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Morning Coffee – Sat, Jun 8

There’s no defense for the eff-you in Kawhi

Kawhi Leonard and a couple of ‘F-you shots’ put the Raptors within a win of a championship – The Athletic

More notably, though, the Raptors completely bottled up the Warriors’ potent offence. The Warriors scored 21 points in the quarter, but they took 26 possessions to get there, shooting 35 percent and coughing up the ball six times for nine Raptors points. The Raptors were switchy, they were suffocating, and outside of Thompson, they were pristine. The net result was a 16-point swing, the largest the Warriors have suffered in a third quarter during their five-year run, something completely unfamiliar and uncomfortable for them.

“Ah, this sucks. It sucks really bad,” Draymond Green said of what that felt like. “You just try and do whatever you can to change it. Get a stop, get a bucket, get some momentum. Every time we did, they answered. So yeah, it sucked, a lot. But can’t get it back now.”

It was still a game in the balance entering the fourth, with the Warriors tweaking their rotations to maximize their stars’ minutes and Leonard and Kyle Lowry receiving brief reprieves. Everyone knows better than to think a 12-point lead is safe over 12 minutes against the Warriors, and there were moments where it looked like they were ready to storm back.

Whenever they did, though, the Raptors were there. Leonard had given them steadiness and they weren’t going to betray that. He had given them control and they weren’t going to concede that. He had given them a lead and they weren’t going to blow that. They held tight without him, and when Leonard returned with the lead still at 12 and less than 10 minutes to go, it was close-out time. Any concerns about a slower-paced offence, a major issue in the first half, became strengths in those minutes, the Raptors chipping away at the clock. Meanwhile, they scored just enough to keep the Warriors at arm’s length, long a league impossibility, answering every Stephen Curry attack or Thompson 3 with a well-timed pocket pass from Lowry, an offensive rebound from Danny Green or a forced turnover back the other way.

If the feel of the series hadn’t shifted enough yet, a sequence with a little over two minutes left should have hammered it home. Curry missed a 15-foot baseline jumper, then watched as Pascal Siakam hit a 17-footer in response. The lead was back to 12 with too little time to close it, the world’s best shooter missing a decent look and an unlikely jump-shooter providing a supplementary dagger. All night, the Warriors struggled to score at the pace that’s brought them three championships, and it was no different as the Raptors closed out.

There is work still to be done, and Leonard’s personality has prevented the Raptors from getting ahead of themselves. There was no celebrating in the locker room and there was no inflated sense of accomplishment. At most, there was some joking about Ibaka’s ability to fit into pants that are too tight and VanVleet’s need for immediate cosmetic dental surgery. In the business sense, though, they know what they still have to do. If anyone is capable of making a 3-1 series comeback, it’s the opponent still very much in front of the Raptors.

The Raptors are just better than the Warriors – Yahoo

As for experience? Toronto has never been here before, but it’s acting like it has. After losing home-court advantage, the Raptors snatched it right back with a wire-to-wire win in Game 3. And with the Warriors throwing caution to the wind in Game 4, the Raptors weathered the storm by being down only four at halftime, before blowing it open with a 37-21 battering in the third quarter. Remember, that’s supposed to be the Warriors’ time, and it was the total opposite. Leonard led the way with 17 in the frame, but Serge Ibaka was also massive, while Lowry, Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Fred VanVleet did the rest. And as for their composure, the Raptors kept the Warriors at a comfortable distance for the entirety of the fourth as they just calmly found the gaps in Golden State’s defense.

And so the series is now 3-1 in favor of the Raptors. You can never underestimate the heart of a champion, as the Warriors famously overcame this same deficit in 2016, but it’s not the same team anymore. The Splash Brothers and Green are going strong, but that supporting cast is past their expiry dates. Iguodala is plotting his exit strategy. Livingston is on the brink of retirement. Andrew Bogut already washed out of the league before the Warriors recalled him from Australia. The Warriors have three aces, but the Raptors have a full house.

Maybe there’s still one more twist in the season, and they would all be long shots at this point. Maybe the most unflappable superstar of all-time suddenly chokes for a week straight? Perhaps Durant walks through that door totally healthy and is back to being the Finals MVP? Could Drake’s massages get Toronto disqualified? Because barring some unforeseen miracle, an entire nation is ready to celebrate.

But from where things currently stand, the Raptors are just better than the Warriors, and that’s not changing any time soon.

Raptors’ confidence carries them one step closer to first NBA title – Sportsnet.ca

The Warriors briefly threatened with a Curry triple that cut the lead to eight with 2:56 left, but the Raptors went on a quick 6-0 run to solve that problem.

It was a formula that has proven almost unstoppable of late as the Raptors won for the seventh time in their last eight post-season starts: Leonard carrying the load with enough crucial assistance to get them over the top.

On Friday night, it came in the form of Ibaka’s 20 points on 12 shots off the bench and a whole-team defensive effort that held the Warriors under 100 points for the first time in 26 post-season starts dating back to last season’s Western Conference Finals.

“I thought we played really tough tonight, we were taking a lot of punches early and we just kept standing in there and playing,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “Then we were able to kind of exert our will in the second half.”

And as they marched off the floor a party broke out behind them, in their absence and in their honour.

It’s not that it wasn’t noticed.

“It’s awesome, first of all, right. I think we travel, our fans travel really well in the regular season. We get this a lot on the road. It’s really amazing,” said Nurse. “It’s Canada’s team, and Canadians from all over the country are traveling down … [it] surprises me a little in The Finals because I don’t think it’s that easy to get tickets to these games, so our fans are working extra hard and being extra vocal, and we appreciate that.”

But the Raptors aren’t allowing themselves a corresponding giddiness. Not yet.

Said Lowry, the longest-serving Raptor, the one who understands the fans hunger best because it matches his own:

“We didn’t do nothing yet. We haven’t done anything. We won three games. It’s the first of four. We understand that.

“They’re the defending champs, and they’re not going to go out easy. They’re going to come and fight and prepare to play the next game, and that’s how we’re preparing ourselves, that we have to — we got to prepare ourselves to play the next game. We haven’t done anything yet.”

That’s not true, exactly.

The win at Oracle was a win like no other for the Raptors, a notch above any even in a post-season that has loaded one signature moment onto the other in haphazardly constructed pyramid of joy.

Kawhi’s 3rd-quarter outburst deflates Warriors – ESPN

Time and again during these playoffs, Leonard has delivered for Toronto. His efforts in Game 4 in the Eastern Conference semifinals in Philadelphia allowed the Raptors to survive that game, before his incredible series-ending buzzer-beater in Game 7 allowed them to advance. Switching onto Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals swung that series in Toronto’s direction, as the Raptors swept the final four games to advance to their first NBA Finals.

But his performance Friday night — those 36 points on 11-for-22 shooting, including 5-for-9 from 3-point range, to go with 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, a block and no turnovers in 40 minutes — might have been his very best yet.

Part of that is because of the magnitude of the moment, as the Raptors found themselves staring at a chance to put a stranglehold on this series. And part of it is because of the degree of difficulty with which Leonard was presented. The Warriors, desperate to prevent this from being the final game at Oracle Arena, came out playing suffocating defense in the first quarter, and they quickly jumped out to a 23-12 lead.

But while his teammates combined to go 1-for-13 in the opening 12 minutes, scoring a total of three points, Leonard went 5-for-8 and scored 14 by himself, allowing the Raptors to end the quarter, somehow, trailing only 23-17.

“I mean, at the same time, I knew I had faith that it was going to turn around for us,” Leonard said. “We were missing a lot of wide-open shots.”

That faith was well-placed, as Leonard missed all four shots he took in the second quarter, but the rest of the Raptors went 9-for-17 to allow Toronto to go into the break trailing by only those four points, setting the table for his third-quarter explosion that put the game away.

Leonard finished the third quarter with those 17 points, powering the Raptors to a 37-21 advantage in the quarter that allowed Toronto to take a 79-67 lead into the fourth quarter. It was a performance that had the feel of a heavyweight boxer hitting an opponent in the body with one power shot after another, as Leonard went 5-for-8 from the field and another 5-for-5 from the foul line to slowly but surely pound the Warriors into submission.

It was especially jarring because the third quarter is typically when the Warriors take off.

This time, Toronto beat Golden State at its own game.

“Kawhi’s two big 3s to start the half really, I thought, changed the whole feel of everybody,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “I just thought everybody was like, ‘OK, man, we know we are here. Let’s go.’

Kawhi Leonard Puts the Warriors on the Brink – The Ringer

The third quarter has been the definitive frame for much of the series: The Warriors’ Game 2 death blow came in the third; the Raptors’ past two victories stemmed from their third-quarter dominance. For the second straight game, the Raptors scored at least 35 points in the third quarter, making in-game adjustments to make life as tough as possible for Curry, and daring his fragile supporting cast to step up. This is no coincidence. The Warriors and Raptors were the two best third-quarter teams in the league this season, with the Warriors outscoring opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions in the frame and the Raptors outscoring them by 9.9. A blitzkrieg coming out of halftime suggests a number of things: a strong coaching staff and a focused roster, working in tandem to process the flow of the game’s first 24 minutes and adjust accordingly.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse once again switched Danny Green out of the starting lineup in the second half in favor of Fred VanVleet, who has been a Curry menace all series long. The team bumped and bodied Curry out on the perimeter, blitzing him to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. When Klay Thompson was off the floor, the Raptors went back to their stunty box-and-one defense, which forced nonshooters to step up; they didn’t. Curry was a second shy of 43 minutes played in the game; he was visibly exhausted from all the defensive attention thrown at him. Leonard, who leads all players in postseason minutes played, looked indefatigable. When I asked Nurse about the team’s brute efficiency in the third frame back in January, he could only laugh. “It’s definitely the magic words of the coaching staff,” he told me then. “We’ve done a really good job of taking to those adjustments, and probably more than anything, we’ve done a really good job of focusing our energy. We come out of the locker room with the proper pace, both mentally and physically.”

That begins and ends with Leonard, who offers the Raptors all the advantages that Kevin Durant would have given the Warriors in this series. When either team is at its best, Leonard or Durant can seem more like ambient forces for good: Durant will always be overshadowed by the exuberance of Curry; Leonard dulls his own blade. Both are almost inhumanly efficient in almost every play type there is in the game of basketball, which creates different avenues of success for teammates. But only one is actually playing in the Finals. Only one has been able to assume the role of stabilizer at the highest level. With players hobbling left and right on both sides of the divide, the best course of action is the simplest one. And Kawhi Leonard is the NBA’s Occam’s razor.

Kawhi Leonard is The Terminator – SBNation.com

In truth, Leonard’s production came entirely in two essential stretches: 14 points in the first quarter, and another 17 in the third. Leonard gunned the Raptors back into it after the Warriors took an early lead, then gave them a boost after halftime, where Toronto took control of the game.

“He’s always been that guy who you can look at when something goes bad,” Pascal Siakam said after Game 3. “He just has that calm demeanor. It gives you that peace, knowing that everything is going to be OK. And I feel like that every time I’m on the floor with him.”

Leonard’s 36-point game marks the ninth-straight outing Leonard has scored at least 29 points on the road in the playoffs. That kind of stat doesn’t even make sense. Leonard has always been a player who raises his game in the playoffs, when his team needs him most. But he’s in a different stratosphere against a Warriors team that has no answer for him.

Maybe that answer comes in the form of Kevin Durant, who could return from his calf injury for Game 5 in Toronto. Maybe that answer comes in the form of an offensive explosion from the Warriors, who haven’t scored more than 109 points in the Finals and just posted their lowest-scoring game since March 23.

Or maybe there’s just no answer for Kawhi Leonard. He’s a robot who bleeds anti-freeze. He’s the terminator, shooting his way to an NBA Finals.

Warriors on Life Support as Kawhi, Raptors Steal Page from Dubs’ Own Playbook | Bleacher Report

“Kawhi Leonard came out and hit two big eff-you shots to start the half,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “There’s no defense for that. There are no schemes for that. That’s two big-boy shots that he came out of the half with, two back-to-back threes. And that just kind of let you know how we were going to approach the third quarter and the rest of the half. It put us in a good position.”

Leonard’s threes to start the half caused a cascade effect, deflating the Warriors and derailing the momentum for the remainder of the game.

“I thought they just took it to us right from the beginning of the quarter,” Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said. “Kawhi hit two threes immediately, and they turned up their defense, and they just got on a run. And we just sort of lost that defensive tenacity that we had in the first half.”

From then on, the lead swelled. The Warriors tried to cut into it, but the Raptors always had a response.

What was said at halftime to boost the team? “Nothing really,” Leonard said.

Aside from making shots, Toronto’s big adjustment was starting VanVleet in the second half, removing Danny Green, who had shot 0-of-6 up to that point. The move increased the tempo and added a playmaker to kick-start the offense, something the Raptors have found success with over the course of the season.

“I think it just gives us a different look,” Nurse said pregame. “You know the look. We played Kyle [Lowry] and Fred together a lot, and it gives us kind of a double push, two guys that can push it up the floor, two guys that can take it off the bounce, two guys that can run the team. And mostly, it helps Kyle get off the ball and get up the floor, and Fred can get us into stuff.”

After making just two of 17 threes in the first half, the Raptors followed Leonard in the third, shooting 8-of-15 from beyond the arc and bending the Warriors defense to a breaking point.

“I think they made shots,” Draymond Green said. “Our defense was flying around. I think we still got some good contests there in the second half, like started the half, they had two great contests on Kawhi’s threes, and he hit them. Then they found a rhythm, and once a team like that finds a rhythm, it’s hard to take them out of it.”

Sometimes, good offense beats good defense. The Raptors saw an opening and went for the kill.

Winners and Losers: Kawhi Leonard Just Put the Champs on the Ropes – The Ringer

We know that Leonard isn’t emotive, which is why often the best way to understand how he’s affecting a game is not to look at his face, but at the reactions of those around him. On Friday, when Leonard dropped 36 points on the Warriors to give Toronto a 105-92 win and a 3-1 series lead, you could feel the life drain from the stadium after every haymaker he uncorked. Steph Curry and Draymond Green looked desperate, and the Oracle Arena crowd sounded increasingly defeated as 48 minutes of game time wore on. It was like they slowly realized the best player on the floor wasn’t one wearing their colors, and he wasn’t going to be stopped.

Kawhi’s 30 points in Game 3 were like the check at the end of a long dinner. You don’t realize how much you ordered until you see the total number on paper. There was never a point when he got hot, in part because he didn’t need to. The rest of the Raptors were hitting shots all around him, so all he had to do was play pacemaker. But in Friday’s game, his 36 points were a product of his catching fire not once but twice, in the first and third quarters.

Kawhi’s 14 points in the first were ear-splitting because the rest of the Raptors were so silent. Of the team’s 17 points, Kawhi scored 14. He took eight shots and made five, while his teammates took 13 shots and made just one. Even though Kawhi didn’t score a single point in the second quarter, he carried Toronto with his playmaking and his defense.

Kawhi then came out of the locker room after halftime with the Raptors down four, and won the game in the third before the Warriors had a chance to catch their breath. He immediately hit back-to-back 3s, pulling up like he was the best shooter in the game’s history. He then willed himself into tough midrange jump shots, forced the issue and got to the line for easy points (he made all of his nine free throws), and ended up with 17 points in the third. The Warriors, as a team, put up only 21.

Golden State had a chance to exert its typical third-quarter terror, but instead it was Kawhi who turned Oracle into a house of horrors. He hit another 3 in the fourth, iced the game with more free throws, and then gave his usual banal answers in his walk-off interview. Oracle’s doors may have just closed for the final time; if so, it was Kawhi who turned the locks.

The Raptors’ 3rd quarter surge turned the tables on the Warriors – SBNation.com

The Warriors have infinite reasons to be struggling. Klay Thompson is playing on a hampered hamstring, Kevon Looney on a broken collarbone, Andre Iguodala on a tight calf, DeMarcus Cousins on a torn quad and Kevin Durant hasn’t even played a game in this series. But that doesn’t take away from the glorious execution from Nick Nurse’s Raptors team.

Game 4, like the two Raptors wins before it, never felt like Golden State had a legitimate stake in a win. Leonard finished with 36 points and 12 rebounds, Sergie Ibaka with 20 points and four rebounds and Pascal Siakam with 19 points. The Warriors held a brief 11-point lead in the first half, but that was it. Golden State simply hasn’t found an answer for Toronto’s versatile wings and bigs.

Not even third-quarter hero ball could bring the Warriors’ vintage way of winning back to fruition. Their 21-point showing in the third was tied for the fourth-fewest points in that quarter all year, and losing the quarter by 16 points was their worst differential all year.

For the longest time during Golden State’s historic run, there was no out-Warriors-ing the Warriors. The Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers would agree. But now, against the beat-up Diet Warriors, it is the way. With fewer defensive threats on the floor, Toronto’s can thrive and with so much weight placed on Curry’s efficiency alone, the Warriors are hanging by threads.

Unluckily for them, the trigger-happy, well-grounded defensive group from Canada is putting it all together at the right time.

Did Kawhi Leonard just turn out the Warriors’ lights at Oracle? Appears so: First Thoughts from Game 4 – The Athletic

This whole idea brought me to another point, which is the other Raptors, beyond just Leonard, were ready for this series. Playing 22 games without their best player no doubt prepared them for tougher times in the playoffs. Toronto went 17-5 without him during the regular season. Golden State’s previous Finals opponent, the Cavaliers, always stunk when LeBron took nights off, and team officials there waived it off because LeBron doesn’t miss playoff games. But learning to win without the best player can be a great teacher for winning the biggest games, against the toughest team, later on.

‘Nobody’s antsy’: In the mayhem of Oracle Arena, Raptors show again that calmness is their defining trait – The Athletic

“I think a lot of that veteran stuff, Kyle’s been great with his emotional makeup this season, and Pascal, for being a young guy, has probably taken the cues from those older guys. And Freddie, Freddie’s pretty steady too.”

Nurse has been asked some version of that question so many times, probably because of its ephemeral nature, and the stark contrast between these Raptors and the Raptors of the previous five years. Those teams were known for their repeated pratfalls, even if that is not an entirely fair description of how those seasons played out. We remember the ending of stories.

We cannot know why this team has repeatedly shown itself to be able to handle huge moments with the style of a team that has gone through several postseason runs together already, just that it is indeed happening. Certainly, when you have one of the best players in the world, you are emboldened, and Leonard played his best game of the series on Friday, scoring 14 points in the first quarter to keep the Raptors afloat and 17 in the third to put them ahead for good.

However, the one-man-team narrative that existed back in the second round is dying, game by game. As the Warriors were putting all the pressure they could on Leonard late in the game, the Raptors coolly sapped the shot clock, even if that strategy is risky, and found the holes in the defence, compromised by its aggressiveness. Serge Ibaka was available in the paint for short push shots or Siakam was available at the rim. In the end, the Raptors needed just five points from Leonard in the fourth quarter, even as Curry did not rest for the entire second half.

“Nobody’s antsy,” Green said of the Raptors’ offence.

Relentless Raptors use big third quarter to push Warriors to edge – Sportsnet.ca

The Raptors were relentless. Up four with two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the third quarter, they played a near flawless defensive possession, denying the Warriors every look they tried to create, rotating seamlessly to shooters after help was needed, and taking away both space and time until that time ran out. Golden State settled for this contested, non-paint two taken by a guy playing with a broken collarbone. The result was a shot clock violation.

At their best, like they were in Friday’s third quarter, the Raptors are a truly special defensive team. In Leonard and Gasol, they already have two defensive players of the year. In Siakam, they have an emerging future candidate. In Danny Green, an NBA all-defensive second team selection.

In Lowry and VanVleet they have a couple heady, hyper-active guards who aren’t blessed with the game’s most impressive physical tools but overcome that with intelligence and determination. In Ibaka, they have a terrific rim protector. In Powell, a springy, energetic wing. In OG Anunoby, size, athleticism, and switchability they haven’t even needed in this series. In Patrick McCaw, a lightning quick, versatile athlete waiting to be deployed from the end of the bench.

So, sure, Leonard had 17 of his 36 points in that third quarter, shooting 5-of-8 and playing all 12 minutes on one of those overwhelming tears that he goes on. Yes, Ibaka’s seven points off the bench were a massive factor in sustaining Toronto’s run. And no doubt, the five assists VanVleet dished out in 10 third-quarter minutes were unheralded and necessary.

But where the Raptors can be most pleased with that quarter is on the defensive end. Limiting Golden State to 21 points on 7-of-20 shooting. Holding the Warriors to fewer than 104 points in a game for the first time in these playoffs. Keeping a team that averaged 114.9 points per 100 possessions in the regular season to 107.2 over the first four games of this series, and 103.6 over two games at Oracle Arena.

It’s been the hallmark of this Toronto Raptors team. It’s what got them through five games against the Orlando Magic, seven games against the Philadelphia 76ers, six games against the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s what got them two wins in California, in the home of the NBA’s modern dynasty. And it’s what might just win them a championship.

“The key to tonight’s win was pretty much playing defence,” Leonard said. “We were confident. We’re on the road, down four, we wanted to come in and have a good third quarter coming out the first five minutes, stay aggressive on both ends of the floor, keep our energy up.

“And that’s all we did.”

Final Score: Raptors bodyslam Warriors 105-92 to take 3-1 lead – Golden State Of Mind

The Raptors marched into the third quarter and immediately overwhelmed the Warriors with a 37-21 quarter. Toronto executed crisply on the offensive end, getting their players comfortable looks, none more comfy than Leonard who got kept cooking with a 17-point quarter.

Toronto’s defense basicaly said “anyone but Steph and Klay”, and the Warriors role players couldn’t make them pay for the strategy.

The Dubs trailed 79-67 heading into the fourth quarter.

Fred Van Vleet took an unintentional elbow from Shaun Livingston and was forced to leave the game early in the 4th quarter. There was a tooth knocked free and blood on the court, which led to an extended stoppage.

When play resumed, the Raptors continued to stomp the Warriors down.

The Warriors began double teaming frantically, and Toronto calmly picked it apart. It was like clockwork: the Warriors would trap a Raptor, and he’d find an open man for an easy bucket. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Just a bad looking scheme, on a bad night.

It was surreal watching Warriors fans streaming out before the game was over in disgust. But at the very least, we can officially put to death the “Warriors are better without Kevin Durant” nonsense. Hopefully KD will return for Game 5, but if not, it’s time to abandon that double-teaming defense because THE JIG IS UP.

We’re headed back to Toronto down 3-1: it’s either win or the season is over, folks.

2019 NBA Finals: Toronto Raptors vs. Golden State Warriors Game 4 Recap – Raptors HQ

For Golden State, frustration set in at different points during the game. Once again, Steph Curry faded down the stretch — something the Raptors noticed as they attacked his defence. Curry’s 27 points came on 9-for-22 shooting and just 2-for-9 from three. Surprisingly, it was the previously injured Klay Thompson who was nearly the saviour for the Warriors. Shaking off a hamstring tweak that held him out of Game 3, Thompson made 11-of-18 shots for 28 points; his 6-for-10 night from distance continued a torrid series, where he’s shooting nearly 60%.

Again, though, beyond their backcourt’s volume shooting, nobody else could step up for Golden State. If their dynasty is indeed falling, it’s come in a typical way — their depth has been depleted by continued success and a lack of money, and age has cost their veteran role players. Andre Iguodala was 0-for-3 from distance, with the Raptors happily giving up looks. Draymond Green refused to shoot entirely, finishing with 10 points and 12 boards and one technical foul (remember when he claimed he was a changed man?). Only Looney cracked double digits with 10 thanks to an active night on the offensive boards.

It turns out the Warriors really might need Kevin Durant, in what might be their only hope of beating a comfortable, confident Toronto basketball team. After a thorough win in Game 3, the Raptors looked more beatable at different points in Game 4. Their defence stayed strong, though, forcing the wrong Warriors to take shots and a 29.6% night from distance overall.

Now, a championship is literally within reach. In the surreality of it all, there’s still clips flying up my timeline of Raptors fans cheering in Oracle, outside of Scotiabank, in a square in Mississauga, in a park in Regina, and on a street in Halifax. We can all taste this championship, one that seemed impossible so many times over the last 24 years.

If you can’t believe it after Game 4, there’s nothing I can do for you. These Raptors are real and they’re one win away.

Serge Ibaka plays key role in Raptors’ Game 4 win | Toronto Sun

Slowing down Steph Curry has been a focus of the Raptors throughout this series.

Nick Nurse has been counting on Fred VanVleet in the starring role in that production, even starting him in the second half of Game 3 in place of Danny Green.

Nurse, though, said his decision to go with VanVleet over Green to start the second half with the starters had nothing to do with defending Curry.

“The primary reason we did it was for an offensive pace boost,” Nurse said. “It was a little tricky the other night because I went in there with my mind made up we were going to do that going into the game, and Danny had it going pretty good in that first half and almost screwed it up for me a little bit.

“But he took it great. He came right back and knocked a couple more in and I thought he played great defensively too. We’ll see what we do tonight.”

Clearly, Nurse liked what he saw because he went right back to VanVleet to start the second again in Game 4.

VanVleet did have to leave the game prematurely when he took a Shaun Livingston elbow to the eye in the fourth quarter that required seven stitches. He returned to the bench but did not get back in the game.

Raptors one win from NBA glory after rolling over Warriors on road | Toronto Sun

What Looney had was more of an early impact than Thompson. Looney gave his team a spark, scoring six points in seven minutes.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s worst quarter of the series (1-for-13 work by anyone not named Leonard) should have put the team in a big hole, but Leonard’s brilliance kept them within six.

Thompson caught fire in the second quarter, hitting from everywhere and then celebrating with a bit of a dance after the Raptors called timeout.

Leonard had cooled down at that point, and missed all four of his shot attempts in the second quarter, but Toronto still managed to head into the break down by only four points, in large part because of an 11-4 free-throw attempt advantage.

The game turned in the third quarter, when Leonard scored 17 points and his teammates added another 20. What changed in those 12 minutes? “Kawhi,” said Danny Green, his long-time teammate both in Toronto and with San Antonio.

“I think most teams will take cues from their leaders or their star players, so I think that spreads around a little bit, but I also think you got – Marc’s pretty steady out there and a high IQ level, pretty level-headed guy, doesn’t show much emotion,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who has pushed just about all of the right buttons during these playoffs.

“Danny comes and goes a little bit, I guess, but you know – and I think like, too, I think a lot of that veteran stuff, Kyle’s been great with his emotional makeup this season, and Pascal, for being a young guy, has probably taken the cues from those older guys. And Freddie, Freddie’s pretty steady too,” Nurse said.

Bosh on Kawhi’s postseason: ‘Legendary’ – Video – TSN

Chris Bosh joins James Duthie to share his thoughts on Kawhi Leonard’s incredible playoff run and credits the Raptors’ defence for wearing down Steph Curry.

Rautins: The Warriors have never seen defence this good – Video – TSN

Rod Black, Jack Armstrong and Leo Rautins discuss why they think Golden State has never faced a defence as good as Toronto’s, how effective Kyle Lowry is as a leader and how mentally tough the Raptors are.

Raptors ride Killer Zen to the brink of an NBA championship | The Star

The Raptors came in having won six of their last seven playoff games against the 60-win Milwaukee Bucks and the Warriors, and they weren’t far away in the seventh. So Kevon Looney, whose upper rib cage cartilage was fractured by a Kawhi drive and who had been declared out for the season, returned. It looked like it hurt, but he was terrific.

And of course, Thompson came back. Warriors coach Steve Kerr had said that he never would have forgiven himself had Klay suffered a worse injury to his hamstring, but this was just 48 hours later. Kerr also said, it was early enough in the series that there was no need to push it. Well, Durant still hasn’t scrimmaged with his strained right calf, and for all of Kerr’s hope the slender assassin returns in Games 5 or 6, he is just about out of time.

Asked if his team had flipped a switch to get here, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said, “I thought we flipped a switch about Game 2 against Orlando. We played really poorly in Game 1 to open the playoffs, and then from then on we have played a lot better defence, a lot harder, with a lot more connection.”

“And I think we’re slowly getting better each time we step on the floor. Even if we don’t get the result, I think we went down 2-0 in Milwaukee, and I don’t think our guys were — they weren’t happy, but they weren’t really upset or bothered or worried. We kind of thought we won six of the eight quarters in Milwaukee and came out of there 0-2.”

They had won 10 or 11 of the first 12 quarter of this series, too. The Raptors started sloppy, and the shotmaking vanished. Kawhi had 14 of their 17 in the first quarter, and every other Raptor combined to go 1-for-13, mostly from outside the paint. Looney’s return was productive, which was handy, because starting centre DeMarcus Cousins looked like a partially tranquilized bear. Thompson, the comeback kid, started to fry.

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