TORONTO — Yet again, the Golden State Warriors found a way. In the first half against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, their offense was a mess, their defense had holes and they only managed to avoid a large deficit by virtue of their free throw attempts. They trailed by 12 points after a 3-point play by Kawhi Leonard midway through the second quarter, but clawed their way to within five at halftime, which, according to coach Steve Kerr, allowed them to “kind of breathe.” Thanks to a classic-but-still-stunning 18-0 run to start the second half, they took control. And then, in less-than-ideal circumstances, they en route to a 109-104 Game 2 win.
“I think that when you get to this stage … our DNA shows up,” Stephen Curry said.
Klay Thompson, who scored Golden State’s first nine points in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, exited with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter because of a . Curry “didn’t feel right,” he said, alluding to an illness. Kevon Looney played only 10 minutes . Andre Iguodala, who left Game 1 early because of left calf tightness, missed a few minutes late in the second quarter after a hard screen from Marc Gasol sent him to the floor, grabbing his head. Kevin Durant — well, you know.
The Warriors needed 28 minutes from DeMarcus Cousins in his second game back from a torn quad. They needed Curry to bait the Raptors into silly fouls. They needed a vintage Draymond Green performance, including a near-triple-double and a late stop against Leonard one-on-one. They needed two 3s from Iguodala, including the dagger, even though he hadn’t hit a 3 in weeks. (The Raptors would point out that they also needed Kyle Lowry to foul out in 28 minutes and their opponents to miss a bunch of open looks in the last few minutes.)
If it feels like Toronto blew an opportunity, it is because Golden State has not looked like itself for most of these Finals. The Raptors’ defense, save for that third-quarter letdown, has been phenomenal. They have made life difficult on Curry and Thompson, disrupted up the defending champions’ rhythm and capitalized on transition opportunities. The Warriors, however, have the confidence that comes with years of sustained success and countless comebacks. Instead of abandoning their system, they continued to push and eventually broke through. There was Cousins, finding a cutting Thompson for an easy reverse layup. There was Andrew Bogut, finishing alley-oops from Curry and Green.
The Warriors had 34 assists on 38 made field goals, and assisted on all 22 of their makes in the second half. That is the kind of thing Kerr dreams about, and it is the kind of thing that is necessary to manufacture points against this defense without Durant. In order to find their rhythm, they had to push the pace, and that doesn’t just mean trying to get out on the break. When they are at their best, they have an energy about them. Layups and open 3s seem to materialize out of thin air, and they seem to have a counter for everything the defense does. Everybody is a threat, even the non-shooters.
“They moved the ball really well and were running freely,” Gasol said. “Once they run freely, everything opens up for them.”
“We had a verve to us,” Golden State guard Quinn Cook said.
Golden State was not at its peak for the entirety of the evening. It went scoreless for more than five minutes before Iguodala’s clutch 3 with seven seconds left. During the game-changing run, though, the Warriors reminded me of what they did to the Houston Rockets in the immediate aftermath of Durant’s injury. It even brought back memories of what they did to the Oklahoma City Thunder after falling behind 3-1 in the 2016 Western Conference finals. Every champion needs to be able to handle adversity, and there is no question that Golden State can do that. (Toronto would point out that it is resilient, too — it came back from a 2-1 deficit and won Game 7 against the Sixers, then lost the first two against the Bucks and won the next four.)
Remember when Kerr said the Warriors “stole” Game 2 against the Portland Trail Blazers? Remember when the coach called them “f—ing giants” after they won the game in which Durant got hurt? Golden State has a habit of coming alive at the exact moment you think it might be dead. When it cannot dominate, it has the ability to do just enough to win. That, just as much as smallball, 3-point shooting and beautiful ball movement, is part of the Warriors’ DNA.