On a night where the stage was set for the greatest dynasty in the modern basketball era to show us all why they’ve had a monopoly on the NBA for the past 5 years, Board man and company had other things in mind.
Kyle Lowry commanded the floor all night long with championship-level decision making, Serge Ibaka poured in 20 points on 9/12 shooting off the bench, and Kawhi Leonard became the only man since Michael Jordan to score 35 points in an NBA Finals game without a single turnover.
Toronto played with a frantic pace, selfless ball movement, and a hunger that could not be matched as they pushed the back-to-back NBA Champions to the brink of elimination in what could be the last ever basketball game played at Oracle arena, besting the Golden State Warriors 105-92.
Despite the effectiveness of the Raptor’s play in their stunning Game 3 blowout, all anyone could talk about was Steph Curry ahead of Game 4. Even though 47 points wasn’t enough to draw a favourable result for his team, the brilliance Curry displayed would be too much for Toronto once he got his splash brother back.
While Steph controlled the narrative in Game 3, the Raptors controlled his stamina levels in Game 4. Toronto came out of the gates on Friday evening looking rough offensively. Although the Dinos were zipping the ball around and creating open looks for themselves, they couldn’t buy one. But as their shooting woes tried to figure themselves out, Nick Nurse was seemingly staying committed to one thing: run Stephen Wardell Curry out of the building.
Steph was the silver lining for the Bay Area in their Game 3 defeat, setting his personal career playoff high, but did so a major cost. He needed to play 44 hard minutes to get there. Not hard because 44 minutes is a long time be on the floor in an NBA Finals Game (it is), hard because of how he played those minutes.
Steph was sprinting around screens, breaking defenders down off the dribble and putting more miles on his body than he has since the 10th grade. With less than 48 hours between that offensive marathon he quarterbacked and the start of Game 4, Nick Nurse knew Curry was not arriving to Oracle on Friday with a full tank of gas.
From the second that ball tipped it was clear that no matter what was going on offensively for the Raptors, their main focus was to run, keep running, and not to slow down until Curry’s gas light began blinking red.
Golden State dominated Toronto in the first quarter, capitalizing off their opponent’s inability to string together a series of makes. Leonard bailed the Raptors out near the end of the period, scoring 8 of his 14 first quarter points in the final 3 minutes of the frame, closing the Warriors lead to just 8.
The second wasn’t quite as horrific for Toronto, but it was by no means pretty. What was pretty, however, was the speed Steph Curry was being forced to run up and down the court. In the moment, it was difficult to appreciate from a Raptor fan’s perspective as Toronto looked lost on the offensive end of the court. The payoff would come later.
Following a blistering start, Kawhi scored zero points in the second quarter, raising the collective blood pressure of Canada as they searched for a consistent offensive release valve. Green couldn’t buy one, Kyle struggled with his shot, Gasol was afraid to shoot and things were looking grim for the Raptors as they mined for any offensive contributions outside of Leonard and Ibaka.
If you couldn’t see the score for the first 24 minutes of play last night, you would have thought Toronto was getting their ass kicked. It felt like a double digit deficit, like the Raptors were being semi- slaughtered and couldn’t measure up to Golden State. Toronto played their worst half of basketball since Game 3 in Philadelphia 3 weeks ago. They were only down 4 at half time.
Kareem had the sky hook, Iverson coined the crossover and James Harden has basically trademarked the step back 3. Since the inception of the Golden State Warriors dynasty, their hallmark trait has been 3rd quarter onslaughts, leading the league in point differential in that period over the past 5 years.
On Friday June 7th, they got a taste of their own medicine.
Following a 4-5 minute stretch of jostling with the Warriors for assertion on this basketball game, Kawhi Leonard looked at his opponents and said “nope”.
After the brilliant job Toronto did of tiring out Golden State’s prized possession, the game was right here for them to seize control of. Curry wasn’t moving like his usual self, was having trouble handling the ball for long stretches of time and was not able to separate himself from his defender in an effort to create his own shot.
The Raps tight rotations and incredible communication on defense, fed into their offensive energy. Despite their first half shooting woes, they were getting fantastic shots, only none of them were falling. Toronto’s perseverance paid off as they were able to convert on the same looks in the 3rd.
A FVV 3, Serge smash and Siakam hustle bucket all help set the table for Boardman to grab the 2-time defending champs by the throat.
Just like that this became the Toronto Raptor’s basketball game. Even when Golden State managed to get out of their own way and score the basketball, Toronto would respond on the next play. The Raptors looked hungry, motivated and flat out better than the Golden State Warriors, as they outscored their opponents 37-21 in the 3rd, behind 17 Q3 points from the fun guy himself. The Raps held a 12 point entering the 4th quarter.
Within 10 seconds of the 4th beginning, Golden State was slow on another rotation, leaving Fred VanVleet wide open at the top of the key as he splashed a 3. Is this really happening??
As the Raptors continued to assert their dominance on Steph Curry and company, it forced me to wonder how much this is about talent, as it is about desire. The Warriors have been on this stage so many times it might be reaching the point where they are too comfortable to be here. Toronto falls completely on the other end of that spectrum.
They’ve been knocking on the door for nearly a decade, been dominated by LeBron again and again, received little recognition from the wider NBA Media and now they’re here. In the NBA Finals. With a chance to slay a dynasty and deliver a result that offers Canada complete sovereignty over their own happiness.
That matters. You saw it in how they played. How loud they screamed. How instantaneously they laid out for charges or loose balls. There is absolutely nothing like the chase. It offers another gear for the Raptors to reach that their opponents just don’t have anymore.
Toronto closed this game out with continued poise and excellence on both ends of the floor. Running out a pick and roll that looked like Stockton and Malone, and a defense with a level of tenacity that the Warriors could not reckon with.
With 2 minutes left and an 11 point Toronto lead on the scoreboard, something magical happened. Golden State “fans” began to head for the exits, but before they could reach the ushers, a bellowing chant broke out among the happiest people in the building: Toronto Raptors fans.
“Let’s Go Raptors”
“Let’s Go Raptors”
In a place that’s been called the toughest home crowd in sports, the loudest arena in the NBA, home to the best fans in the world, you could hear it.
You could hear it on television, you could hear it in the stadium: the sound of a joyous fan base who have been waiting 24 years for a chance to collectively say the following words:
The Toronto Raptors are one win away from an NBA Championship.