The Toronto Raptors showed their championship mettle and resolve in Game 3. The simple fact that they won is insignificant compared to the manner in which they won.
The easy narrative coming out of Game 3 is that the Raptors controlled the game from start to finish and that the outcome was never seriously in doubt. They won by 14 in a game that was never within seven points in the second half. Given the context, it would be easy to walk away from that game thinking "what's so impressive about that?"
With Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Kevon Looney all out and both Andre Iguodala and DeMarcus Cousins nowhere near 100%, the Golden State Warriors were severely outmatched from the jump. It would take the greatest game of Stephen Curry's playoff career and then some for the Warriors to have a chance.
The two-time MVP was not going to simply wave the white flag and if the Raptors were going to leave Oracle Arena with a 2-1 lead against the battered and bruise champs, they were going to have to earn it.
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A pedestrian effort from Toronto or even a B-level performance would not have cut it in Game 3. Curry was transcendant and even though the Warriors didn't play great, they played well enough win.
How the Raptors repeatedly squashed multiple threatening moments during the second half speaks volumes about their resolve and they punched back in ways that neither Houston nor Portland proved capable. That the Warriors never got closer than seven says far more about the Raptors than it does about the Warriors.
We've seen it time and again in Oracle as the Warriors have a habit of cutting big deficits to single digits only for opponents to tighten up even more and buckle under the pressure. Fighting off a patented Golden State onslaught can feel like trying to crawl out of quick sand.
Instead of falling into a pit panic, the Raptors kept their composure.
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Over the course of the second half, the Raptors had 22 possessions in which the score was within 10 points. They scored a whopping 33 points on those possessions for an offensive rating of 150.0, shooting 12-18 from the floor including 6-9 from beyond the 3-point line. On two of the three misses from beyond the arc, the Raptors secured offensive rebounds and scored anyways.
Viewed through the prism of a heavyweight fight, the second half of Game 3 can be broken into three separate rounds with the Warriors mounting three runs only to be beat back each time.
The Third Quarter
With 10:31 left in the in the third, Andre Iguodala hit a 3-pointer followed quickly by two Curry makes to cut a 14-point lead to seven and it started to feel eerily similar to Game 2 in which the Warriors unleashed an 18-0 to open the second half and flip the tide. Following a Raptors turnover, DeMarcus Cousins missed a layup that would have cut the lead to five.
Kawhi Leonard hit a 3 to push it back to 10. Andre Iguodala answered with a 3-ball of his own only to be immediately answered by Kyle Lowry on the other end.
The next few minutes featured more back-and-forth action:
- Curry hit one from deep to cut it to eight only for Fred VanVleet to send it back to 11
- A Curry layup was answered by a Kawhi floater
- A Draymond layup was answered with back-to-back jumpers by VanVleeet and Leonard
- Two Bogut buckets cut it to eight only for Danny Green to push it to 14 with back-to-back triples
The Warriors did everything in their power to take control in the third as they've done too many times to count during their dynastic run. Each time the sellout crowd started to work itself into a frenzy, the Raptors quickly quieted the chorus that's been conditioned over the last five years to quake uncontrollably.
Start of the fourth
After failing to land their patented third quarter haymaker, the Warriors wasted no time to start mounting another challenge. For a few fleeting moments, it looked like Quinn Cook might be the unlikely hero.
His jumper with 11:22 once again cut the lead to 10. Over the next 45 seconds, he had two layups that any other night would have cut the lead down to six and sowed the seeds for another Golden State comeback.
Except first Danny Green channeled his inner LeBron James and swatted Cook with a chase-down block after a long outlet led to a fastbreak with nobody back.
Then it was Serge Ibaka's turn to deny Cook, swatting away a second layup in a mere matter of seconds.
NO NO NO NO! pic.twitter.com/Tf3GF1q1gG- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) June 6, 2019
Those two defensive plays proved even larger when Curry was fouled shooting a three moments later. He sank all three, but instead of cutting it to a one possession game, the lead was still seven. Ibaka resonded with buckets on two straight possessions - first on a jumper then on a putback off a missed Danny Green 3-pointer - and the lead was back up to 11.
Golden State's final push
Toronto pushed the lead to 111-94, a 17-point lead that looked to put it away for good.
Except this is the Warriors and they're never truly out of it. No team in the history of basketball can wipe away 45 minutes of great basketball by its opponent to steal wins quite like the Warriors.
Twice over the last 3 minutes, the Warriors cut it to 10. After Curry drew a foul and sank a pair of free throws, Gasol scored on the other end to push it back to 12.
After Curry dove on a loose ball and won the ensuing jump ball, Draymond Green scored to once again cut it to 10. All it would take was a few stops and a few Curry triples to make it interesting.
Instead, the Raptors took 49 seconds off the game clock their next time down courtesy of an offensive rebound and a foul. Only when VanVleet hit yet another 3 to push it back to 13 with just over 90 seconds left did Steve Kerr finally wave the white flag and pull his starters.
COLD-BLOODED @FredVanVleet | #BetOnYourself pic.twitter.com/VNtL3wijrj- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) June 6, 2019
Zooming back out
For the entirety of Game 3, the Raptors were at their best when forced to match Curry and the Warriors.
According to Inpredictable.com, they scored a whopping 1.44 points per possession after a made shot by Golden State. Not only did they refuse to cower with Curry uncorking the greatest game of his playoff career, they dug in and met fire with fire while also smartly making the Warriors defend and work to get the ball back. Toronto's average possession following a Golden State make lasted just under 20 seconds, a mark that easily would have led the league in any of the last 10 years.
|Following Warriors...||Pts/Poss||Avg. Time of Poss|
|Made shot||1.44||19.6 sec|
|Missed shot||1.03||12.2 sec|
These are admittedly obscure. And admittedly dense.
Yet they help paint a picture of inscrutible patience and an incredible ability to execute when most teams typically fold.
Unlike Game 2 in which the Raptors were unable to seize a chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead, Game 3 showed an opprtunistic and mature team ready to take care of business and leave no doubt in a game they simply had to win given the injuries on the other side.
They didn't merely squeak by. They slammed the door shut three separate times when it started to creak open.
Championship teams rise to the occasion when called upon.
Toronto answered the call in Game 3 and is now two wins away from winning the whole thing.
The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the NBA or its clubs.