The Toronto Raptors hosted Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday evening and, while that would be a landmark occasion for any franchise, it was especially so for Canada’s team. The square-off with the Golden State Warriors was the first NBA Finals game in the country and, with a lot riding on the outcome in a game that did not feature Kevin Durant, the Raptors held serve at home, taking care of business to the tune of a 118-109 victory to take the series lead.
From the outset, the assembled crowd in Toronto was explosive and things came to a crescendo when Danny Green connected on the first bucket.
Aside from the early fireworks, there wasn’t much in the way of effective offense on either side, with visible nerves in the works and a lot of quick threes from both teams. Still, the Raptors drew first blood, using a 9-2 run to take an 18-11 lead.
The Warriors would retaliate, with 11 points in the first eight minutes from Steph Curry and a big-time dunk from Klay Thompson to give the visitors the lead.
At the end of the first quarter, the Raptors closed on a glacially paced 7-2 run, taking advantage of a scoreless streak of more than four minutes from the Warriors.
All told, the Warriors shot 7-of-23 in the first quarter and, unfortunately for Steve Kerr’s team, that inaccurate shooting continued into the second period. There was a brief bit of positivity, though, as DeMarcus Cousins returned to action for the first time since April 15, arriving with a few nice passes in traffic.
The Warriors mounted a bit of a charge, taking a 41-40 lead, but the rest of the half belonged to Toronto. In fact, the Raptors finished the second quarter on a 19-8 run to take a double-digit lead (59-49) into the halftime break, and it was a total team effort.
Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam combined for 26 points in the first half, including 4-of-6 from three-point range, and the Raptors scored at a blistering pace on a per-possession basis. Defensively, Toronto was able to hold Golden State to 37 percent shooting and, even without too much scoring production from Kawhi Leonard, it was a haymaker from the home team.
By the early portion of the third quarter, foul trouble also creeped in to the discussion, with Draymond Green picking up his fourth foul for the Warriors and both Gasol and Leonard carrying three fouls on the Toronto side. Golden State showed early offensive signs but, in response, the Raptors reeled off an efficient stretch of their own (led by Siakam), maintaining their 10-point advantage despite 14 points in five minutes for the reigning champs.
Golden State did continue scoring effectively, posting a 32-point third quarter on 48 percent shooting, but Toronto countered to keep things manageable. The Raptors shot 52 percent in the period and, despite a charge from the Warriors, the home team took a seven-point edge, thanks in part to the work of Siakam.
Early in the fourth, the Warriors climbed within only a three-point deficit and, considering they did so with a bench-driven unit on the floor, things were looking up with an eye toward overall competitiveness. On cue, the Raptors pushed back with an impressive 10-1 run, using the brilliance of Siakam and a three-point connection from Green.
That spurt gave the Raptors a 12-point advantage with 7:31 remaining and, for all intents and purposes, that margin proved to be decisive. Golden State did cut the lead to single-digits but, after a three-pointer from Leonard, Siakam sent yet another message with a highlight-reel blocked shot.
For good measure, Fred VanVleet connected on a wild “dagger” that needed help from the backboard and rim.
From there, the “big run” never materialized for the Warriors and the Raptors were able to cruise into the locker room with a 1-0 series lead. Siakam was the story of the night, finishing with 32 points (on 14-of-17 shooting), eight rebounds and five assists and he wasn’t alone. Leonard posted an understated 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists, with Gasol adding 20 points and seven rebounds, and VanVleet contributing 15 points in reserve duty.
On the Golden State side, Green produced a triple-double, Curry zoomed to 34 points and Thompson added 21 points in support. However, it wasn’t enough and one of the more damning statistics of the evening came in the form of the Warriors’ largest lead at only two points. To add (potential) injury to insult, Andre Iguodala looked to be limping near the end of the contest, foreshadowing a potential issue for Game 2 and beyond.
For only the second time in the Steve Kerr era, the Warriors dropped Game 1 of a postseason series and, in this case, Golden State doesn’t have a home game on the horizon to stop the bleeding in Game 2 on Sunday. To put it plainly, that face-off will be must-see TV and the Raptors could send quite a message with a repeat performance.