BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The Toronto Raptors moved within a game of their first NBA Championship Friday night, beating down the Warriors 105-92 to push the two-time defending champs to the brink of elimination in what could be the final game at Oracle Arena.
Buoyed by the return of Klay Thompson to their lineup, the Warriors got off to a quick start and never trailed in the first half, taking a 46-42 lead into the locker room. But two quick three pointers by Kawhi Leonard in the first minute of the third quarter gave Toronto their first lead of the game.
Golden State fought back to regain the lead, but before the quarter was over Leonard (11-22) would score 17 of his game high 36 points as the Raptors outscored the Warriors 37-21 to take a commanding lead that they would never relinquish. Leonard also led all rebounders with a dozen boards.
So now with their quest for a three-peat on life support, and the status of the injured Kevin Durant remaining uncertain, the Warriors return to Toronto on Monday for Game 5 with zero margin for error. The Raptors have now won five of the six games they’ve played with Golden State this season overall. The 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers are the only team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit, and Golden State was on the receiving end of that epic comeback.
Serge Ibaka was a huge force for the Raptors, coming off the bench to score 20 points in 21 minutes of action on 9-12 shooting. Pascal Siakim added 19.
Thompson showed no signs of rust for the Warriors after missing Game 3 due to a left hamstring strain, leading the team with 28 points on 11-18 shooting from the floor in 42 minutes of action. But Steph Curry appeared gassed after his superhuman effort Wednesday night in spite of finishing with 27 points (9-22) and six assists. Draymond Green had another near triple-double, finishing with ten points, nine rebounds and a game leading 12 assists.
After the game, Curry wasn’t remotely giving up. “It’s not over. It’s not a good feeling right now, obviously, but we’ve been on both sides of it. And for us it’s an opportunity for us to just flip this whole series on its head, and you got to do it one game at a time. It sounds cliché, and for us that’s literally the only way we’re going to get back in this series, is give everything we got for 48 minutes, everybody that sets foot on that floor in Game 5. In our locker room we’re talking about believing, everybody there believes that we can get this done. We got to. We can draw on those experiences that we had back in the day and see what happens.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, asked how daunting a task his team faces, refused to demur. “I don’t think it’s daunting at all. We go to Toronto, and this is what we do for a living, we play basketball. So we look forward to playing another basketball game in an exciting atmosphere, and the ultimate test, NBA Finals. So I think we look at it as a challenge. Obviously we’ve got to lick our wounds tonight, a tough loss. But the game’s a few days away. We’ll have plenty of energy, and we’ll be ready to go. So we’re not thinking about winning three games, we’re thinking about winning one game and that’s the task. I know we’re capable. We got a lot of talent and we got a lot of pride, and these guys have been to The Finals five straight years for a reason. They’re unbelievably competitive.”
Leonard, the presumptive MVP of the Finals, was asked about the prospect of what a title would mean for Canada. “I’m pretty sure it’s a long time waiting. They’re going to be excited. I mean, they’re already excited just at us just being here for the first time. They’re going crazy after the Eastern Conference Finals and, I don’t know, there’s no telling. You got to ask somebody that’s been living in Canada for a while. But I know they’re going to be super excited.”
No one questions the Warriors heart. But the real question is, after playing an additional 103 playoff games over the course of the last five post seasons, do they have enough left in the tank to come back from a 3–1 deficit on the road with a banged up roster against an energized Toronto team 48 minutes away from bringing their country its first championship in team sports since the 1993 Blue Jays. Uneasy lies the crown.
The Raptors improved to 3-0 at Oracle Arena this season, with one victory in the regular season and two in the NBA Finals. Toronto entered this season with a 13-game road losing streak against the Warriors.
Toronto has now outscored Golden State in 13 of 16 quarters through the first four games of the series.
Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard (36 points) recorded his 14th 30-point game of the 2019 playoffs. The only other five players with at least 14 30-point games in a single postseason are Michael Jordan (twice), Akeem Olajuwon, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant (twice) and LeBron James. Jordan (1991-92) and Olajuwon (1994-95) are tied for the most 30-point games in a single postseason with 16 each.
Serge Ibaka is the first reserve to score 20 or more points and shoot at least 75% from the field (9-12) in an NBA Finals game since the Detroit Pistons Vinnie Johnson did it against the Portland Trail Blazers on June 12, 1990.
Golden State faces a 1-3 series deficit for the 12th time in franchise history. The Warriors own a 1-10 record in those series, with their only win coming in 2016 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. Teams that take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals have a 33-1 series record (.971).
The Warriors failed to score 100-or-more points for the first time this postseason, snapping their franchise record playoff streak of scoring 100-plus points at 25 straight games. Golden State fell to a combined 0-9 this regular and postseason when failing to score 100-plus points.
Golden State shot a postseason-low 66.7 percent from the free throw line (14-21 FT).
Kevon Looney, who was ruled out of the series after suffering a nondisplaced first costal cartilage fracture on his right side in Game 2, unexpectedly returned to action and contributed ten points and six rebounds in 20 minutes of action off the bench.
Steph Curry extended his NBA-record streak to 110 consecutive postseason games making a three point shot.