The Golden State Warriors eight-game win streak over the Raptors ended on Thursday night before a bellowing Toronto crowd reveling in what could be a preview of the NBA final.
In a game that lived up to all the hype, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant exploded at each end of the floor in a dramatic battle between the NBA-leading Raptors and the reigning world champion Warriors, with the Raps emerging the winners in overtime, 131-128.
Leonard led Toronto with a season-high 37 points. Durant scored a jaw-dropping 51 for the Dubs and handed Drake his game-worn jersey afterward as a souvenir. It was the first time in Durant’s storied career that he surpassed 40 points in three straight games.
It’s the seventh straight win for the Raps, who improve to 19-4 after beating the Warriors, NBA champs in three of the past four seasons. Toronto hadn’t beaten Golden State since 2014. It was an early-season win over a Warriors team missing several key stars. But it stoked belief in the idea that Raptors could make their first NBA final and stand in the way of the Warriors repeating as champs.
It was the marquee NBA game of the night, with the TNT crew of Chris Webber and Marv Albert broadcasting courtside, and all sportscasters wore flamboyant suit jackets to honour the late sideline reporter Craig Sager. Rookie NBA head coach Nick Nurse patrolled Toronto’s sideline in a daring iridescent electric blue sports coat.
The Warriors were depleted considerably for the hotly-anticipated showdown. Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry was sidelined for an 11th straight game due to a lingering groin issue. Draymond Green (right toe), Alfonzo McKinnie (left foot) and DeMarcus Cousins (left Achilles tendon) sat injured, too.
Curry had worked out earlier Thursday, but the team said he’d make his comeback Friday in Detroit instead. So there he sat on Golden State’s bench in a suit in Toronto, the city where he had played some youth basketball while his father Dell had been a Raptor.
Drake wasn’t the only Toronto celeb sitting courtside to watch these two NBA powerhouses. Maple Leafs Coach Mike Babcock was in the audience, too.
It was the first time Durant and Leonard met in a regular season game since the 2016-17 season opener. Leonard had last faced the Warriors in Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals, when he injured his ankle and left the floor with his San Antonio Spurs ahead by 21 points. The Spurs lost that game and Leonard for that series, and were eventually swept, causing many to wonder what might have been.
Leonard and Danny Green shared lots of insights with the Raps from their experiences in San Antonio taking on the Warriors.
“My ears were open this morning during the film session, they were very talkative, informative,” said Nurse.
The Raptors dominated so thoroughly in Thursday’s first quarter, some scenes felt surreal. Leonard exploded for 13 points in the first nine minutes and blocked a Durant shot. Pascal Siakam breezed past Andre Iguodala for a thundering dunk. A mesmerizing bit of back-and-forth passing between Kyle Lowry and Leonard befuddled the Warriors and ended in a bucket. Golden State Coach Steve Kerr leapt to his feet in need of a timeout to reset his Warriors just five minutes into the game.
The Raps led by as much as 18 early on.
But Durant would change the tide in the second half. Oozing cool confidence and craftiness, he pumped in 18 points in the third quarter alone. That included a cold-blooded 32-foot three-point dagger to close the quarter that flipped a comfy Raps lead into an uneasy eight-point one.
“There’s gonna be some games where we got a great team game going and we can beat teams with the flow of our offence,” Durant told reporters after the game. “And there’s gonna be some games where I gotta get buckets, and tonight we were down early, and down big and I just tried to be aggressive. My only focus is on being the best version of me that I can.”
Golden State rallied to within two in the fourth and Durant kept hitting big ones to keep the pressure on, including the tying three with eight seconds left – one of the four he’d hit on the night, to go with his 11 rebounds and six assists.
“When a team gets dragged into overtime like that on some tough shots, a lot of times a team will feel sorry for itself and not come out to play. We didn’t,” said Nurse. “I was proud of them for that, to take the emotional punch in the gut, take a few deep breaths and then go back out there and play the overtime like they did.”
The Raps remained composed in the extra five minutes and got the win. Five other Raptors finished the night in double digit points, including Siakam, who had a career-high 26, pitching in some big buckets in OT. Lowry had 10 points and 12 assists.
Klay Thompson helped the Warriors with 23.
The Raptors will get board a plane to Cleveland on Friday for a Saturday night meeting with the Cavaliers Friday night.