By Adam Clements
Adam is a new site contributor at The Unsportsmen - You can follow Adam on Instagram for dope NBA content.
In American Football, the 3rd quarter is often referred to as the ‘championship quarter’, where games are won and lost. In the NBA, recent critics of basketball’s premier league worldwide have poked fun at the fact that in these days of the 3 point shooting avalanche only the last 6 minutes of the 4th quarter seem to matter, as seemingly no margin under 20 points is insurmountable.
Someone forgot to tell the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
The storylines of this Finals Series become more and more intriguing day to day, as the keyboard warriors of the ‘Twitterverse’ are simply running out of barbs to sling at the Warriors (Read: “Oh now they only have TWO All Stars”). The Warriors simply won a game that at one stage seemed unwinnable, and when Klay Thompson, playing in his 120th postseason game in a row, went down injured in the 4th quarter looking unlikely to return, even the most staunch Warriors fan would have clenched their teeth in an uneasy disappointment.
Looking back at game two, here is what went down in Toronto.
Both teams were slow to start, an offensive struggle played out as Toronto and the Warriors combined to make just 7 out of the first 25 shots. The Warriors offence appeared clunky with a returning DeMarcus Cousins surprisingly starting at center. Cousins did not look ready for summer in doing his best Oliver Miller impersonation, and the Raptors went after him early knowing his conditioning was not up to scratch. Steph Curry struggled early too, appearing slightly worse for wear before notching his first field goal after 7 attempts. The Raptors also had their problems in the first quarter on their home floor, with the lack of a consistent 2nd scoring was obvious as Kawhi Leonard battled the swarming defense without much help, often doubled and occasionally triple teamed - because why not? Make someone else beat you.
Once this seemingly contagious case of the yips subsided, it was the Raptors that took the ascendancy at first, charging into the paint and down the floor, for the Raptors everything was falling from fade-away jumpers to clumsy falling down layups. When Kyle Lowry hit a 3 to take the Raptors up by 10 midway through the second quarter, the crowd could sense the enormity of the occasion (we might go up 2-0 against the damn Warriors!), and this is perhaps where the wheels began to fall off, and the championship calibre of their opposition shone through. The spiteful early exchanges of the game had left many star players in foul trouble but both coaches felt a need to keep these players in the game such was the intensity of the battle and the fear of letting it get away.
Although Curry struggled from the outset, it would have been fresh in the minds of all in Toronto’s gym just what this modern NBA great is capable of. It had, after all, been less than a month since he single-handedly knocked James Harden and the Houston Rockets out of the playoffs with 33 second half points after a scoreless first, setting NBA Twitter on fire, first with with dismay at his performance and then utter disbelief at his second half comeback.
The Raptors took a 5 point buffer into the halftime break but for all their good deeds in the first half they would have felt their 5 point lead was unsatisfactory. With only a five point lead you can hear the Warriors footsteps behind, advancing quickly. The Warriors put the Raptors to the sword to begin the 2nd half, the Raptors watching helplessly as the Warriors scored 18 unanswered points while Toronto struggled to hit even uncontested jumpers on offence, and their lack of self belief and confidence that they seemed to exude in Game 1 all but evaporated. Understated contributions from Aussie Andrew Bogut and Quinn Cook, (editors note: Quinn Cook is looking like an actual basketball player at the moment, like an eighth or ninth man on a playoff team), helped the Warriors on a run that has come to be expected from this team. It took a Fred VanVleet 3 pointer to stop the bleeding, by which time the Warriors had a 10 point lead after a run that would prove the difference on the night and perhaps in the series.
Just as it felt the Warriors had finally wrestled themselves into a position to take a big road win, disaster struck, with Klay Thompson falling awkwardly and clutching at his hamstring before limping off the court not to be seen again. The game took a bizarre twist at this point, as the Raptors decided it didn’t matter who had the ball, as long as it wasn’t Steph. Unfortunately for the Raptors, Draymond Green and Boogie Cousins had their own ideas, shutting down the Raptors offence, with the entire game going stale but somehow becoming enthralling as neither team could score for 4 minutes.
When Kawhi drew it back to 5 with a minute left, the crowd awaited a miracle similar to their Easts Semis heroics against Philly. The next possession for the Raps saw three frantic offensive rebounds before a desperate Danny Green 3 landed, and then the Warriors just continued to prove that they can count on anyone in their lineup to make the big shot when they need it most. Somehow a smothered Steph Curry squeezed a pass seemingly through the middle of Kawhi’s massive claws to wily veteran Shaun Livingston, making the pass out to Andre Iguodala, another who has struggled from deep this postseason.
Time stood still and Iggy’s eyes started spinning, as he stopped, looked around, thought “Oh shit I’m actually going to shoot this!?”, almost tripped on his own Nikes before throwing up a dagger three that sealed the victory.
The Raptors, rather than seeing this as a missed opportunity, have to somehow construe this as a positive as they were honestly only one Kawhi intercept away from taking the game to OT. But that’s not to ignore the fact that they had the Warriors wounded and on the ropes, and missing the opportunity to steal two home games while arguably the best player in the league sat on the sideline could be costly. Kyle Lowry needs to be smarter (editors note: Lowry can’t foul out, that’s inexcusable), but whether he’s capable of that is to be seen as he’s as likely to go off for 30 as he is to go off the rails.
Things are about to get a lot tougher in Oakland.
For the Warriors, the big question is now will Klay play in game two, without him, and with KD also not on the floor, the Raptors shut down Curry with some innovative defence in the big moments down the 4th quarter stretch, going on a 10-0 run to trim the gap. Curry needs help if he’s going to win this series and he can’t do it without a big contribution from Klay, even if only to give the Raptors another man to chase off the arc. While the Warriors bench have been terrific in patches, none of them will send shivers down the spines of a feisty Raptors defence.
That was a stressful game to watch. Maybe next time I’ll just watch the last 6 minutes.....
Off to Oakland we go.
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