Short their starting point guard and having essentially given up in the first half, the Toronto Raptors managed to put a remarkable scare on the best team in the NBA Saturday night.
Toronto lost 127-125 against the Golden State Warriors after a wild final few minutes. The headline going forward will be several officiating decisions that appeared to tip the balance.
Those calls – an out of bounds late, a clear Toronto block called a foul – drew an unusually blunt response from typically cautious Raptors coach Dwane Casey.
"It's just mind boggling," Casey said of the officiating performance. "I've got to have an explanation … Maybe they just thought we didn't deserve it because of the way we played in the first half."
It's an awful cliché to say that any basketball game is a tale of two halves, but it may never have been quite as true as on Saturday.
Toronto gave up 81 points in the first half of the game on 71 per cent shooting by Golden State. That's not bad for an NBA team. It would be bad for the Washington Generals.
"Our defence was pretty much non-existent," Raptors centre Jakob Poeltl said.
"It was almost like a lay-up line," Casey said.
Both are understatements.
The first-half Warriors were rolling downhill at such speed that after Kevin Durant rimmed a dunk into the first row of seats at the Air Canada Centre, all of his teammates ran up to high-five him. At that point, missing was more remarkable than scoring for Golden State.
The Warriors have lost only three road games this year. They had Steph Curry back on the evening after a short injury absence. At the half, down 27, everyone in the building knew it was already over.
And then Toronto decided they wanted to switch up their strategy – by trying instead of rolling around on their backs.
They were led through the first three quarters by DeMar DeRozan, who had 42 points and had played all but four minutes at that stage.
But in the fourth, when the real comeback was achieved, DeRozan was largely rested. That left it on peripheral players like Poeltl, Fred VanVleet and C. J. Miles to do the tough slogging.
The Raptors play differently this year – less hero-ball, more movement – but the other significant change is in the quality of their bench. On Saturday, that group of kids put their thumb on the best team in the league – maybe the best team ever – and got the better of them for a couple of quarters.
Yes, it's January. And yes, the Warriors were on the second game of a back-to-back. But it still meant something.
When it got within three points, the officials began doing what they have done in the NBA since the dawn of recorded time – giving the all-stars their all-star calls.
"Let me start off by saying I don't make enough to comment on no officiating calls," VanVleet said by way of introduction to his post-game scrum.
(This is, we'll note, that NBA players are just like you. They are doomed to compare the greatest lifestyle in the world against the people they sit beside at work, and find it wanting. Because Fred VanVleet makes $1.3-million (U.S.) a year.)
The standout mistake was a clean Poeltl block on Curry ruled a foul. That came with less than a minute left and the Raptors down by one. Casey called it "a back-breaker."
With three seconds left, Toronto lost possession on a call turned over after a procedurally incorrect review. After that one, over-involved fan and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban took to Twitter to point out that it was "#protestable."
That's not the point and getting too caught up in the result would be foolish. Toronto had this game pre-marked on the calendar as an 'L'. It won't change anything in the larger picture.
Yes, beating the Warriors straight-up would have been a lovely confidence boost.
But proving they can come back on a full-strength Warriors team – even impose their will on them, albeit briefly – while missing their key playmaker and resting their best player is something more valuable.
It's the sort of thing that just might make a team start to believe.