damage.
While much of the narrative coming out of this game will focus on the players who didn’t play for Golden State, there are also reasons for the Raptors to build confidence heading into game four, with them having survived Steph Curry’s best scoring playoff game of his career and a tough arena to win in to regain control of the series.