TORONTO — The Golden State Warriors’ current run has been defined by their best players possessing the ability to come up monumentally when the moment is at its most demanding. Down double-digits in the second quarter to the pesky Raptors, in front of a rabid Toronto crowd that could taste a runaway win before the half even came to its conclusion, gut check time came early for the Dubs.
“I think we should have been down by a lot more than five points,” Draymond Green said after the game. “But when you’re going in, you know, into the half down five, we know we can cover that in ten seconds.”
Golden State managed to do just that, answering the major question being asked of them with a run for the ages. A monster 22-1 stretch between the end of the second and the midway point of the third saw Steve Kerr’s bunch go from eight points down to 13 points up, mixing championship-caliber offense and defense en route to a 109-104 Game 2 win in the NBA Finals on Sunday night.
The third quarter avalanche that has become commonplace during this version of the franchise was preceded by a second quarter stretch that kept the game from getting wholly out of hand. Down by as many as 12 and facing an 11-point deficit with a hair over two minutes remaining in the frame, Golden State began slowly chipping away. A 9-3 run to end the quarter, one in which Toronto only made one shot from the field, doesn’t seem like a turning point on its own, but there’s a gigantic difference between going into the locker room with a mountain to climb and heading into the half needing to conquer a mere molehill.
Steve Kerr admitted after the game the importance of getting a lift before the break. The Warriors are champions, but even they need to know they’re not teetering on the brink of disaster.
“I think our guys felt renewed life at that point and came out and just had a great run to take control of the game,” Kerr said. “And we were able to finish it out from there.”
The boost in spirit was evident. Outside of Klay Thompson, who looked primed to hit every shot he took on the evening no matter how little space he was afforded, no one really seemed to have found themselves in a groove. Even Steph Curry’s 16 points heading into the locker room were a touch misleading, as he struggled in the early going before scoring eight points to end the second.
The biggest key to beating Golden State, outside of getting white hot from the field, is mucking up their rhythm. When the Warriors can get loose and appear to be free of any concerns, they will not lose. For how good their offense is when this happens, the seeds for this are planted on the other end of the floor.
“We got stops,” Green said when asked about what sparked the run. “We took away their transition buckets and we got transition buckets. We always say we’re at our best when we’re … that’s our best offense when we’re getting stops and we’re pushing the ball.”
It can feel a bit odd to say that one stretch defined an entire basketball game, especially when there was still another quarter-plus of action that needed to play out, and double especially when you look back on all that happened in the time following the run. The Warriors turned to Andrew Bogut to play major minutes down the stretch and the Raptors repeatedly chipped away and got perpetually closer and closer, though never quite getting over the hump. But we’ve seen this before, and we know how and why the script plays out the way it does, which is why we can say the 22-1 stretch — one which included 18 unanswered points to being the third quarter — was what decided this one.
“In that third quarter, we didn’t score the ball in like the first five minutes, four and a half minutes, obviously led to them getting out in transition early and a lot of layups and open looks, and that was pretty much the game right there,” Kawhi Leonard said.
“It pretty much won us the game because we established our defensive presence, we got stops and everybody got involved in the offensive end,” Curry said. “And when you come to the timeout 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, and we know that we have taken control of the momentum and then it’s just about sustaining it down the stretch.”
After an uncharacteristically un-Warriors Game 1, the team did what it’s done so well over the years in Game 2. The high-flying offense mixed with stifling defense and a monster run — usually in the third quarter — is as much of a Bay Area institution as McCovey’s Cove or venture capitalists who created an app that doesn’t solve any problems or have any vowels in its name for some reason no one will ever understand. The names will change, but the song remains the same. It’s why DeMarcus Cousins could go from looking like he couldn’t move particularly well in Game 1 to playing 28 minutes and tying for the team-high in plus-minus in Game 2, or why Quinn Cook can come off the bench and hit three triples, one of which led to a sidelined Curry sprinting toward his backup to celebrate.
Toronto can certainly take away plenty of reasons for optimism, namely that everyone outside of Leonard and Fred VanVleet really struggled to get going offensively and the team just could not hit any wide open shots to get them over the hump. Chalk it up to a bad night, and suddenly, a five-point loss to the defending champions isn’t nearly as had a pill to swallow. Add in that Thompson and Kevon Looney picked up injuries and their statuses for Game 3 are unclear — although Thompson told Steve Kerr he plans on playing despite hurting his left hamstring in the fourth quarter and watching the final eight minutes or so from the locker room — and who knows what can end up happening.
Visiting Oracle Arena and winning is hard, but beating a team as good as the Raptors could be just as tough, especially with a former NBA Finals MVP leading the charge.
“Obviously on somebody else’s home floor, they got the sixth man with the crowd,” Leonard said. “But [we] just have to buy into ourselves and come out hard, strong, no mistakes, no turnovers.”
If a series doesn’t start until the road team wins a game, though, Golden State made sure the NBA Finals started in earnest on Sunday. Now, the Warriors return home knowing that if they defend their home court, a third championship in a row and a fourth in five years is only a few games away.