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NBA Finals

NBA Finals 2019: Keys to Game 3 between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors

klay-thompson-kawhi-leonard-060519-ftr-nba-getty
Klay Thompson has spent plenty of time as Kawhi's primary defender in the Finals (NBA Getty Images)

The Golden State Warriors earned a five-point win over the Toronto Raptors in Game 2 of the 2019 NBA Finals to even the series at one game apiece as the series shifts to Oracle Arena for Games 3 and 4.

Kawhi Leonard scored a game-high 34 points to go along with a game-high 14 rebounds but the Raptors were unable to overcome a game-shifting 18-0 run made by the Warriors to begin the second half. Golden State was led by Klay Thompson, who scored 25 points before exiting the game with hamstring tightness. The Warriors moved the ball at an exceptional rate in Game 2, assisting on each of their 22 made field goals in the second half.

Six different Warriors dished out at least three assists in the game, most notably Draymond Green (nine), DeMarcus Cousins (six) and Andre Iguodala (six) as the team scored just four unassisted buckets on the night.

MORE: Takeaways from Game 2 | Player Ratings | Broadcast schedule

With the series shifting to The Bay, will the Warriors take command of the series or will the Raptors respond by addressing some of their lapses from Game 2? Here are five things to watch in Game 3 of The Finals…

The injury report

The injuries and ailments just keep piling up for the Warriors.

While Kevin Durant is slowly inching towards a potential return from a calf injury suffered in the second round, Andre Iguodala (calf), Kevon Looney (collarbone) and Klay Thompson (hamstring) have each sustained health setbacks in this series.

MORE: How Looney's injury impacts Raptors | How bad is Klay's injury?

Iguodala played through his calf issue in Game 2 to put forth an impressive stat line of eight points, eight rebounds and six assists while hitting the biggest shot of the night in the game's final moments. Now, after a five-hour flight back to The Bay, how will the 35-year-old's body respond to another two-day break in the action? Iguodala has proven how crucial he is to this team's success but he will need to be in a similar physical form to replicate his performance in Game 3.

Of course, the biggest question mark surrounds the health of Thompson, who was putting forth quite the offensive performance before the residual effects of awkward landing caused a hamstring issue that he couldn't play through. After an MRI revealed a mild hamstring strain, Thompson is listed as questionable for Game 3 but if his timing is even thrown off in the slightest, it could change the entire scope of the game.

Without Thompson or with a hobbled Thompson, Toronto could again experiment with the defence Stephen Curry referred to as "janky" but had a hand in holding Golden State scoreless for five minutes down the stretch.

Further testing revealed a fractured collarbone for Looney, who will be sidelined for the remainder of the series. His absence means more spot minutes for Andrew Bogut and the need for yet another big game from DeMarcus Cousins, adding to the significance of…

DeMarcus Cousins' impact

After he saw just eight minutes in the series opener, it came as somewhat of a surprise that Cousins was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 2.

Steve Kerr's adjustment certainly paid off.

After a rough outing in Game 1, Cousins was the difference maker in Game 2, posting a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds to go along with six assists and two blocks on the defensive end.

MORE: Cousins 'feels great' about breakout game

After the game, when he was asked if he was nearing 100% physically, Cousins told reporters "I really don't know," which could either be an honest assessment of his health or an answer that keeps the Raptors from knowing any more about his status.

Keep in mind that Cousins is just six weeks removed from suffering a very serious injury that required an aggressive period of rehabilitation for him to return. With that in mind, how will his body respond from Game 2's 28-minute workload in Game 3?

Cousins was the difference maker in Game 2, but if he is slowed down in the least bit, the outlook of the game is once again changed with the uncertain status of Looney.

Raptors pace and shot making

Their run began before the half but the third quarter is when the entire outlook of Game 2 was changed by the Warriors historic surge .

As the Raptors reflected on their loss and that specific segment of the game, a common theme was the team's pace contributing to an inability to knock down quality looks and ultimately, put points on the board.

As a result, the Warriors were able to take command of the game and put the Raptors on their heels defensively as they found a groove on the offensive end as well.

With an increased focus on pace and shot making, this Raptors team must avoid a similar lapse in Game 3. Toronto was able to claw back in Game 2 to make things interesting late, but it shouldn't count on that ability to do the same at Oracle, as it will be much harder to overcome any considerable deficit.

Ball movement

The assist figures in Game 2 were perhaps the most staggering and eye-popping stats from the Warriors win.

As alluded to before, Golden State assisted on 34 of its 38 (89.5%) made field goals in the game while Toronto assisted on just 17 of its 35 (48.6%) made field goals. It's just the fourth time this postseason that the Raptors have dished out 17 or fewer assists, and the team is 1-3 in such games. The one win? The grind-it-out 92-90 win over the 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Ball movement has often been a harbinger of success for the Raptors throughout the season; it ties into the pace with which they play and is a product of their passing up good looks for even better looks. To be fair, Toronto missed a number of quality looks that would have been assisted during the third-quarter drought, but it's no coincidence that the game was ultimately lost during that period.

In Game 3, Leonard must be better as a playmaker when he finds himself under duress in the half court and more importantly, Kyle Lowry will need to dish out his first assist of the game long before the 9:05 mark in the fourth quarter.

As for the Warriors, it's unreasonable to expect such an absurd assist rate once again, but it's important to keep an eye on who is making the plays. It's to be expected from Green, Iguodala and the backcourt to a certain extent, but if Cousins can again show his value as a passer and playmaker, this Warriors offence taps into another level.

Kawhi's return to Oracle

May 14, 2017.

It's been over two years since Leonard's last appearance at Oracle Arena but it was certainly a memorable one for a number of reasons. In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Leonard torched the Warriors for 26 points (7-13 FG, 11-11 FT) and eight rebounds, doing so in under 24 minutes as an ankle injury he suffered just four minutes into the second half would ultimately end his season.

At the time, the Spurs had built a 23-point lead over the Warriors, who would come back to earn a two-point win.

After missing the majority of the 2017-18 season and sitting out in the Raptors lone appearance in Oakland earlier this season, Leonard is set to step foot on the court where the trajectory of his career changed.

It's a new team and a completely different stage but it's impossible to ignore the significance of Kawhi's returning to the Oracle Arena floor.

When asked about a "revenge factor" in this Finals series, Raptors guard Danny Green, who was teammates with Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio, admitted that there's "a small part of it in the back of our minds… we know we had a shot and it would have been interesting to see if he would have been healthy how that series would have [gone]."

More important than the narrative of this meeting being over two years in the making is how Leonard follows up his performance in Game 2 - his game-high totals in points (34) and rebounds (14) and his NBA Finals record 16-for-16 shooting from the free throw line kept things from getting out of hand in the second half.

Like most players at this point in the season, Leonard is dealing with nagging injuries and is visibly impacted based on how he's moving on both ends of the floor. With a maximum of five games remaining this season, it will be worth monitoring how the travel and time off affect Kawhi's body as this Raptors team will go as far as he is able to lead them.

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