Steph Curry oozed championship experience as he pumped in a playoff career-high 47 points trying heroically to lead his injury-hampered Golden State Warriors in their home arena. But the well-balanced Toronto Raptors couldn’t be beat.
The Raptors rollicked for a 123-109 road victory over the dynastic Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, and seized a 2-1 series lead behind diverse scoring from every guy on the floor. Kawhi Leonard lead the Raps with 30 points, while Kyle Lowry added 23. Danny Green contributed 18 in his best game of the playoffs, including six three-pointers.
Marc Gasol pitched in 17, Pascal Siakam 18, and Fred Van Vleet 11 on a night when the Raps hit 17 three-pointers on 38 attempts. It was a nod to a pre-game message they’d written on a board in their locker room before the game: ‘Let it rip’.
“We haven't really had a good team shooting night, and I knew eventually at some point we were due for one,” said Toronto’s Green.
Draymond Green had 17 points for the Dubs, and Andre Iguodala added 11.
“We’re going to compete no matter what happens, you can count on that,” said Curry after the game. “It’s the Finals, man, an opportunity for us to get back in the series on Friday.”
The Warriors were missing an irreplaceable man on Wednesday. Klay Thompson was ruled out of Wednesday’s game for the back-to-back NBA champs, as he continued to nurse the hamstring he strained during Game 2 in Toronto. Thompson had lobbied hard to play, but the training staff didn’t want to risk making his injury worse. It was the first missed playoff game of the All Star shooting guard’s career, ending a streak of 120 consecutive.
“That was the decision we made, and I feel very comfortable with it,” said Warriors Coach Steve Kerr. “Never would have forgiven myself if I played him tonight and he had gotten hurt.”
The depleted Warriors were also missing reserve big man Kevon Looney, who is lost for the series. Kevin Durant was still out too, although the Warriors said he’s ramping up his workouts in the hopes of a return. Shaun Livingston got the start in Thompson’s absence.
To kick off the night in Oakland, Saskatchewan country artist Tenille Arts sang O’Canada before two members of Metallica did an electric-guitar-revved rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Jay-Z and Beyoncé sat courtside.
The aged Oracle Arena is in its final days of life before the Warriors new state-of-the-art arena opens this fall across the Bay in San Francisco’s Mission Bay district. Wednesday, its fans were awash in bright yellow “Stay Golden” playoff t-shirts as gold spotlights swept across the crowd. One young Warriors fan held up a hand-scrawled sign that read ‘You The North, We The Champs”.
The Raptors roared out to a fast 36-29 lead in the first quarter with all five Raptors starters scoring, playing with great pace. There were positive signs everywhere for Toronto. The oft-inconsistent Green hit a trio of early threes – the same guy who had gone 1-for-15 in the final four games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Leonard was getting to the line, Gasol was dominating with post moves, and the Raps were limiting the scoring of all Warriors not named Curry.
The Raptors lead by as much as 14 points in the first half, but Golden State’s star point guard was sensational. He erupted for 17 points in the opening quarter and had 25 by half-time, while also leading his team in rebounds.
Curry was contributing all over – he’d roll for eight rebounds and seven assists before the night was through. He’d finish with the eighth-highest-scoring game in NBA Finals history.
“Tonight was a special performance for him, and he definitely does stuff that I don't think we have ever seen anyone ever do, and we probably won't see anyone ever do it again,” said Golden State’s Green of Curry’s game. “We just got to continue to battle and win the next game, go back to Toronto, win Game 5, come back to Oracle, win Game 6 and then celebrate. Fun times ahead.”
Not to be outdone, Toronto’s point guard was rolling too, popping off for an 11-point quarter, while also helping guard Curry. Lowry, the longest-tenured Raptor, had gifted each of his teammates with OVO-themed Beats headphones as they boarded their charter flight to California for Games 3 and 4. He had 15 points by half-time – hot especially from deep -- leading his Raps to a 60-52 lead. He’d hit five three balls before the night was through.
A fan shoved Lowry on the sideline during the game, and the Raps point guard didn’t mince words when asked about it later:
“As for that fan, there’s no place for that. He had no reason to touch me. He had no reason to reach over two seats and then say some vulgar language to me,” said Lowry. “There’s no place for people like that in our league, and hopefully he never comes back to an NBA game.”
Memories of Toronto’s third-quarter collapse in Game 2 loomed large. Despite his efficient shooting to that point, the Raptors opened the second half with Green on the bench and Fred Van Vleet on the floor. The Raps leaned on that Lowry-Van Vleet combo to help contest Curry.
Green returned for Toronto late in the quarter and quickly scored his fourth three-ball of the night -- then his fifth and his sixth. He’d later say he got some advice about pure shooting from an unlikely place: NBA Hall of Fame big man Shaquille O’Neal.
“I think Danny’s buckets boosted our whole team’s confidence because we’re kind of used to most of the year relying on those,” said Toronto Coach Nick Nurse. "I think it was just a huge confidence boost all around.”
Iguodala was pitching in scoring, but Curry was still shouldering so much of the load. Serge Ibaka provided the Raps a boost at the rim along with a six-point scoring boost.
The Warriors wouldn’t roll over and die though. They mounted a small run. Green rallied with some buckets for them, they got a little lift from Jonas Jerebko, and Curry kept chugging.
Toronto would not relent. Soon Toronto was emptying its bench in the closing minutes, and the gold-shirted fans headed for the exits.
Game 4 is set for Friday in Oakland, before the series veers back to Toronto for Game 5 on Monday.