NBA Finals Game 3: Don’t sell Toronto short

Three takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 123-109 road win against the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the 2019 NBA Finals to take a 2-1 series lead.

Don’t discount this Raptors effort

It is easy to point to the absences of Kevin Durant (calf) and Klay Thompson (hamstring) as reasons the Warriors now find themselves in a 2-1 hole. You may be right that even a limited effort from either superstar teammate could have been enough to tip the scale in their favor, but let us not write off Toronto’s performance as merely a gift from the Golden State injury gods.

The Raptors earned this one, making all the right adjustments to defeat a Warriors team that still had Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, a pair of championship stalwarts who together have outscored opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions, regardless of who is on the floor with them. Toronto coach Nick Nurse deliberately attacked DeMarcus Cousins from the jump and inserted Fred VanVleet into the second-half starting lineup as a defensive counter to Curry.

The result was a balanced effort from everyone in the Raptors’ seven-man rotation. Kawhi Leonard scored 15 of his 30 points in the third quarter. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam respectively fell one assist and one rebound shy of double-doubles. Danny Green made six 3-pointers, cementing his Finals legend. Serge Ibaka recorded six blocks, even if a couple of them should have been goaltending. They played hard, they played together, and they walked out of Oracle Arena with home-court advantage, which is no small task against any Warriors.

Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry set the winning pace in Game 3. (Getty Images)

“They outplayed us,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters after the game. “They deserved it. I’m very proud of our effort, and now we just got to bounce back and hopefully get back in here Friday night and get a little healthier and get some guys back, but we’ll see how that goes.

Sure, Toronto’s 52/45/95 shooting splits can largely be credited to a porous defense that seemed resigned to defeat after falling behind by double digits in the game’s first five minutes, save for an inspired stretch led by Green in the third quarter. But the Raptors responded to every Golden State threat, buckling down on defense and executing in their half-court offense.

Toronto’s road performance, particularly from role players like Green and VanVleet, showed at the very least they were unafraid to walk into a hostile environment and play like champions.

Stephen Curry isn’t enough on his own

Despite Toronto’s double-digit lead in the final minutes, you never felt comfortable writing Golden State off, at least not until Fred VanVleet’s moonshot with 99 seconds left, because Stephen Curry is freaking incredible. The two-time MVP either scored or assisted on 24 of the Warriors’ 26 first-quarter points, and he was the only player on his team capable of creating offense in the absence of his superstar teammates. Yet, there the Warriors were, trailing by seven in the fourth quarter, seemingly just another flurry from Curry away from a miracle win.

Curry scored 47 points — the most in a losing Finals effort since LeBron James scored 51 last season — and it wasn’t nearly enough. Throw in eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals, and it still wasn’t enough. The Warriors can’t expect more than they got from Curry in Game 3.

Curry: 47 points (14-31 FG, 6-14 3P, 13-14 FT)

The rest of the Warriors: 62 points (22-60 FG, 6-22 3P, 12-16 FT)

In the 4:45 that Curry rested, the Warriors trudged out lineups like the Quinn Cook, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Jonas Jerebko and DeMarcus Cousins quintet that got steamrolled to start the second quarter. That is not a playoff-caliber roster, much less a championship one.

“It’s no secret that we’re a little injury-plagued now,” said Curry. “Guys are trying to just find a way back to the court. But the moment is now. You got to try to have a next-man-up mentality and just go out and fight. We did that tonight. We can play better, but I liked the competitiveness that we had, understanding that we’re missing 50 points pretty much between KD and Klay. So we’ll adjust. And it’s a long series you know. It’s going to be fun for us.”

Durant was ramping up his activity prior to Game 3, and Thompson was not ruled out until moments before tipoff. Both could presumably play on Friday, but the Warriors need more than availability from their co-stars. They need production, and that is no guarantee on two bum legs.

The question then becomes whether Curry has more of this left in him. He didn’t just play 43 minutes on Wednesday. He ran through countless screens, forever trying to escape a defense focused solely on containing him, and he did well to keep the lid off. How much will he have left on Friday, when the Warriors face what increasingly feels like a must-win Game 4?

Kyle Lowry, playoff hero

Much has been made of Lowry’s playoff shortcomings, most of which is unfair. He entered Wednesday’s game with Toronto career playoff averages of 16.9 points (42/35/80 shooting splits), 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds, numbers not all that dissimilar from the regular-season production that has earned five consecutive trips to the All-Star Game. There are peaks and valleys that mirror the Raptors’ inconsistent playoff performance over the years, but you can do worse than repeatedly falling victim to LeBron James in the Eastern Conference every year.

Lowry’s Game 3 should erase any lingering doubt about his stature in the game. He scored 23 points on 5-for-9 shooting from distance and dished nine assists that led to another 21 points. He played his considerable butt off, serving as a primary run-stopper. His 3-pointer and a layup on back-to-back possessions twice pushed Toronto’s lead back to double digits late in the second quarter, when the Warriors were threatening to set themselves up for another throat-ripping third quarter. It was 43 minutes of inspiring basketball that raised the level of everyone around him.

“I had a little talk with him before the game, and his comment to me was he was going to let it rip tonight,” said Nurse. “So, that was good. You saw him aggressive in transition, but, again, usually when he’s going good, it means he’s hitting the paint, he’s attacking off the screen-and-roll and really getting downhill. That’s usually a sign that he’s got a lot of his offensive game and confidence going.”

Everything that can go wrong for a mercurial star in a big game did for Lowry, and yet he met the moment. He picked up three quick fouls in the final three minutes of the first half and did not commit another the rest of the way, thanks in part to VanVleet assuming the defensive load against Curry.

Then, there was the incident involving a fan who shoved Lowry as he careened into the stands trying to save an Ibaka block from going out of bounds. He kept his composure in the face of a hostile crowd, and he responded by scoring or assisting on 11 of Toronto’s next 15 points to push another single-digit lead to 16, all but burying the Warriors in Game 3.

Given the gravity of the situation — an opportunity to put a dynasty on its heels in the Finals at their arena — this was the most important game of Lowry’s career, and he answered the call.

– – – – – – –

Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

More from Yahoo Sports:

Source link

Leave a Reply