The Warriors survived a new crop of injuries to beat the Raptors in Game 2 and even the NBA Finals at 1-1.
The Warriors are a different, albeit equally dangerous, team without Kevin Durant in the lineup. In Game 2, they saw Stephen Curry head to the locker room early in the first half because of illness. He returned and finished with 23 points but on 6-of-17 shooting and clearly wasn’t himself. Injuries to Klay Thompson and Kevan Looney (more on that later) forced the Warriors to close out what was essentially a single-possession game with a Curry-Quinn Cook-Andre Iguodala-Draymond Green-DeMarcus Cousins lineup. But the Warriors did enough to escape with a five-point win and even things up before the series moves to Oakland.
On the other end, the Raptors offense struggled mightily against a reinvigorated and re-focused Warriors defense. Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points thanks to 16 made free throws but, as a team, the Raptors had 15 turnovers and shot under 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from the 3-point line. The Raptors almost pulled it off despite their struggles but if the Warriors go on to win this series, Toronto’s inability to take this game, with the Warriors hampered by injury, could haunt them.
The Warriors’ depth is going to continue to be tested. Golden State’s health issues have been one of the most obvious storylines of the Finals and it just keeps getting worse. Kevan Looney, who has been by far the Warriors most effective bench player during this playoff run, took a hard fall and sprained a joint connected to his collar bone. He did not return after that injury. Then, early in the fourth quarter, Klay Thompson landed awkwardly on a 3-point attempt and appeared to tweak his hamstring, and he also did not play again in the game. The result was that Golden State needed both Curry and Green to play over 40 minutes, with DeMarcus Cousins playing 28 in just his second game back in the lineup, and Quinn Cook playing 21 off the bench. If the Warriors get the word that Thompson and/or Looney can’t go for Game 3, things either get extremely tight or force them to potentially get Kevin Durant back on the floor before he’s 100 percent.
The Warriors did their thing in the third quarter. Golden State’s post-halftime runs are a thing of legend and they had honed their act in the Western Conference Finals, outscoring the Trail Blazers by an average of 25.3 points per 100 possessions in the third quarters of that series. In Game 1, Toronto took a 10-point lead into halftime and weathered the storm after the break, keeping Golden State at an arm’s length, only letting them cut the lead to seven heading into the fourth. In Game 2, Toronto took a five-point lead into halftime but gave up every ounce of momentum with an 18-0 Warriors’ run coming out of the break. That run put the Raptors on their heels for the fourth quarter, a place they never really found themselves in Game 1. The cushion the Warriors’ built themselves with that run was enough to hold off Toronto down the stretch.
What’s the next adjustment? With all the star power and the incredible skill from role players, this series will be much more of a chess match than the LeBron-Warriors matchups of the past few seasons. After watching Toronto’s supporting cast go off in Game 1, the Warriors were much more deliberate about staying home and trying to let Kawhi Leonard beat them one-on-one. Siakam, Gasol and VanVleet were nowhere near as effective as in Game 1 and the Raptors offense sputtered through several key stretches. At the other end, once Thompson left the game, the Raptors broke out the box-and-one defense, something you almost never see in an NBA game. VanVleet chased Curry through every action and the other Raptors stuck in a box-shaped zone around the lane. The unorthodox defense seemed to flummox Golden State for a good chunk of the fourth quarter and helped Toronto close the gap. What wrinkles will decide Game 3?