The pockets of traveling Toronto Raptors fans in Oakland assembled in one big deliriously happy group after the final buzzer Friday night. They sang their hearts out and marveled at what they just witnessed.
Their Toronto Raptors are flying home from California with a chance to finish off the dynastic Golden State Warriors and win their first-ever NBA Championship in the team’s 24-year history in Toronto on Monday night.
Headlined by a 36-point night from their superstar Kawhi Leonard, and 20 points from Serge Ibaka in his best performance of the playoffs, the Raptors won Game 4, 105-92. They handed the back-to-back champs their second straight loss in Oakland.
Canada’s only NBA squad takes a 3-1 series lead back across the border, where the nation is gripped by Raptors fever.
Pascal Siakam added 19 points for Toronto Friday, while Kyle Lowry added 10 along with seven assists.
The Raps left the floor stone-faced despite being one win away from becoming champs and making franchise history.
“We didn't do nothing yet,” was Lowry’s reaction.
A matter-of-fact Leonard wouldn’t let himself be drawn into the slightest talk about what an NBA Championship could mean to Canadians.
“I'm really not sure,” said Leonard. “You got to ask probably a fan or somebody that's in Canada, or been living in Canada for a while.”
Two days after allowing Stephen Curry a career playoff-high 47 points, the Raps held the Warriors star to 27 on Friday night. Klay Thompson had 28, while Draymond Green and Kevin Looney each scored 10.
“It's not a good feeling right now,” said Curry. “For us it's an opportunity for us to just flip this whole series on its head, and you got to do it one game at a time. It sounds cliché, and for us that's literally the only way we're going to get back in this series.”
The night began with a pre-game hype video played inside Oracle Arena to excite the crowd on what could have been the building’s final night of NBA basketball before the Warriors move to a new stadium next season. The Raptors paid it no attention, and focused on their warmup.
The Dubs were still missing superstar Kevin Durant. But the All-Star shooting guard Thompson returned after missing Game 3 with a strained hamstring – bolstering the Golden State perimeter defence that had leaked badly without him. They got Looney back too, the reserve centre who the team had just days earlier proclaimed done for the year following an injury to his collarbone area.
Both showed their usefulness right away defending, play-making, scoring, and giving Curry more help than he’d had in Game 3. The Warriors were making good on their vow to improve their defence.
For the Raptors, it looked early on like Leonard would have to do it all. He pumped in 14 of his team’s 17 first-quarter points while the rest of his teammates went a frightening 1-for-13 from the field. The Raptors were being badly out-rebounded and trailed 23-17 going into the second.
Ibaka – playing alongside Marc Gasol for a small stretch – gave the Raps an eight-point scoring burst off the bench in the second quarter. Lowry was hitting too. On the other end, Thompson was erupting – hitting nine points on jumpers and deep threes, seemingly running and cutting on that hamstring just fine. At every opportunity, the fans bathed him in bellows of their appreciation.
The Warriors were killing the Raptors on the fast break and held Leonard scoreless in the frame, while the Raps were cold from three-point land. The home team had a 46-42 lead going into half-time.
“We were on the road, down four, we wanted to come in and have a good third quarter coming out the first five minutes, stay aggressive on both end of the floor, keep our energy up,” said Leonard. “And that's all we did.”
Leonard barnstormed into the second half by hitting back-to-back three balls and the Raps inched into the lead. The Warriors attacked right back with threes from Curry and Thompson and a breakaway slam from Andre Iguodala. It caused the Golden State crowd to hit a new noise level in this series.
The foes played tug-of-war for the lead through a flurry of heated, high-octane plays. Draymond Green chased down a streaking Lowry and swatted away his layup attempt. Andrew Bogut shoved Siakam to the ground and got away with it.
Ibaka re-entered the game and continued on his roll, adding seven points and keeping Looney in check.
But it was Leonard who brought the house down in the fourth with his masterful 17-point quarter. He scored on fadeaway jumpers and three-pointers, he created steals, nabbed rebounds, and drew fouls. He eclipsed the 30-point mark for the 13th time in these playoffs, punctuating his case as the post-season’s finest performer.
Golden State’s rich experience, earned in five straight appearances in the NBA Finals, was being upstaged by the championship savvy of Leonard.
The Raptors rollicked to a 12-point lead before a frightening injury occurred. Fred Van Vleet, seeking a rebound, caught the elbow of Shaun Livingston hard in the face. It split the Raptor’s skin wide open under his eye, drawing a stream of blood. The night’s key defender on Curry had to leave the game.
Those red pockets of fans got louder and the gold ones got quiet, many heading for the exits early. The Warriors, who had been 4-1 in games following a loss in this postseason, couldn’t scrap back this time.
The Warriors will hope to have Durant back in Game 5, despite the fact that the star hasn’t played in over a month.
The only time a team that took a 3-1 lead did not go on to win the NBA Finals was in 2016, when the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied past the Warriors.
Saturday will be a travel day for both teams before Game 5 takes place Monday night at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.