TORONTO — With 7:31 left in the Toronto Raptors’ 118-109 Game 1 win in the NBA Finals, Pascal Siakam — a 25-year old with a career scoring average under seven points headed into this season — found the defense collapsing on him on a fast break. He found Danny Green — who had gone 0-for-9 from 3-point range over his last four games — in the left corner.
As Green hit the wide-open look — his third of the night — Golden State Warriors assistant coach and rotations guru Mike Brown could only put his hands in his pockets and purse his lips. The two-time defending NBA champions trailed by 12 — their largest deficit of the night.
Green, a 45.5% shooter from three, had regained his form thanks to Siakam, who in the midst of a breakout season, went on to have a career night, scoring 32 on 14-of-17 shooting to head a balanced scoring attack, while the man best equipped to defend him, Kevin Durant, sat on the bench, injured.
While many over the last two weeks questioned whether Golden State even needed Durant to claim a third straight title, Thursday was proof positive that without his length and unrivaled scoring ability against a long, physical and deep Toronto team, the Warriors are far from the inevitability they were proclaimed to be.
Golden State may have seemed invicible since Durant went down with a right calf strain five games ago. They went 5-0, advanced to the NBA Finals and appeared to be playing with rhythm and flow. Without his ability to spread the floor and demand attention on offense, and his length on defense, Golden State was all but dominated by Siakam and the Raptors.
“It doesn’t matter until he’s out there,” said head coach Steve Kerr. So if he’s out there, he’s pretty good, but if he’s not out there we play with the guys we have and we have got enough,” said head coach Steve Kerr.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had averaged 35.8 and 22.6 points per game since Durant went down. Curry had shot 41.7% from 3-point range, and Thompson 40%. The Warriors had gotten massive contributions from what had been their biggest weak spot — the bench. Though the Warriors got 36 points from the bench on Thursday, no reserve scored more than Kevon Looney’s nine points.
Golden State got a combined 55 points from Curry (34) and Thompson (21), and 54 points from everyone else, topped by Draymond Green’s 10. In the first half, as the Raptors built a 10-point lead, Curry faced multiple double teams and rarely found clean looks, while Thompson rarely was able to square himself to the basket thanks to the physical, athletic and lengthy Raptors. Green fell into foul trouble, and the Warriors had no other scoring answers.
“Their defense was great and it wasn’t our best night, but we just got outplayed, so simple as that,” Kerr said.
Durant, arguably the best scorer of his generation, creates space for other shooters when he doesn’t have the ball, and even the threat of his elbow jumper or fadeaway shot keeps defenses flat-footed.
Without that, the Raptors were able to use their superior length to force 17 turnovers — including 10 in the first half — and open up the transition game for Siakam.
Golden State, which normally scores in bunches by being able to get out and run, couldn’t get much offense out of their aggressive defense, despite holding Kawhi Leonard to 2-of-7 for eight points in the first half.
No fewer than six different Warriors guarded Leonard, but when he was trapped in the lane, he found Green, and when he was trapped off of ball screens, he found a wide-open Marc Gasol — who scored 14 first-half points — or Siakam, who scored 12 before the break.
“I think we did a good job on Kawhi,” Draymond Green said. “We got to keep that up, but we have to do a better job on everybody else as well … our rotation’s got to be better. We got to fly around a little bit more. And we got to stop them from getting out in transition.”
Durant would have given Golden State another pair of long arms to get into passing lanes, rather than get out of position trying to go for steals and leaving Gasol open for what Kerr called “dare me” shots. He also would have been a perfect physical match for the similarly-built Siakam, with the same length, range, body type and quickness.
“KD’s an all-time great player, on both ends of the floor,” Curry said. “We’ve obviously proven when he’s out, we have guys step up, and that’s going to be the case until he gets back.”
The Warriors made plenty of errors in transition, where Siakam scored most of his points and the Raptors scored 24.
Siakam was one of four Raptors not named Leonard and Kyle Lowry to score in double figures. Leonard finished with 23 and Lowry seven, as Gasol chipped in 20, Green 11 and Fred ValVleet 15.
In front of a buzzing crowd that challenged that of 2007 Oracle in terms of decibels and suddenness, Golden State found little to silence Scotiabank Arena in the early goings as Toronto set the tone. The Warriors shot 35.7% from the field in the first half, compared to the Raptors’ 50%.
“It gave us a few good bounces,” said Toronto coach Nick Nurse. “There were a few eye-openers.”
Despite Leonard and Lowry going a combined 3-of-12 from the field, the Raptors built a 59-49 lead at the half. That 10-point margin persisted for much of the third quarter, as the still-raw Siakam — drafted 27th overall in 2016 (three spots ahead of where Jacob Evans was picked in 2018) — abused former defensive player of theyear Draymond Green by hitting his first six shots in a row out of halftime.
“He’s become a guy,” Green said. “He put a lot of work in to get there and I respect that, but … I got to take him out of the series and that’s on me.”
Siakam’s night threw into ever sharper relief Durant’s absence. The rangey Cameroon native was able to score at all levels, even going 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, meaning that Leonard didn’t have to score. He merely had to provide a threat. While the Warriors had gone 31-1 without Durant (and with Curry) during his tenure, his mere presence is still very much X-factors, even as a ball-dominant scorer in the Warriors’ free-flowing system.
“We have won the last, whatever, six games without him, five, six games,” Kerr said. “So we have enough, but you play with the guys who are healthy and you go, so we’ll see what happens.”
With a still-very-rusty DeMarcus Cousins coming off a torn quad (he started the second and fourth quarter and played 8:03) and almost certainly no Durant in Game 2, the Warriors could face their tightest Finals in three years.