It looked dicey for a moment, but the Warriors surged in the third quarter of Game 2 to even the NBA Finals.
Through six quarters of the 2019 NBA Finals the Golden State Warriors had yet to have a moment that put their stamp on the series.
Game 1 saw a raucous Toronto crowd cheer from tip off to final buzzer. The Raptors threw the first punch of the Finals and were playing with house money as they held a five-point advantage at halftime.
Then it happened.
The Warriors opened up the third quarter of Game 2 with an 18-0 run to pull ahead 72-59 nearly halfway through the quarter.
Over the duration of Golden State dynasty 2.0–since signing Kevin Durant—the Warriors have made a custom of going full throttle coming out of halftime. Their third quarter outbursts have become a thing of legend around the league.
We saw similar second half surges out of the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. Even though Golden State would sweep the series, Portland held double-digit leads in three of the four games. However, each time the Warriors were able to erase the lead in the second half.
Game 2 marked the sixth consecutive game that Golden State had faced a double-digit deficit in this postseason.
Last night, the Warriors’ third quarter run not only changed the momentum of that game, but this series as well.
The Raptors were having one of the best defensive effort we’ve seen against Golden State, so how did the Warriors half court offense go from stifled to flourishing?
Below we’ll discuss the changes Steve Kerr and the Warriors made that helped them build a commanding lead that they were able to hold on to despite injuries to key players down the stretch.
Before the Golden State Warriors won their first title in 2015, the narrative in the NBA was that “jump shooting teams” could not win a championship. The overwhelming thought was that the increased defensive physicality and intensity of the playoffs would make it harder for teams to rely solely on perimeter play as their main source of scoring.
The Warriors winning three of the last four NBA Finals has thankfully put that notion to rest.
Yet, good defensive teams can still make life difficult for teams that want to attack from the outside first. Toronto has done a tremendous job of making Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson work for their shots away from the hoop. There aren’t many times where the Splash Brothers have found themselves open on the perimeter to get off rhythm shots.
The Raptors length and depth on the wing make it so that they can always give the shooting prowess of Curry and Thompson the proper respect—especially with Kevin Durant still sidelined.
Yesterday, Golden State inverted their attack in the third quarter and it paid off immediately.
Instead of looping off the ball perimeter cuts designed to create space for open three-pointers, the Warriors opted for backdoor and basket cuts to get layups. Even if the final shot didn’t come at the rim just getting a player into the lane forces an aggressive defense to react. Golden State was able to use that to their advantage and get easy looks as a result.
Lost in all the hype of the three-point revolution that the NBA is currently undergoing is the fact that layups and dunks are still the most efficient ways to score the basketball.
Golden State often uses the post as a spot on the floor to facilitate from. The Warriors are the reason that the term “split cut” is now a major part of basketball lexicon.
The split cut puts defenders in a lose-lose situation. If both defenders follow the shooter (usually Curry or Thompson) then it allows the screener an open path to the rim. If both defenders follow the roller (usually Iguodala or Livingston) then the shooter gets a wide-open look.
If there is any miscommunication or hesitancy by either defender that’s all the time needed for Draymond Green or DeMarcus Cousins to slip the ball to either player. Sometimes, the Warriors are really mean and have Curry AND Thompson involved in the split cut action.
In the third quarter we saw the Warriors seek out post entry passes to begin their possessions. With Cousins looking more like his 2017-18 self than we saw all season, it allowed Golden State to attack Toronto in a different way than during Game 1 and the first half of Game 2.
Finally, even though the offensive exploits of Curry, Durant, and Thompson have spearheaded the Warriors run the last three seasons the aspect of this group that has truly set them apart from the competition is their defense.
Led by the talent and versatility of Draymond Green, the Warriors have been one of the best defensive teams in the league when they are committed and locked in.
In order to go on an 18-0 run, one team has to stop the other team from scoring. Golden State allowed Toronto to score 59 points in the first half, nearly a 30 point per quarter average. In the third, the Raptors only scored 21 points.
Toronto was carried by Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol Fred VanVleet and Kawhi Leonard on their way to their Game 1 victory, however, during the 18-0 run those four combined to go 0-8 from the field.
Siakam’s 32 points led the way for the Raptors in Game 1, in Game 2 he was held to just 12 points and shot 5-18 from the floor (0-6 when defended by Green).
Gasol’s 20 points were the third highest for Toronto as he took advantage of Jordan Bell and open perimeter looks early to get into a groove. With Cousins on the floor more in Game 2 Gasol’s performance suffered as foul trouble saw him only score six points in 31 minutes.
VanVleet (17 points) and Leonard (34 points) both had good scoring totals at the end of the game but combined to shoot 15-37 (40.5 percent) from the field in Game 2.
The main reason that the Warriors were able to dominate the third quarter is that they got back to playing focused championship-caliber defense. The type of defense that has made them into one of the best teams in NBA history.