The Golden State Warriors aren’t accustomed to being down early in an NBA Finals.
The Toronto Raptors, well, everything at this level is brand new for the Toronto Raptors, but it was the new guys to the party who looked poised and composed and, for that reason, they are the ones that own the early 1-0 edge in this series.
Led by Pascal Siakam, who looked anything but a first-time participant in the Finals, going off for 32 points, the Raptors stayed with the Warriors in the early going, the lead switching back and forth before the home side put a little space between them late in the first half.
Even with a 12-point lead late in the third and then again early in the fourth, the Raptors expected another Golden State run was coming. How could they not? The Warriors have just about trademarked the early third-quarter run but, on this night, it didn’t really materialize.
Credit Toronto’s defence for that.
“Well, their defence was great and it wasn’t our best night, but we just got outplayed, so simple as that,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said post-game.
Golden State’s defence was stellar on Kawhi Leonard, but that took a number of bodies and opened things up for guys like Siakam and Marc Gasol.
Draymond Green, who had the Siakam defensive assignment, gave the third-year Raptor his due in Game 1, but promised a different outcome in Game 2 on Sunday.
“He’s become a guy,” Green said. “He put a lot of work in to get there and I respect that. But like I said, I’ve got to take him out of the series and that’s on me.”
The Warriors scored 32 points in the third quarter and won the frame by three but it was the only segment of the night they would hold the advantage in.
Spurred on by a sellout crowd at Scotiabank Arena that sounded as loud and as passionate as itdid in Kyle Lowry’s first Toronto playoff visit against Brooklyn, the Raptors, after an early show of nerves when Lowry sent his first pass into the second row behind Toronto’s bench, settled in and looked the far more battle-tested team.
Gasol, of all Raptors, got them settled in with some early unexpected scoring. Gasol, who was criticized in the Philadelphia series for passing up shots when they presented themselves, had no such issues in his first NBA Finals appearance, pulling the trigger on three three-pointers and making two of them in a 14-point first half.
“They were blitzing Kawhi on the pick-and-roll and allowing the middle of the floor open, or they were switching early on the offence,” Gasol said, explaining his uncharacteristic offensive contribution. “We did a good job of moving that ball.”
Toronto’s defence, once it settled in, got back to the level that helped it dispatch Milwaukee in six games to reach this Final. The rebounding was still an issue with the Warriors holding a large edge most of the night before Toronto closed the gap late and wound up losing the battle by just two boards.
But Toronto’s ability to force the Warriors into bad shots and, late in the game, limit them to twos when they were desperately trying to get to their three-ball game, was impressive.
Steph Curry got off to a quick start with a few threes but seemed to struggle big time once Fred VanVleet got into the game and was put on him.
Back in December, VanVleet was primarily responsible for holding Curry to just 13 points in that huge win by the Raptors at Oracle, picking him up full-court and pestering him into a truly un-Curry like night.
VanVleet admitted he drew from that experience and, while Curry eventually ended up with a game-high 34 points, 14 of those came from the free-throw line. VanVleet likely slept well, knowing he did a solid job on the hottest scorer in these NBA playoffs.
Lowry, meanwhile, wasn’t having a huge impact on the scoreboard directly, with just four points through the first 40 minutes, but he had the crowd chanting his name — twice in fact, both times after taking a charge as the faithful jumped fully on-board, recognizing how important the non-scoring things he does on a basketball court.
Lowry, though, would not be around for a third, coming out of the game with just over eight minutes remaining when he picked up his fifth foul trying to come over the back of Kevin Looney, attempting a tough block and wound up with the foul instead. He returned with about 2 1/2 minutes to go and helped the team close this one out with a very long three in the final seconds.
Absorbing the charges, though, were worthy of chants, one a straight-line, full-speed knee to the chest from Draymond Green and the second a bull’s rush from DeMarcus Cousins, who has almost 80 pounds on Lowry.
With his 32-point night, Siakam joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Tim Duncan as the only NBA players since 1970 to have a 30-plus point game in a Finals in just their third year in the league.
Siakam, who struggled in the Milwaukee series trying to shoot over and around the long arms of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez, had no such issues with the Warriors, going right at whichever defender was on him and scoring at will. He missed just three shots all night going 14-for-17 from the field and 2-for-3 from behind the arc.
The Warriors, as mentioned, were far more concerned with stopping Leonard and did so to a degree, holding him to just 23 points.
Foul trouble hit both teams early. By halftime Leonard, who rarely if ever worries about foul trouble, had three. That was offset by the three Green picked up for the Warriors while trying to contain Siakam. But Green is no stranger to fouls. Both men, though could be seen shying away in defensive situations to ensure they didn’t pick up that fourth one too early.
Green got there midway through the third, as did Gasol, who had just two in the first half but got two quick ones in the third.
The Raps made it clear right away that they weren’t just content matching the Warriors three-pointer for three-pointer, but wanted to push the envelope and beat the Warriors at their own game.
Through a half Toronto was 8-for-19 from behind the arc with two apiece from Siakam, Gasol and Danny Green. They ended the game going 13-for-31 from three, just a hair under 40% while the Warriors made good on just 11 of their 31 attempts
Green, who hadn’t hit a three since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final and was 0-for-9 in the final three games of that series, missed his first attempt but then made the second. The crowd, knowing how crucial it was to get Green going early, screamed its appreciation and chanted ‘Danny!, Danny!’
He ended up going going 3-for-7 from distance and hopefully putting to rest all the unwanted, but well-meant advice he was getting from friends, family and strangers.
The two teams now have two days to tweak things before they go to battle again on Sunday in Game 2.
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