Where do we even start?
This series feels as if we have seen everything, yet know nothing at the same time. We’ve had injuries, nationwide viewing parties, Drake-KD beefs in the tunnel, more injuries, conflicting reports about said injuries, ‘janky’ defences, and now minority owners are shoving and cussing at players?! I honestly don’t know if I have been covering the NBA Finals or mistakenly indulging in a basketball-themed version of my girlfriend’s trashy reality television shows.
Right, and there has actually been basketball played on the court!
In Game 1 the Raptors blew the doors off of Golden State led by a career night for Pascal Siakam, only for Draymond Green to respond in Game 2 locking him down and the Warriors squeaking out a nailbiter on the road. Then Toronto go into the vaunted Oracle arena and dominate in a 5 vs. 1 showdown against Steph Curry, despite his ludicrous scoring night.
So much has occurred in each game and there are so many narratives to be drawn. At the same time, the games feel like entirely separate entities — they have not coalesced into a cohesive series with a discernable pattern. This makes tonight’s game even more exciting! Who the heck knows what is going to go down? Maybe Bismack Biyombo has a spare jersey hidden under his fedora and will throw some bodies around in Game 4.
One thing we do know is that Kevin Durant and Kevon Looney will not be available while Klay Thompson will play, yet his physical limitations are uncertain. Without Durant, the Raptors can prepare more comfortably for a Warriors playing style that will resemble the opening two games of the series. On Toronto’s side, OG Anunoby is active, however it is becoming increasingly unlikely that he will feature this late into the series.
There was much talk about Nick Nurse’s box-and-one defence and the non-existence of a trusty shooter outside of Curry for Golden State after Thompson went down late in Game 2. The Warriors were a shell of their normal explosive selves, however Thompson’s presence was missed far more on the defensive end. He had emerged as the best on-ball defender on Kawhi Leonard, which also allowed Andre Iguodala and Green to run rampant as help defenders. With Thompson gone, those two had to primarily defend Leonard — they combined to defend him on 52 possessions — and were less effective. Meanwhile, the ripple effect caused even lesser defenders to pick up Kyle Lowry and Siakam, both of whom torched the Warriors on Wednesday.
Siakam is now a matchup nightmare. The Warriors attempted to stick a selection of Shaun Livingston, Jonas Jerebko, or Alfonzo McKinnie on him and the results provided expectedly glorious returns for Toronto. Those three could hardly guard Spicy P if they all on the floor together!
It will be interesting to see a less than 100% Thompson is deployed on defence. Returning onto Leonard seems logical as it will require more physicality and slightly less lateral movement than other Raptors, but expect plenty more help from Green and Iguodala if that is the case. If Thompson takes Curry’s usual spot hidden on Danny Green then we will know that he is truly testing the edge of his physical limits.
I was originally ambivalent about Nurse’s coaching performance in Game 3 as the team’s performance was good but not great, despite leading from wire to wire. However, on the re-watch and over the series as a whole he has been brilliant. Tying Fred VanVleet’s minutes to Curry is essential as he the best option to be a nuisance. Nurse also ensured that the team minimize easy back cuts due to their fixation on Curry and instead return to their defensive identity, which ultimately held Golden State to 39.6 per cent shooting despite Curry’s 47 point eruption. He remains adaptable yet keenly aware of his own sides strengths in each different situation. The team has a definite identity, but they are not bound to it with rigidity.
The Raptors will have to play better tonight if they hope to head back with a chance to win the championship on their home floor. They had chances to stomp out Golden State early and could not capitalize. The Warriors are now the desperate team. Their extra gear is scary, but the question remains if they can get there? At some point the injuries, mileage, and pressure mounts to such a degree that even the seemingly invincible crumble.
Even if the Warriors can patch together some semblance of their playoff rotation, Toronto unlocked a new look to their offence during the second half with Lowry, VanVleet, and Gasol initiating the offence while Leonard cooked as an off-ball scorer. It brought the Raptors back to their normal flow; the team had a gargantuan 124.2 offensive rating and all five starters scored at least 17 points. Toronto seemed to have co-opted the Warriors’ ‘Strength in Numbers’ mantra.
Sorry for such a Warriors focus on today’s preview, it is just that they have so many question marks littered across the lineup whereas we know what we are going to get from this resilient, veteran, and badass Raptors squad. Golden State are the ones who must scramble to get a foothold in the series as they dangle on the cliff edge of basketball mortality. Tonight the Raptors can pry one more finger from their grasp on the trophy.
For a deeper insight into how the Raptors offence can thrive, read here.
Tipoff: 9:10 EST | TV: TSN
Warriors are favoured by 5 points. O/U: 216.0
OG Anunoby is active for Game 4.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin, Jordan Loyd
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Jodie Meeks
SF: Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher, Eric Moreland
Andre Iguodala (left calf tightness) and Klay Thompson (hamstring) will play, Kevin Durant (strained calf) and Kevon Looney (collarbone) are out for game 4.
PG: Steph Curry, Shaun Livingston, Quinn Cook
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Andre Iguodala, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Draymond Green, Jonas Jerebko
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Jordan Bell, Andrew Bogut
Heads up, Friday Game 4 is our watch party in downtown Toronto – get your tickets.