Early in Game 4 on Friday night, the Golden State Warriors looked well on their way to re-establishing balance in the NBA Finals.
Coming off an injury-hobbled Game 3 loss at home, Golden State returned with Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney in tow. Toronto Raptors not named Kawhi Leonard were non-factors in a first quarter that had the makings of a Warriors romp.
But these NBA playoffs have belonged to Leonard since his Game 7 buzzer-beater sank the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. And he didn’t relinquish that grasp on Friday, overcoming a largely struggling supporting cast to will the Raptors to a 105-92 win to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
Warriors looked in control early
The Warriors took a 23-17 lead in the first quarter as Toronto struggled from the field, missing the jump shots that appeared to come easily in their Game 3 win. Leonard scored 14 of those 17 points as Raptors not named Kawhi shot 1-of-13 from the field.
But Toronto hung close in the second quarter as Golden State failed to create distance with one of its signature runs and went into halftime holding a slim 46-42 lead.
When Leonard opened the third quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers, the Warriors were in trouble. Toronto seized control of the game with a 37-21 edge in the stanza fueled by Leonard’s 17 points to take a 79-67 lead into the fourth.
Leonard: ‘I don’t play hero basketball’
He finished with 36 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and four steals in another vintage performance that’s become routine this postseason.
“I don’t play hero basketball,” Leonard told ESPN after the game. “I’m not playing for fans, you know. I’m just playing to win. I’m not out here trying to break records, whatever’s on the scoreboard. I’m just out here trying to help my team win.”
Ibaka steps up
While the first quarter was all Leonard, Toronto’s rally and dominant second half didn’t happen without help. Serge Ibaka — an NBA Finals veteran from his days with the Oklahoma City Thunder — played Robin to Leonard’s Batman during the critical third-quarter run.
Ibaka entered the second half with 4:29 remaining in the quarter and the game tied at 61-61.
He immediately blocked an Alfonzo McKinnie floater and was rewarded with an open 3-pointer on the other end, which he converted to take a 64-61 lead. By the time the quarter was over, he had tallied two more buckets to total seven points in a run that saw the Raptors take a 12-point lead.
Raptors never relinquished control
By that time, the game was in hand. Whenever the Warriors threatened a rally in the fourth, the Raptors — as they have throughout the playoffs and this series — maintained their poise and control of the game.
Ibaka finished with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field to go with four rebounds and 2 blocks.
Pascal Siakam finished with 19 points and five rebounds on 6-of-14 shooting from the field as the trio led the Raptors to overcome a putrid shooting night from the rest of the supporting cast.
Raptors rally despite shooting woes
Kyle Lowry hit 3 of 12 shots from the field while tallying 10 points and seven assists, while Danny Green — who caught fire with six 3-pointers in Game 3 — didn’t hit his first bucket until midway through the fourth quarter in a three-point, 1-for-8 performance.
The Raptors shot just 41.9 percent from the field. But they posted a sterling 23-for-24 effort at the free-throw line.
And they have the best basketball player in the playoffs.
Warriors missed Durant
Perhaps more than any other game in the series, this was the game Golden State missed Kevin Durant the most. Durant sat for a ninth straight game with the calf injury he suffered in Game 5 against the Houston Rockets.
Without him, the Warriors didn’t have the superstar answer to counter Leonard’s run. And they didn’t have Durant’s length on defense to slow Leonard down when they needed him most.
Thompson’s return was a welcome one as he caught fire with 14 points in the first half en route to a 28-point effort that saw him hit six 3-pointers on 11-of-18 shooting from the field.
But the Stephen Curry who scored 47 points as the only reliable scoring option in Game 3, didn’t have it on Friday. He finished with 27 points and six assists. But his shot was flat most of the night, and he never found a rhythm from distance, connecting on just 2-of-9 3-point attempts.
End of an era at Oracle?
Thompson and Curry’s 3-pointers were all that Golden State would muster. A team that built its legacy on its 3-point prowess finished just 8-of-27 from long distance.
Draymond Green finished with 10 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, and Looney provided a heroic 10 points and six rebounds off the bench, but there was little offensive production to be found outside of the Warriors’ backcourt.
It was a difficult reminder to Warriors fans who may have watched the final game at Oracle Arena that this team is most certainly not better off without one of the best basketball players on the planet.
It was a stunning second straight loss at home in the NBA Finals.
For the Raptors, it means they’re one win away from a title. Game 5 will be Monday in Toronto, setting the stage for Leonard to deliver Canada its first NBA championship.
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