OAKLAND, Calif. — If Game 2 of the NBA Finals was about the Golden State Warriors epitomizing their “Strength in Numbers” motto, Game 3 was pretty much the exact opposite — the Warriors had the strength, but the Toronto Raptors had the numbers. The result: for Toronto.
The strength was a miraculous individual effort from Stephen Curry, who looked for his shot early and often, knowing that the majority of the offensive burden would rest on his golden right shooting arm with Klay Thompson joining Kevin Durant on the sideline for Game 3. Curry finished with a playoff career-high 47 points despite facing double-teams and help defenders all night long.
It was a herculean display from the 6-foot-3 point guard, who occasionally looked like a varsity player teamed up with a bunch of seventh-graders in the state championship game. Curry made pull-up 40-footers, one-handed runners and twisting, contorting layups to keep Golden State within striking distance for the better part of the game. Later, he went to the floor for two loose balls with his team trailing by 12 late in the fourth quarter. His heart, the leadership and greatness were undeniable.
“Steph was incredible,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Game 3. “The stuff he does is, he does things that honestly I don’t think anybody has ever done before. The way he plays the game, the way he shoots it and the combination of his ball handling and shooting skills, it’s incredible to watch. He was amazing.”
But the Raptors had the numbers. Even with a strong, 30-point effort from superstar Kawhi Leonard, Toronto’s supporting cast truly cemented the team’s clutch win — six players scored in double figures. Led by Curry, the Warriors made burst after burst, trimming the lead to a manageable size, but just as they got close …
BOOM. Kyle Lowry 3-pointer.
BOOM. Fred VanVleet jumper.
BOOM. Danny Green back-to-back 3-pointers.
BOOM. Serge Ibaka 20-footer.
There was to be no trademark Golden State run on this night. Instead, each dagger deflated the desperate Oracle Arena crowd to the point of exhaustion, and it was rarely Leonard doing the damage. On a night where the Warriors’ supporting cast was depleted, the Raptors’ supporting cast won them the game.
“I thought we answered a lot of runs, right, down to seven a bunch and came back and scored a bucket or hit a 3 or whatever,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said after the game. “Each time they chipped, we kind of answered back. And that’s kind of what you got to do if you’re going to keep your lead.”
Part of it was the porous Warriors defense, severely undermanned without Thompson, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Even with a long second-quarter cold spell, Toronto lit up the scoreboard for 123 points, their highest total of the Finals so far. The Raptors also had a much more focused game plan to attack DeMarcus Cousins on the defensive end, posting up Marc Gasol and penetrating to the basket in order to make the Warriors’ big man work. Cousins, who was a revelation with a crucial Game 2 performance, was a minus-12 on Wednesday with four points in 19 minutes on 1-for-7 shooting, and drew audible sighs from the Oracle crowd on multiple occasions.
The Toronto performance from their “others” hearkened back to Game 1, and it makes you wonder if this is the norm and that Game 2 — when Leonard carried the offense single-handedly — was the exception. That could be the story for the rest of the series, as the Warriors will, best-case scenario, be forced to play a hobbled Thompson, re-integrate Durant and split center minutes between a still out-of-shape Cousins and 34-year-old Andrew Bogut.
“Once I’m driving in the paint, kicking out to guys that are making shots, the defense doesn’t want to collapse as easy, and we just got to keep playing them in a flow, really,” Leonard said after Game 3. “I feel like we just don’t need to worry about me scoring the basketball, we all can score with the offense that we have, just got to keep moving. At times when I do have the ball, the offense gets real stagnant and we just stay in one spot, and that’s so easy to guard if you’re defending us. So it’s about just moving the ball, playing the team sport and trusting everyone.”
While Toronto has received strong efforts from Siakam, Green, VanVleet and Ibaka, the Warriors have prayed for any sort of contribution from Alfonzo McKinnie, Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell and Shaun Livingston. The Raptors have the numbers in the series, and as long as their role players keep the games from devolving into a Kawhi vs. Steph showdown, they could possess the strength as well.
“We’re going to compete no matter what happens, you can count on that,” Curry said after the game. “So just got to execute and play smarter, and no matter who is out there on the floor, do what you got to do to win. It’s the Finals, man, an opportunity for us to get back in the series on Friday and take it from there.”