Through nine games this season, the Golden State Warriors were winless when their offensive engine Stephen Curry scored less than 30 points.
That statistic changed Sunday night, however, as Golden State picked up its sixth win of the season on a night where Curry was held to just 11 points.
In a 106-105 win over the visiting Toronto Raptors (2-7), it was up to the Warriors (6-4) supporting cast in addition to a stout defensive effort to pull out their fourth win in five games.
“Toronto is one of the toughest teams in the league to guard,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “I’m really proud of the group. Over the last 10 days or so, they’ve established that they’re going to be an excellent defensive team and we can still get better.”
Through eight games this season, the Toronto Raptors, who bested Golden State in the 2019 NBA Finals, lead the league in three-point shots attempted per contest. Averaging 42.9 shots per game behind the arc, Toronto also ranked fourth in the NBA with three-point field goals made per game (15.5).
With this knowledge at hand, Golden State’s primary defensive objective was to defend the three-point line in order to prevent a barrage of triples.
Switching off of screens and closing out on open shooters, the Warriors’ defensive strategy proved effective. In the first quarter, the Warriors held Toronto to a 33-percent shooting percentage, including 25-percent (3-for-12) from the three-point line.
“They have a very interesting lineup where pretty much at all times, all five guys can either space a three or put it on the floor,” Curry said. “All of those things taken into consideration, a really really solid effort to make them work every possession.”
On the offensive side of the ball, it was up to Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins as well as rookie center James Wiseman to keep Golden State ahead as the pair contributed 9 and 8 points, respectively in the first.
Wiggins, who hit three of his four attempted triples in the first quarter, would finish the game with a team-high 17 points while also dishing out four assists and four blocks.
By halftime, the Warriors were able to open up a 10-point lead thanks to forward Eric Paschall and guard Damion Lee, who each contributed eight points.
In surprising fashion, no help came from Golden State’s leading scorer in Curry, who missed six of the seven shots he took in the first half. Scoring just three points in the first two frames of the game, Curry’s abysmal night carried into the second half as well.
In fact, between the 2:50 mark of the first quarter and the 2:43 mark of the fourth, Curry missed 14 consecutive shots — the worst stretch of his 13-year NBA career.
Looking at Curry, the reason for his poor performance appeared somewhat obvious. With blood along the collar of his jersey as well as cuts and bruises coating his arms, Toronto looked to physically disrupt Curry.
“They had the personnel that they could switch a lot and they have a lot of length and speed,” Curry said. “I missed some easy ones but they did a great job sending bodies.”
This effort to enforce physicality on Curry showed up on his stat line. In fact, six of his 11 points on the night came from the free throw line.
Heading into the fourth, Golden State held a 15-point lead but the Raptors, who finally began to clamp down on Golden State’s offense, constructed a 20-6 run midway through the final quarter. That run — the biggest of the game — put Toronto ahead by three points with less than two minutes to play.
Much of the offensive work was done by Toronto’s starting point guard Kyle Lowry. Scoring 16 of his 17 total points of the game in the fourth, Lowry helped the Raptors secure a one-point lead with just 7.7 seconds to play.
On the ensuing inbound play, the Raptors double-teamed Curry, allowing Lee to create enough space to pull up from behind the arc. Ironically, it was Lowry who fouled Lee before the shot attempt, putting the veteran guard at the free throw line for two shots.
Lee had hit a game-winning triple against the Chicago Bulls earlier this season. According to Kerr, that made the former Santa Cruz Warrior an essential piece to the game’s closing lineup.
“I just stepped in and whether I got fouled or not, it was one of those ‘get a shot up,’” Lee said. “Kyle [Lowry] grabbed my arm and they had to look at it if it was two [shots] or three.”
Knocking down the pair, Lee put the Warriors ahead by a point with 4.3 seconds remaining.
In fitting fashion, Golden State’s defense found a way to disrupt Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, who rimmed out a mid-range jump shot. As the ball bounced off of the rim, the Warriors secured their sixth win of the year.
Most importantly, though, Sunday’s win showed Golden State just how competitive they could be even when their best player was missing in action.
“It means we’re obviously moving in the right direction,” Curry said. “In terms of us just having confidence across the board no matter who’s out on the floor, I like where we’re at right now.”