After the Toronto Raptors dominated the first six quarters of the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors broke out in a monster third quarter on Sunday that changed the tenor of the series.
Behind 23 points from Steph Curry and 25 from Klay Thompson, the back-to-back champion Warriors claimed a tight 109-104 victory to even up the series 1-1 as it leaves Toronto and shifts to California.
“When you get to this stage, our DNA shows up,” said Curry.
Kawhi Leonard had 34 points for Toronto in the loss, while Fred VanVleet had 17. Kyle Lowry had 13, and Pascal Siakam had 12 in a more subdued performance after his career playoff-high 32 points in last Thursday’s Game 1. Danny Green had eight points, including a pair of three-pointers.
Draymond Green had 17 points for Golden State and DeMarcus Cousins notched a double-double on 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“I don’t know like what you guys thought this series was going to look like, but we went into it expecting a dog fight,” Van Vleet said to media after the game. “Yes, we won Game 1. I think everybody else outside of our locker room was a lot more excited than we were. We understand what this team brings and what type of effort it’s going to take to beat these guys.”
The Warriors mixed up their starting lineup for Game 2, starting Cousins at centre instead of Jordan Bell, his first start since tearing his quad in their first-round series with the Los Angeles Clippers. The All-Star who had played just eight minutes in his comeback in Game 1 this time logged nearly 28 minutes.
“I don’t take any of this for granted. I’ve seen how quickly this game can be taken away from you,” said Cousins. “So any chance I get I leave it all on the floor.”
First-quarter highlights included Leonard rolling for nine points at one end while Thompson (11) and Draymond Green (9) were hot at the opposite end. Eye-poppers included an alley-oop pass from VanVleet that Siakam caught and slammed with one hand, and Lowry drawing his 16th charge of these playoffs, putting his body on the line against Thompson.
The Raptors held a slim 27-26 lead after the first.
The Warriors hardly looked like back-to-back world champions for what was mostly a tough second quarter as the Raps played them tight defensively. Cousins picked up his third foul and the Dubs slipped into a 12-point hole, as VanVleet gave Toronto a 10-point burst.
Curry was 0-for-5, and clunking shots all over the place, before hitting four fast field goals and helping turn the tide for his team. The All-Star point guard wasn’t feeling well – light-headed and dehydrated, but a brief visit to the locker room flipped his game. Thompson contributed too, and the two leaders had Golden State trailing just 59-54 at half-time.
“Going into the half down five, we know we can cover that in ten seconds,” said Golden State’s Green.
A long list of celebrities dotted Sunday’s crowd, headlined by Barack Obama – who drew a standing ovation from the Canadian crowd. The list included Blue Jays legend Roberto Alomar, pop star Shawn Mendes and The Arkells, along with PGA golfers Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell. Alessia Cara sang O’Canada and Flo Rida performed at half-time.
Golden State emerged in the second half playing in a different gear, again on the backs of scoring from Curry and Thompson. The champs created lots of turnovers, hit speedy transition buckets, and ratcheted up their defence. Toronto went scoreless for nearly six minutes, as the Warriors orchestrated a punishing 18-0 run and stampeded to a 13-point lead. Even with the Raps got stops, they weren’t getting much on the other end.
“That third quarter, I feel like it just really killed us,” said Leonard. “18-0 run. If we can’t score no baskets, you’re not going to win no game.”
The Raps were lagging behind 88-80 going into the closing quarter.
Toronto chipped away in the fourth, but couldn’t get close enough. Serge Ibaka hit some big buckets on his way to a seven-point, 10-rebound night. Lowry hit his third three-ball of the night.
But they let Cousins get going and Golden State’s bench too, as Quinn Cook and Shaun Livingston continued the Warriors’ scoring punch.
In the fourth quarter, the Raptors put Van Vleet in with the starters, instead of Green. But when Lowry fouled out with more than three minutes left, Green was sent back onto the floor.
Leonard spearheaded a Raps comeback effort with some big buckets, pulling Toronto to within five. Green hit a promising three ball that put Toronto within two and 26 seconds left. But Andre Iguodala responded with a three-pointer to pull the Warriors back ahead by five and it slipped too far out of reach.
OG Anunoby was put on the active list for the first time since having an appendectomy on April 11. But the sophomore known for his athletic defence remained on Toronto’s bench. Raptors Coach Nick Nurse noted that he has lost some weight during his time off.
The series continues Wednesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. The Dubs haven’t hosted an opponent there since May 16 -- a Game 2 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, who they eventually swept.
Tuesday is a travel day, and neither squad will practice.
“We gotta go out there and get one,” said Nurse. “And we can do that.”