It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We’ve become so used to the Golden State Warriors pulling out victories even when we didn’t expect them to that most assumed they’d do it again in this year’s NBA Finals.
But, barring an unforeseen comeback, the Toronto Raptors will likely be your 2018-19 NBA Champions after they took a commanding 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals Friday night with a 105-92 dismantling of the two-time defending champions.
Toronto trailed for the entire first half before turning it on in the third quarter behind Kawhi Leonard, outscoring the Warriors 37-21 in the period after trailing by four at halftime.
Leonard scored 17 of his 36 points in the third, with the Warriors having no answer for him. Serge Ibaka was big as well, finishing with 20 points off the bench.
Golden State looked like it had found its groove again in the first half, thanks in part to the return of Klay Thompson from a hamstring injury. Thompson sat out Game 3 of the series but returned and showed no ill effects, playing 42 minutes and finishing with 28 points on 6-of-10 shooting from three-point range.
The Warriors’ defense had more of a spark to it, though Toronto’s cold shooting to start the game contributed to Golden State jumping out to the early lead.
Stephen Curry finished with 27 points and six assists, though he was only 2-of-9 from three-point range and seemed tired throughout the second half. Draymond Green also started fast before sputtering near the end of the contest, finishing one rebound short of a triple-double with 10 points, 12 assists and nine boards.
Even the surprising return and effectiveness of big man Kevon Looney (10 points, six boards) wasn’t enough, as the Warriors looked like a battered and tired team throughout the second half as Toronto got to most of the loose balls and offensive rebounds.
The swagger that the Raptors gained from their Game 3 win continued into Game 4, as even when they were trailing in the first half, they showed no signs of being flustered or losing confidence.
Pascal Siakam was solid with 19 points, and Kyle Lowry chipped in with 10 points and seven assists. Danny Green’s shooting touch from Game 3 was lost, as he went 1-of-8 from the field, including 1-of-7 from three-point range, but his defense and hustle (three steals) were a big part of the winning formula for Nick Nurse’s squad.
So now the Raptors head home for Game 5 and a chance to clinch their first-ever championship on Monday night. The Warriors will try to achieve only the second rally from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, and whether they’ll have Kevin Durant in their lineup for the attempt is anyone’s guess. But even with Durant, who hasn’t played in a month, Golden State will have to bring a superior effort on both ends of the floor if the Raptors keep up their championship-caliber play.