After one game it looked like the Golden State Warriors were in trouble.
But after one quarter, it felt like the Toronto Raptors had blown their best chance of dethroning the champs.
Down 59-54 at the half, the Warriors did what they always do, run their opponent out the gym during the third quarter. A five-minute span that included an 18-0 run changed the entire game for the Warriors, and maybe the series.
“In the third quarter we imposed our will and got stops on the defensive end, and no matter how hard it was down the stretch, we got it done,” said Steph Curry.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse won’t sleep much this week as I’m sure he’ll be up wondering how his team went from being up 5 on the defending champs to being down 13 in a matter of minutes, as Sunday night’s game felt like a role reversal.
This five-year run that the Warriors have been on was built on the foundation of “Stretch in Numbers,” as depth was always Golden State’s calling card. With the arrival of Kevin Durant and the acquisition of Demarcus Cousin, the depth of the Warriors is nowhere near what it was a few years ago, as they’ve become top-heavy with the ridiculous amount of talent they possess in their starting lineup.
In Game 1, it felt like the Raptors used the Warriors old formula against them, as guys like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Danny Green, and Marc Gasol stepped up while Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry had pedestrian games.
But on Sunday, and especially in the second half, it was the Warriors who used a team concept to even the series. After coming off the bench in his first NBA Finals game, Cousins got the starting nod and was huge for the Warriors with 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists as he was a +12 on the floor in 26 minutes.
Quinn Cook knocked down three huge 3-pointers in the second half, as Klay Thompson left the game with a leg injury. Andrew Bogut even gave Golden State 6 crucial points off the bench, and Andre Iguodala’s 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left sealed the win for Golden State as they were in the midst of a 10-0 run by the Raptors. The 3-pointer from the former Finals MVP were the only points Golden State scored in the last five minutes.
“The whole fourth quarter they were playing some janky defenses trying to send bodies to me everywhere, and our whole roster just took advantage of it,” said Curry. “Over the course of the game, it’s kind of disrespectful to leave Andre Iguodala out there open like that. With the game on the line he’s made big shots like that before, and he got it done tonight.”
With the series moving to Oakland for Game 3 on Wednesday, all eyes will be on the Warriors as rumors have been swirling that Kevin Durant could possibly return. This is why Sunday was so important for Draymond Green, the Warrior who has stepped up the most while Durant has been out, and his defense and all-around game were on display once again.
“I have to be more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball,” Green said after Game 1. “I think aggressiveness starts with me and everybody else will follow that. If I’m on my heels, everyone else is on their heels. I think that was kind of the story of (Game 1). I started the game not as aggressive as I could be on that side of the ball and it showed in our team defense.”
Green finished with a triple-double in Game 1, and was one assist away from his fourth straight on Sunday, as his stat line read 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists.
Sunday’s win means that the Warriors have now won a road game in 23 straight series, as the homecourt advantage is now in their favor.
The questions about whether or not the insertion of Cousins into the lineup would hinder the Warriors have been answered. And with Durant’s return imminent, all the pressure is now on the Raptors as Golden State is closer to having all of their stars back on the floor.