The Golden State Warriors' Strength in Numbers Pushes the Warriors Past Toronto in Game 2
Despite a 34 point double-double from Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors find themselves knotted up with the defending NBA champions as the series goes to Oakland.
Despite the Warriors Game 2 leading scorer Klay Thompson going down with an apparent hamstring injury, the Golden State Warriors push past the Toronto Raptors for a 109-104 Game 2 victory–knotting the series at one apiece.
This season has been an uphill battle for the defending champions. Whether battling injuries, chemistry, or free agency questions, the Warriors have found a way, time and time again, to pull things together when it matters most. Game 2 of the NBA Finals was the Warriors' uphill season epitomized.
Coming off of a 118-109 Game 1 loss to the Raptors, the Warriors looked vulnerable. Defensive anchor piece, Andre Iguodala, seemed hobbled after an awkward landing late in Game 1. All-star center DeMarcus Cousins looked to make an impact after suffering a perceived season-ending quad tear. Most importantly, Warriors' leading scorer—and arguably the best player in the league—Kevin Durant is still sidelined.
Besides the obvious question of how to make improvements heading into Game 2, the Warriors had other, more ominous, questions floating about. Is Andre Iguodala healthy, and how much can he give in this series? Can DeMarcus Cousins give quality minutes, and how will that affect team chemistry? When the heck is Durant coming back?
With all these questions making their way into talk shows around the league, the Warriors found yet another way to pull everything together and steal a road game—thanks to their team motto "Strength in Numbers."
In Game 1, the Raptors succeeded in three crucial aspects to beating the three-time champion Warriors: they forced the Warriors into 17 turnovers, which translated into 17 fast break points; held the Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to just 15 combined three-point attempts, 8 less than their average 3 point attempts in the previous series; and had a more meaningful bench output than Golden's State's bench.
The Raptors are in their franchises' first finals appearance, and it showed. Their crowd was electric, team energy was off the charts, and their "global ambassador," rapper Drake, was nothing less than entertaining. The Warriors seemed to, at times, get lost in it all.
This was not the case in Game 2.
Game 2 In Review
Coming into the game, there was more curiosity than anticipation for how the Warriors would respond to a rare Game 1 loss. While the Warriors have been to five straight NBA Finals, they have also had the luxury of having home-court advantage in each series. This year, the Warriors had to start on the road, which proved to be different.
But, just like any other NBA Finals game, the stars came out, including former US President Barack Obama. Besides the appearance of the last president to have an NBA championship team come to the White House, the building was ever-so lit with the performance of the Canadian National Anthem "O Canada" by Alessia Cara—who turned the national anthem performance into a literal performance by allowing the crowd to chime in karaoke style.
If the patriotism of the crowd didn't hype up the Raptors, then perhaps the adrenaline from Game 1 carried over. The Raptors hopped out on the Warriors 18-11, with a collective group effort continuing the stifling defensive pressure. Just like in Game 1, the Raptors managed to turn Golden State over, converting 7 points in transition. The Warriors' star Stephen Curry was cold, and things seemed bleak.
Thankfully, for the Warriors, Thompson found his stroke over a much smaller defender in Raptors' guard Kyle Lowry. Thompson kept the Warriors in striking distance throughout the first quarter, scoring 11 of the Warriors 27 first quarter points.
The second quarter seemed to be where the Raptors were going to take control of the game. They pushed their lead to a game-high of 12 points, limiting the Warriors to just 10 points in nearly 6 minutes of play.
But, if there was something the basketball world learned about the Warriors in their second-round defeat of the Houston Rockets, it's that this team has championship DNA and resilience—and it showed. Alfonzo McKinnie and Jonas Jerebko came off the bench—giving Iguodala and Curry the rest they needed to move forward. Thompson continued his hot-streak, resembling his NBA 2k16 video game self. And late in the quarter, Curry found his stroke. Soon a double-digit lead dwindled to a 5 point halftime lead.
Out of half time, the Warriors did a vintage Warriors move. They started the quarter on an 18-0 run, going from down 5 to up 13. This was an accumulation of shot-making that wasn't present in the first half, passing that wasn't precise in the earlier quarters, and bench production that was non-existent in Game 1. Besides the resurgence of Cousins, who put together a career playoff game, the Warriors reaped the benefits of offensive and, more importantly, defensive productivity from five different players off the bench. This boost allowed for Curry, Green, Thompson, and Iguodala to rest during parts of the quarter while holding onto a double-digit lead.
Fortunately for the Raptors, the Warriors committed untimely fouls and gave up second-chance opportunities that allowed the Raptors to rally back behind the heroics of Kawhi Leonard. The Warriors found themselves in front by 8 heading into the fourth.
Just like the regular season, nothing came easy in Game 2 for the Warriors. As Golden State seemed to be hitting a second gear, led by Thompson's sharp shooting, Thompson went down after a three-point attempt. While he tried to play through the pain, after a few trips up and down the court, his mobility became limited, and he was forced to go to the locker room.
With Thompson off the court, the Warriors were left with Curry as their core scorer, and the Raptors took a different approach to defend the Warriors' star.
In the NBA it is rare to see a zone played, but in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Raptors took the rare route and went into a box-and-1 zone—which is a set up of four defenders playing a zone while one defender plays man on one player. The defender playing man was the Raptors' Fred Vanvleet, who had been given the assignment of Curry. Curry, obviously, was the one player being guarded in man.
This strategy proved valiant for Raptors, as the other Warriors couldn't buy a shot. With that said, neither could the Raptors. As time winded down, the Raptors seemed to be playing against the Warriors and the clock—which is the ultimate super team?
With a 1:08 left the Raptors seemed to have caught a break. After a foul called on Cousins, sending Leonard to the line, Curry tossed the ball in the air, earning a technical foul. Leonard stepped to the line and made his tech-free throw along with two more free throws for the previous foul, cutting the lead down to five at 106-101.
The Warriors called a timeout, which in the past, has resulted in brilliant plays that led to back-breaking buckets. This time around, the play involved icing the clock. The only problem was that the Warriors' forward, Draymond Green, who plays more like their point guard, didn't exactly ice the clock. Instead, he went for a razzle-dazzle pass that sailed out of bounce, giving the ball back to Toronto with 51 seconds left.
Somehow, the Warriors manage to force a bad shot, then gave up an offensive rebound with 40 seconds left. The defending champs, again, forced another bad shot, and again, allowed another offensive rebound, this time with 37 seconds left. Another rushed Toronto shot led to yet another Toronto offensive rebound with 31 seconds left. Finally, Raptors' guard Danny Green hit a 3, cutting the Warriors lead to 2 with 26.9 seconds left.
The Warriors quickly inbounded the ball and advanced it to the front court, where things then turned into a circus. A few bad passes and one near turnover resulted in a wide-open Iguodala 3 pointer. And, just like a champion, he nailed the three.
"The whole fourth quarter, they were playing janky defense," Curry said. "And our whole roster took advantage of it. Over a course of a game, it's kind of disrespectful to leave Andre Iguodala open like that."
Janky is one way to describe the fourth quarter, but it may apply to multiple theatrics that followed the game.
First, of course, is Lowry's feelings towards the game's officiating. The Raptors' guard fouled out with 3:52 left in the game and disagreed with some of the calls made against him.
"Some of the fouls I don't agree with, but they were called," Lowry said. "I'm not going to get in trouble, but there were a couple of [fouls] where I didn't think I fouled, but they were called."
To add to this, Thompson, despite exiting the game with a hamstring injury, declared that he is fine and expects to play Game 3.
"Klay said he'll be fine," Warriors' Head Coach Steve Kerr said. "But Klay could be half dead, and he'd say he's fine."
So what does this mean for Thompson's Game 3 availability? Well, last year in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Thompson suffered a grade 3 ankle sprain that led many to believe that he would miss the Warriors' next two road games. Of course, Thompson played and played well.
So as far as this year goes, it would be shocking to not see #11 on the court.
On to less shocking matters, after the Warriors win, Golden State forward Kevin Durant found time to mock the Raptors' "global ambassador" and supreme troll, Drake.
Durant is seen poking his head out the visitors' tunnel and yelling, "See you in the Bay, Aubrey."
This comes days after Thompson spoke to the media and said that he wasn't calling the rapper by his stage name, and will be addressing him by his government name, Aubrey.
In even more recent times, after the Game 1 loss, the rapper and Warriors power forward Draymond Green exchanged what seemed to be heated words–to which Drake took the exchange to Instagram with the hashtag "DraymondGreenShouldn'tWear23."
So do we expect to see some more Drake-Warriors beef in the coming days? I think the basketball world hopes so.
As far as the Raptors are concerned, they will need to improve their help-side defense to limit the Warriors points off of assists. The third quarter was a mess for the Raptors' defensively, yet the game never got entirely out of reach. On the other hand, despite Golden State's injuries, the Raptors never could get over the hump. Even more concerning, the Warriors now have the home-court advantage–which means the Raptors now have to win a game in Oakland.
For the Warriors, ominous questions still fill their locker room. Will Thompson be ready for Wednesday's game? Is Iguodala healthy? Can Cousins do it again? Is Durant coming back, and if so, how does it affect his health and the team's chemistry?
Basketball is a game of runs and momentum. Golden State has all the momentum now, but that can all change Wednesday.
Game 3 of the NBA Finals will start Wednesday at 6 PM PST on ABC.