The terms for Game 3 weren’t set until moments before tipoff, when the Golden State Warriors finally confirmed that Klay Thompson would miss the first playoff game of his career because of a hamstring injury.
That news stripped the night of its complexity, leaving this: Stephen Curry would be left to wage a one-man battle with the Toronto Raptors, with the winner taking a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
With Thompson, Kevin Durant and Kevon Looney sidelined, the Warriors needed nothing short of a spectacular performance from Curry. The two-time MVP delivered, but his 47-point tour de force wasn’t enough against the balanced and steady Raptors, who reclaimed home-court advantage with a 123-109 win at Oracle Arena.
“My dad used to tell me the stats don’t matter, just the final score,” Raptors Coach Nick Nurse said. “We’ll just take the win and be thankful for that.”
Toronto never truly buckled in the face of Curry’s onslaught, countering with hot outside shooting to maintain a lead for the game’s final 45 minutes. All five Raptors starters scored in double figures, with Kawhi Leonard notching a team-high 30 points and Danny Green pouring in six three-pointers. While the Warriors turned to Curry for answers on possession after possession, the Raptors calmly worked the ball around to register 30 assists on 43 baskets.
There were moments of valor for all five Raptors starters. Marc Gasol opened the game aggressively, applying pressure to Golden State’s interior defense and keeping DeMarcus Cousins on his heels. Pascal Siakam started hot after a quiet Game 2, using his length to help Toronto build its early lead. Leonard continued his pile-driver approach, earning 11 free throw attempts by picking his spots to attack off the dribble. And Green, the oft-overlooked shooting guard, turned back the clock with an outside shooting display reminiscent of his best work with the San Antonio Spurs a half-decade ago.
But a breakout performance from Kyle Lowry, who was beset by foul trouble and struggled to score earlier in this series, will most delight Nurse. The all-star point guard scored 23 points and had nine assists, pushing back with timely jumpers when Curry threatened to seize control in the second half.
“Kyle was huge [for our flow] all year,” Green said. “I love playing with him so much. He’s the quarterback throwing the ball ahead, which sets up the kickout looks for me. He gets paid the big bucks for doing the little things, and tonight he scored big, too. He’s a pit bull.”
Had there been a weak link in Toronto’s starting group, Curry’s career night wouldn’t have gone for naught. He slithered through the Raptors’ defense from start to finish, shedding extra defenders with in-and-out dribbles and quick-trigger step backs. He shot 14 for 31 from the field and nailed six three-pointers, drawing appreciative “M-V-P” chants from the Oracle crowd throughout the second half. After rattling in one three-pointer, Curry skipped down the court to a hearty standing ovation.
It didn’t take long to realize, though, that Curry would be lacking in help. It took nearly eight minutes for another Warriors player to make a field goal, and Curry scored or assisted on his team’s first eight. Curry’s teammates combined to shoot just 6 for 21 from beyond the arc, while Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green were the only other Warriors to reach double figures.
At halftime, Curry’s 25 points nearly matched his teammates’ combined output of 27. By night’s end, he had tallied the eighth-highest scoring total in NBA Finals history.
“He does things that honestly I don’t think anybody has ever done before,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “The way he plays the game, the way he shoots it and the combination of his ballhandling and shooting skills, it’s incredible to watch. He was amazing.”
Squandering such an extraordinary effort from Curry in a losing effort will naturally increase the scrutiny on Thompson and Durant. On Tuesday, Kerr said he was “very hopeful” that both would return to the series. Before Game 3, Kerr said Durant was improving in his recovery from a calf injury and had gone through good workouts on both Tuesday and Wednesday with on-court work scheduled for Thursday.
“We’re missing 50 points [per game], pretty much, between KD and Klay,” Curry said. “We’ll adjust. it’s a long series. You’ve got to tip your cap to all their guys who made pivotal plays. They played well.”
Toronto proved it has enough experience and talent to survive Curry’s best solo work and enough resilience to bounce back from a deflating Game 2. The next chapter of this series will hinge on whether Curry’s help can arrive in time.
“Everybody wants to see us lose,” Draymond Green said. “I’m sure people are happy [our guys are] hurt. We just got to continue to battle and win the next game, go back to Toronto, win Game 5, come back to Oracle, win Game 6 and then celebrate. Fun times ahead.”
Game 4 is Friday.