OAKLAND – As the second half was about to begin in Game 4 with the Raptors trailing 46-42, it felt like the team that would take control of the third quarter would not only win, but gain the upper hand in the series, even though momentum isn’t real and life is a series of Tolstoy coincidences.
At home, in what was at best the second to last game at Oracle ever, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, a gutsy Klay Thompson, and the rest of the Warriors needed to muster up a signature of their current run or risk watching their otherwise impenetrable dynasty crumble. One more indomitable third quarter could stamp out the Raptors and send the Warriors back to Toronto tied 2-2, with Kevin Durant potentially waiting in the wings and the champs set up to play a best of three to three-peat.
There was only one problem: Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard started the quarter with a three, a steal, and another three in the first 46 seconds. Many of Oracle’s big ticket fans, who pay ungodly amounts of money for the privilege and are a big part of the reason why the team is moving to San Francisco to open a giant playground for the rich instead of staying in Oakland, hadn’t even gotten back to their seats yet from the hospitality lounge. Just like that, the Raptors were up. Just like that the Warriors were faced with death.
“Kawhi Leonard came out and hit two big F-you shots to start the half,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said after the game. “There’s no defense for that. There are no schemes for that. That’s two big-boy shots that he came out of the half with, two back-to-back threes. And that just kind of let you know how we were going to approach the third quarter and the rest of the half.”
Leonard has a knack for delivering in the biggest of moments (see: fortuitous bounces and lingering beats as his game winner went down against Philly), but quietly he’s become a one-man third quarter killer the likes of which we’ve only previously seen out of the Warriors. Heading into Friday, Kawhi averaged 10.8 points in the third quarter on 55.6 percent shooting and a scalding 52.6 percent from beyond the arc during the playoffs.
In Game 3 against the Warriors, Leonard’s ability to dominate after the break was on display, going for 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting with three boards, two dimes, and two blocks. But it’s hardly the first time he’s shown a Warriors-esque ability to take over the third. In Games 3 and 4 against Philly — a loss and a win for the Raptors, respectively — Leonard put together back-to-back 14-point third quarters on 11-for-12 shooting. Following a Game 1 loss to the Orlando Magic, Leonard’s third quarter in Game 2 was a virtuoso performance, dropping 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting.