It’s stunning how the Warriors’ hopes of a three-peat went from stable to life support in 12 short minutes.
Golden State has been the game’s best third-quarter team for what feels like years now. One of their strengths under Steve Kerr, especially since the arrival of Kevin Durant three years ago, has been their ability to breathtakingly blow the doors off a team after halftime. At vaunted Oracle Arena, with a squad full of future Hall of Famers and a raucous crowd egging them on with each possession, how many times have we watched the Warriors blast their poor opponents into oblivion in the third quarter?
Too many to count, it feels like. And who among us, watching Game 4 of the NBA Finals Friday night, didn’t expect the energy and effort the Warriors displayed in the first two quarters to carry over into the third period? Klay Thompson was back and hitting shots. The two-time defending champs were playing hard-nosed defense, unlike Game 3, and it was paying immediate dividends. Toronto missed a whole lot of shots they made Wednesday. The Warriors were up four when the third quarter began. Twelve short minutes later they would be down 12. And 12 minutes after that they would be on the brink of abdicating their throne as the NBA’s best.
Toronto’s 105-92 win over the Warriors in Game 4 of the NBA Finals means Toronto is bringing a 3-1 lead home for Game 5 Monday night. The reasons they were easy winners are many, but the most obvious was the brilliance of Kawhi Leonard. Behind his scintillating 17 points in the third quarter, which started with two straight threes, the Raptors amassed a lead that was never in doubt the rest of the way. Every dart Leonard fired and sank in the third was like a gut punch to the Warriors. It zapped the defending champs’ energy. It hurt their spirit. And the undermanned, injured, and seemingly exhausted Warriors looked shocked that the roles had been reversed—the visiting squad had blown their doors off. The Raptors outscored the Warriors 37-21 in the frame.
“I thought they just took it to us right from the beginning of the quarter,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “Kawhi hit two threes immediately and they turned up the defense and they just got on a run. We just sort of lost that defensive tenacity we had in the first half.”
Golden State once upon a time blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, so this thing, at least statistically speaking, ain’t over. But 33 out of 34 times, the team with the 3-1 lead has gone on to celebrate with a parade.
Even with Klay Thompson back in the lineup, the Warriors looked outclassed by the Raptors. Thompson, who missed Game 3 with a bum hamstring, finished with 28 points, his return failing to provide the huge lift to Golden State it was expected to bring. It did early on, but it wasn’t sustainable. Steph Curry finished with a respectable 27 points, but wasn’t anywhere nearly as sharp as he was in Game 3, and the continued absence of Durant loomed way larger than we ever expected.
Game 4 was another dominating performance for Leonard, who finished with 36 points, 12 boards, and 4 steals. His shot, while lacking the beautiful arc of your typical sharpshooting assassin, was as precise and devastating as ever Friday. He continues to thoroughly outplay a bunch of the all-time greats on the Warriors while authoring one hell of a postseason run—he’s now tied for the second-most 30-point games in a single postseason in NBA history with 14.
“Obviously he’s playing great, and he’s lifted us a lot of times with big buckets or runs of buckets or just that settling bucket when the place is going crazy and he’ll calmly sink one to kind of quiet the crowd,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said after the game.
We know Leonard’s always been a dogged defender, but his offensive game feels like it’s been elevated to new levels. And let’s not forget that he’s been doing all this on a knee that isn’t close to 100 percent. While his robotic game will never look as pretty as KD’s or any of the league’s top scorers, Leonard’s efficiency has seemingly worn out the Warriors who have zero answers for him.
“He still don’t look like them, but he’s still getting it done,” Draymond Green said after the game. “You got to give him his credit. He imposed his will on the game, and all the other guys followed him. So I’m not sure if it will ever look like those other guys, but he gets the job done, so you got to give him credit for it.”
Golden State once upon a time blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, so this thing, at least statistically speaking, ain’t over. But 33 out of 34 times, the team with the 3-1 lead has gone on to celebrate with a parade. Because Toronto flipped the script on Golden State in the third quarter, with Leonard yet again leading the charge, the Raptors now get three cracks at ending the Warriors’ dreams of a three-peat.