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Freethrows, defense, and three point shooting propel the Raptors past the Warriors, as the Raptors take a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals.
"My dad used to tell me the stats don't matter, just the final score," Raptors' Head Coach Nick Nurse said.
There's an old saying that every athlete has heard at least a hand full of times. Whether it's hell week in football or sudden death in a soccer match, the phrase 'mind over matter' has reached teams everywhere. Tonight's Game 3 matchup between the injury-stricken Warriors and the Toronto Raptors was a prime example of that motto.
Coming into these playoffs the Golden State Warriors were the overwhelming favorites. This was behind the sheer firepower in their starting lineup—which featured five all-stars. Now if three of the five all-stars go down to injuries, along with two major role players, these odds drastically change.
That was the reality for the Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Not only did they lose Kevin Durant, who was arguably their best player and the world's best player, they also lost one of the arguably best shooters of all time in Klay Thompson—who is also one of their best defenders. To add to this, the Warriors are without Kevon Looney, who was playing the best basketball of his NBA career. Not to mention that DeMarcus Cousins is only playing in his third game since returning two months early from a quad tear and is not 100 percent healthy. And of course, you would have to remember that Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, 2015 Finals MVP, aren't 100 percent healthy either.
This is not taking anything away from the Toronto Raptors, who are in their first NBA Finals in franchise history. This comes after years of disappointing playoff defeats, that led to 'weak mentality' narratives. Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry has often been linked to the aforementioned narrative, after multiple playoff breakdowns—most notably his 2016 meltdown against the Cavaliers where he left the court during the second quarter to 'decompress.' Along with this, two of the Raptors main supporting cast are three-year players, in Pascal Siakam and Fred Vanvleet.
Needless to say, the Raptors lack the finals experience that the Warriors possess, depleted or not.
Despite this, the Raptors took Game 3 in Oakland behind their defensive intensity, superb three-point shooting, and efficient free-throw shooting.
"No one cares if guys are hurt," Draymond Green said. "Everybody wants to see us lose. So I'm sure people are happy they're hurt. We just got to continue to battle."
And the Warriors did battle.
Right out the gate, Warriors guard Stephen Curry was hot. He connected on six of his eleven shot attempts and drained three three-point attempts. But, after Curry, the rest of the Warriors were ice cold.
On the contrary to this, the Raptors were on fire too. Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and Danny Green combined five of seven shooting, edging the Raptors to a five-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was no different, in terms of scoring distribution. The only problem was that Warriors' Head Coach Steve Kerr decided to rest Curry to start the second quarter—something he normally does.
Only this time, he didn't have Klay Thompson to man the field while Steph rested. Instead the Warriors' next best option was DeMarcus Cousins, who can score at an elite level when healthy, but obviously not at his current health level.
As a result, the Raptors pushed their lead to double digits.
But if there's one thing these Warriors have taught us this postseason, it's that the heart of a champion is unmatched. The Warriors never gave up the fight. Curry did his best to put the Dubs on his back, leading a late quarter Warrior run that held the Raptors' lead to ten going into halftime.
Coming out of halftime, the Warriors were in desperate need of a signature Warriors' third-quarter run. In Game 2, this run was an 18-0 furry that won the game for the Dubs.
In Game 3, that run was non-applicable. The Warriors' lack of depth and, in this case, talent held the Warriors back. And Toronto took advantage of this—pushing their lead to 16 points.
But the champs didn't go down without a fight. Quentin Cook and Curry kept the Warriors in stricking distance heading into the fourth—combining for six mid-quarter field goals.
Going into the fourth the Raptors found themselves in a despairing situation. The Warriors were profoundly undermanned, and were not shooting the ball well—yet they were only up 13 points.
Similar to a boxing match, the Raptors learned that you have to knock out the champ to beat the champ.
Every time the Raptors pushed their lead, the Warriors responded with a run of their own. Nip and tuck, the Warriors would not go away, despite their lack of depth.
Thankfully for the Raptors' the combined shooting of their supporting cast and another 30-point performance from Kawhi Leonard was enough to hold off the depleted Warriors.
Moving forward the Raptors will have to prepare for a different Warriors team than what they played in Game 3. Kerr expects Thompson to be back for Game 4, and Durant's return is in the realm of possibility.
With that said, you can never predict how a player will look coming off of injury—but you can predict court spacing. Without Durant and Thompson on the floor, the Raptors are able to play helo defense—which is a normal phenomenon against any other team. But when it comes to the full strength Warriors, you can not defend them like any other team. Klay Thompson has one of the fastest releases in the league's history, and Durant is one of the versatile scorers the game has ever seen. Their presence creates spacing for back door cutters and slashers—like Iguodala and Green.
Without them, the Raptors are able to blitz, trap, and get physical with Curry. The mix of the Raptors' physicality, length, and defensive intensity makes it virtually impossible for one person to beat them in four games.
"You got to try to have 'next man up' mentality like we always say, and just go out and fight," Curry said, "We did that tonight. We can play better, obviously better on the defensive end, but I liked the competitiveness that we had, understanding that we're missing 50 points pretty much between KD and Klay."
In Game 3, it seemed that Curry was the only Warrior able to score at will. To make matters worse the Warriors' power forward, and sometimes point guard, Draymond Green was erratic with the ball—having untimely turnovers that helped the Raptors take back momentum time and time again.
Despite this, the game was never out of reach for the Dubs.
"I mean, we fought, but we lost," Curry said, "So we got to go back to the drawing board and just recalibrate for Game 4. It's kind of been like a roller coaster type of series these first three games, and I like the—I like the things that we saw tonight that we can make adjustments on and protect home court on Friday."
Game 4 will start at 6PM on Friday on ABC.