TORONTO – Five things we learned from the Golden State Warriors’ 109-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors in Game 2 of the 2019 Finals Sunday at Scotiabank Arena:
1. Hey, 109 is enough to win after all
Actually, 106 points would have been enough and that nearly had to be, once Golden State got there and stuck from the 5:39 mark of the final quarter until Andre Iguodala’s much-discussed open 3-pointer to seal it with 5.9 seconds left. The Warriors’ lead dwindled from a healthy dozen to a puny two until that bucket.
But the larger point is that Golden State scored 109 points in both Games 1 and 2, and has a 1-1 split to show for it. The swing team was Toronto, falling from 118 in the opener to 104 Sunday.
* The Wrap: Complete Game 2 Coverage
“So it was all about our defense,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “and we held them to 37 percent and forced 15 turnovers and guarded the 3-point line well. So it was championship defense and that’s what it’s going to take.”
Kerr’s focus was spot-on. Offensively, Golden State nearly duplicated its performance from one game to the next. Its shooting percentages were eerily similar, especially from distance (38.7 percent in Game 1, 38.2 in Game 2) and instead of turning over the ball 17 times, it did so “only” 16 times.
But as you look at the defensive side of the stats, you can almost hear – no, not Kerr’s raspy California voice, but Tony D’Amato’s, as played by Al Pacino, chewing scenery as the football coach in “Any Given Sunday,” telling his players where they could find the edge they need to rally for a victory.
“The inches we need are everywhere around us,” Pacino’s character said, in a Hollywood version of what coaches do. “They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch.”
That’s sort of how the Warriors found the 14 points they needed to flip 109 from a losing point total into something that got the job done. Limiting Toronto’s fast-break production to 18, rather than 24 in Game 1, well, that’s six points right there. Sending the Raptors to the line a little less by defending without whistles? That saved four more.
And so it went. Golden State knows itself well enough to believe that 109 points should be enough. Its defensive rating during the season was 109.5 points per 100 possessions, and clearly playoff basketball gets grindier. It will be an interesting line to watch for as long as this series continues.
2. It’s not just how many fouls you get…
… it’s often when you get them. By the end of Game 2, Golden State actually had been called for more fouls (26) than Toronto (22). Chances are, that’s surprising, because in the first half Sunday, it seemed as if the Raptors were headed toward multiple disqualifications.
As it turned out, only guard Kyle Lowry was required to exit with six fouls before the game was complete. He went out with about four minutes left and the Raptors still down by eight. His line was pretty unsatisfying: 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting with two assists in 28 minutes.
Much of the damage done to Toronto by foul calls came in the first five minutes of the second quarter, during which they picked up five. That put the Warriors in the bonus early and saddled key Raptors – Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam – with three each, while Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet had two.
Early fouls can gouge into a man’s minutes as surely as they can mess with his aggressiveness. VanVleet never picked up his third but Siakam and Gasol had to play with four. Those two combined for 18 points after scoring 52 in Game 1, and while all of the shortfall can’t be blamed on foul trouble, it had to be a factor.
“You try not to [consciously alter your style] but it's the nature of the game,” VanVleet said, talking about officiating inconsistencies from one play to the next. “As players you got to do a better job of adjusting and trying to find that fine line and straddle that line. I think that some of us did that better than others, and I thought that Kyle had a got a rough whistle a little bit, and it goes like that sometimes. So just got to try to beable to adjust and not focus on that so much.”
Lowry has been fighting foul trouble throughout these playoffs. It’s a by-product of his physical style of play and sometimes an unwanted consequence of his knack for drawing charges. Getting yanked with two fouls in the first quarter or three in the second might have hidden benefits to his late-game stamina, but it puts Toronto coach Nick Nurse into player rotations he wouldn’t naturally choose.
3. The psychological value of getting closer by halftime
Almost to a man, each time someone asked a question afterward about Golden State’s daunting 18-0 run to start the second half – a stretch that saw the Raptors stuck on 59 points for 5:40 of the third quarter – a Warriors player or coach would point out the little surge their side used to get closer before halftime.
They sounded as proud of their little 6-1 surge over the final minute of the half as they were of the 18 unanswered points. Steph Curry scored all six points, on a floater, a finger roll and a pair of free throws.
“Obviously Steph was great in closing out that half for us,” forward Draymond Green said, “and I think we should have been down by a lot more than five points [59-54]. But when you're going into the half down five, we know we can cover that in ten seconds. So our mindset was great coming out of the half.”
That Toronto lead once had been as much as 12, so the Warriors’ strong close to the half – and familiarity with the sort of third-quarter thunder they showed again Sunday – should have been enough to make the Raptors nervous.
4. We’ve seen this movie before
Let’s not go so far as to call what the Warriors gave us in Game 1 a “feel-out” game. That’s LeBron James’ pet term for all the times his teams dropped the opener of a playoff series. When they did, more often than not, James and his guys didn’t only not lose confidence when slipping into a 0-1 hole, they used the experience to address flaws, plug leaks, tweak matchups and generally get better. Consider: James’ Cavaliers and Heat teams won six of eight series when following up a loss in the opener with a victory in Game 2.
Righting the ship is a thing, apparently, if you’ve had practice.
We wouldn’t be honest, either, if we didn’t notice a pattern established in this 2019 postseason. Orlando jumped to a 1-0 lead vs. Toronto. Brooklyn went up 1-0 over Philadelphia. Paul Pierce smelled triumph when Boston grabbed a 1-0 lead over Milwaukee. And the Bucks seemed to be a lock when they won not just the first but the second game of the East finals for 2-0 control against the Raptors.
Didn’t mean a thing. The teams that started in a hole all roared back to win the next four games. The adjustments they made might have been subtle to the untrained eye, but the turnarounds were blatant and unforgiving.
With the series shifting to Oakland, with the Raptors about to experience Oracle Arena on full blast in its final Finals form, shots that certain Toronto players have taken tentatively so far in the playoffs might become un-launchable. Anything short of a split and they’ll need someone on the Golden State side to get suspended to slow the Warriors’ roll.
5. There’s banged up and then there’s too banged up
A former NBA All-Star who once played with Toronto found a ray of sunshine for his old team in the dark clouds parked over Golden State’s training room. At the airport Monday morning, headed back to the States, this veteran of playoff wars and various injuries himself saw some serious gloom and potential doom in the defending champions’ maladies.
“He’s not playing again if it’s a hamstring,” the retired star said of Warriors guard Klay Thompson, whose awkward landing after a jump shot had him angrily limping off the court in the final quarter of Game 2. “That’s seven to 14 days.”
Well, seven days could enable Thompson to return in time for Game 5 Monday in Toronto, so… But the former player shook his head. And there was more.
“They say Looney’s messed up on the whole upper side of his chest,” he said of Golden State big man Kevon Looney, who suffered a bruise to his collarbone or chest when he landed hard after defending a Kawhi Leonard drive.
Good thing then the Warriors have Kevin Durant coming back, right? Maybe not right. The former player didn’t hesitate.
“He’s not coming back. He’s a free agent, right? Come back and get hurt again? Uh uh.”
It’s hard to know what to make of all this negativity about the Warriors’ injury inventory. If a savvy, been-there, dealt-with-that NBA star can be right based on his own experiences rather than any inside peek within the Golden State medical quarters, the Raptors might catch a break in facing thinned ranks.
Then again, Thompson historically has been a quick healer. And unless the Warriors have been dealing in sheer gamesmanship, the talk of Durant returning from his strained calf has been out there for more than a week.
Keep in mind, too, that the player in question was neither Julius Erving nor Glenn Rivers, putting his M.D. credentials in doubt.