TORONTO — The champions cranked into overdrive with such ferocity and cold-blooded efficiency, it was as if the Toronto Raptors were unsuspectingly mugged in a dark alley after midnight.
Never mind that the Golden State Warriors implemented the theft of these NBA Finals under the bright lights of the Scotiabank Arena in front of 19,800 incredulous witnesses wearing blood-red shirts and the stupefied daze of a crowd that just had their wallets swiped. This is what coach Steve Kerr’s team does when it discovers its collective rhythm, feeding off a savage defense that clamps down with impunity, extracts turnovers and then transforms them into transition artistry that douses the spirit of even the most resilient opponents.
Find everything you need to know about the NBA Finals here.
• Schedules, matchups and more
• Two big questions heading into Game 2
• Warriors need the security of KD
• Nick Nurse’s unconventional journey
• ‘Strength in numbers’ in Game 1 win
• Predictions: Favorites and likely MVPs
• What’s next for eliminated teams?
Golden State returns to the Bay Area having stolen home-court advantage with a 109-104 Game 2 victory. The soul-crushing 18-0 run to begin the third quarter highlighted every weapon in the Warriors’ arsenal: the aforementioned crippling defense, devastating three-point shooting, and the kind of deft passing that keeps the ball moving and the defense guessing. It transformed a 59-54 halftime deficit into a commanding 72-59 lead that has altered the tenor of this series.
“When we started (on that run), I was saying, ‘Oh, this is good,'” Andre Iguodala said. “That’s the only time I’m really happy, when I can say, ‘Oh, we’re doing it.’ And we were doing it.”
For context, understand that the Warriors trailed by 13 points in this game, on the road, which was, again, played without the services of Kevin Durant. They started DeMarcus Cousins, who is still working his way back from a torn quad muscle, and asked him to log 27 1/2 minutes. They withstood a trio of scares: when Steph Curry briefly retreated to the locker room to address flu-like symptoms or dehydration, depending on who you asked; when Iguodala left the floor after being powdered by a stout Marc Gasol screen; and when Klay Thompson crumpled to the court after injuring his hamstring early in the fourth quarter. The hobbled Splash Brother will undergo an MRI when the team gets back to Oakland on Monday.
“Klay said he’ll be fine,” Kerr said after the game, “but Klay could be half dead and he would say he would be fine.”
With their most redoubtable players limping to the finish, the Warriors needed — and got — a pair of gigantic threes from Quinn Cook to stay afloat. They needed — and got — some spirited cameo minutes from Andrew Bogut, who had played a grand total of 47 minutes since the start of the second round entering Sunday night.
And they looked to their battered veteran, Iguodala, encased in postgame ice to ease the woes of multiple body parts, to seal the victory in the final seconds with a dagger three.
In other words, it wasn’t just the usual suspects that tipped the scales for Golden State.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Iguodala said. “All everyone sees is a lot of winning, and it’s easy and it looks like we’re overpowering everybody. But a lot of work goes into that. And we’ve had to fight these injuries, every year…”
As the visiting team savored a win that left them physically and mentally taxed, you had to wonder how the hometown Raptors reconciled failing to capitalize on the opportunity before them, with Golden State’s depth depleted and Curry, their consummate marksman, faltering in the early going.
Another player might have allowed a shooter’s most dreaded affliction — doubt — to envelop him in a warm embrace after 16 1/2 minutes of nothing but misses, but Steph Curry is not like most players. (Ask the Houston Rockets about that.) Golden State’s supernova watched his first 6 consecutive offerings roll off or clang short, but it neither deterred him from continuing to fire away, or from believing the next one would go in.
Stop me when you’ve heard this before. Curry, the poster boy of positive self-talk, finally connected on his first field goal with 2:50 left until halftime, then went on to drill 6 of his final 8, including one of his trademark floaters during the game-changing spurt.
During that 18-0 beatdown, the Raptors missed 8 straight shots and turned the ball over 5 times. They rushed, they pressed and they crumbled under the weight of Golden State’s incessant pressure.
“It felt,” noted Toronto veteran Danny Green, “like we forgot how to play basketball for a second.”
Though the beauty of their ball movement and incredible range has long been the Warriors calling card, they actually win games when they lock down defensively.
By the time Fred Van Vleet stemmed the hemorrhaging with a corner three midway through the third quarter, the Raptors had gone 5:40 without scoring.
“That,” said Kawhi Leonard, “was pretty much the game.”
Leonard, who was once again harangued and trapped and forced to the sidelines, leaving him with uncomfortable looks and challenging angles, checked out with 34 points, but did it on 8-of-20 shooting and coughed up the ball five times. Golden State bumped and bodied him and made him earn every look at the basket. Pascal Siakam, the darling of Game 1, was forced into the half court, unable to roam free as he’d done just three days earlier. And, once the Warriors got rolling, their championship pedigree revealed itself in its full glory.
“When you come to a time out after a couple runs like that and everybody’s involved, whether they’re scoring or setting screens or making the assist, or whatever the case is, everybody feels good and the vibe is just solid,” Curry said.
Who knows how everyone will be feeling come Game 3. Is Thompson really fine? Is Durant’s return imminent? Will Boogie Cousins be sore? Will Iguodala be able to shed some of those ice packs for Game 4?
The message in the locker room was unanimous: it doesn’t matter. The Warriors are going home, and they are flush with Toronto’s house money.