OAKLAND — For the second game in a row, the Golden State Warriors looked disjointed. For the second night in a row, they looked out-of-rhythm. They were able to get away with it on Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but against the Toronto Raptors — the best team in the Eastern Conference — in what many called an NBA Finals preview, the Warriors wilted.
Even with stars Draymond Green and Stephen Curry back in the starting lineup for the second straight game, and a lineup that once again featured four All-Stars, Golden State was out-of-sorts on both ends of the floor against a deep, relentless Raptors team with a size advantage.
Even without 2014 Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard, Toronto led by double digits for most of Wednesday night’s 113-93 win, their second in two tries against the two-time defending NBA champions.
“I can’t really explain it other than the fact that we’re now in a place where we’re defending a title, and defending sort of a mantle that we’ve had for several years,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “It’s a different vibe. It’s a different feeling than when you’re on the climb, like Toronto is, like we were a few years ago. It’s a different feeling, a different vibe. It’s hard to get up for each game. There are certain nights where you can just feel it.”
In Golden State’s first meeting with the Raptors — an overtime loss in Toronto — the Warriors were without both Green and Curry. On Wednesday, the Warriors were without pace-setter Andre Iguodala. What should frighten Golden State is the possibility that neither of those factors matter.
The Raptors (23-7) were able to lead a team with four All-Stars, wire-to-wire, in the second night of a road back-to-back, while forcing 19 turnovers and thwarting Golden State’s third-quarter rush.
“We just didn’t quite have it,” Kerr said. “It was one of those nights. You would hope we’d be more engaged and more energetic playing against this team, but we didn’t bring it, and I’ve got to do a better job of preparing them to play.”
For the second meeting in a row, the Raptors were able to stomach a massive performance from Kevin Durant. Though the two-time NBA Finals MVP didn’t throw down 51 like he did in Golden State’s overtime loss up north just two weeks ago, he did finish with a game-high 30 points and brought fans to their feet with a flying one-handed jam in the second quarter, and a three that cut the Raptors’ lead to 12 with seven minutes left in the third.
“We didn’t start the game off with a sense of urgency,” Durant said. “That’s the story of tonight.”
Durant’s prolific scoring couldn’t mask the Warriors’ deficiencies, namely size — Golden State (19-10) was out-rebounded 48-40 and outscored 58-40 in the paint — and the lack of an effective second unit. Toronto’s bench was a cumulative plus-28. Golden State’s bench was minus-33.
“It didn’t surprise me how well their other guys played,” Kerr said. ‘They have a lot of good players.”
Jonas Valanciunas was plus-2 with seven rebounds in seven minutes off the bench before leaving with an apparent wrist injury, and Pascal Siakam — praised by Durant after the morning shootaround — was plus-17 in his first 21 minutes. Perhaps most impactful was Serge Ibaka. The 29-year old center had 12 points and eight rebounds in 16 first-half minutes and was a plus-14. He finished with 20 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, as one of five Raptors in double figures.
Guard Kyle Lowry led the way with 23 points on 9-of-8 shooting, dishing out 12 of Toronto’s 25 assists on 40 field goals. Danny Green had 15, and Siakam finished with 13.
“They got a little bit of everything,” Curry said. “Athletic wings and bigs that can shot threes and put the ball on the floor We know Kyle Lowry’s a great player. When Kawhi plays, we know what he’s about. Pretty well rounded. They’ve shown different styles to win games. Tonight, they were the better team. Everybody showed confidence and played off each other pretty well. On our end, we just didn’t have it.”
Despite crisp passing and good shot selection, the Warriors — shooting 39.4 percent from three as a team — couldn’t find a rhythm, and couldn’t get anything to fall, much less from from beyond the arc. After four games where Golden State has been as good as ever from beyond the 3-point line — shooting 46.9 percent — the Warriors were just 6-for-26 from beyond the arc, with anyone not named Curry or Durant going 2-for-14.
Curry, for his part, went just 3-of-12 for 10 points, as Golden State shot 29-of-82, but just 17-of-44 before halftime.
“I’m always surprised when we don’t play well,” Curry said. ‘We didn’t hit shots early in the game. That affected our energy. Tried to talk our way through it. They played aggressive, got into us early.”
Both Green and Jordan Bell got in foul trouble early, with Green paying for taunting referees with disingenuous claps by getting called for a technical less than four minutes in. Thanks to those four fouls, plus three more by Durant, Curry and Jonas Jerebko, Toronto went 7-for-10 at the free throw line (they finished 16-of-19, compared to Golden State’s 9-of-13).
“I couldn’t be as aggressive in the second quarter, but whatever, it is what it is,” Green said.
The Warriors committed four turnovers in the first six minutes as Toronto started off with a 7-for-11 barrage from the field to take a 21-9 lead. After a 12-2 run at the end of the half, and Golden State found itself trailing by 16 headed into the locker room.
“You can’t wait until halftime, against a team that has the best record in the league, to start defending,” Kerr said. “I thought that’s what happened tonight. We just didn’t bring the requisite energy to begin the game.”
What should be most distressing for Golden State is the fact that while they tried to manufacture one of their patented third-quarter runs, Toronto was able to effectively counter-punch, speeding up the Warriors and forcing six turnovers in the third quarter.
“We didn’t really bring the intensity that we needed until the start of the third quarter,” said Kerr, whose team shot 12-of-22 out of the locker room, but couldn’t manage to get rolling thanks to six turnovers. “At that point, we were swimming upstream.”
For every hero-ball drive by Durant, Toronto would respond with a rebound or a steal. A Klay Thompson three was countered by a Siakam up-and-under lay-up.
“Every time we tried to get over the hump, they got a turnover or we had a defensive lapse,” Curry said.
“We made a play, and they made two or three plays,” Durant said.
Then, with 1:57 to go in the third quarter, the metaphorical turned into the literal: OG Anunoby went up for a drive and kneed Durant in the groin (unintentionally). Durant responded to that with a one-handed jam of his own, but then Greg Monroe spun inside and silenced the crowd with a layup.
The Raptors are now 7-1 without Leonard, and 2-0 against Golden State.
“They’re not an up-and-coming team,” Durant said. “They’re here.”