OAKLAND — With 1:28 left in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, what was one of the hottest Oracle Arena crowds in the building’s final season began quietly streaming for the exits.
Instead of leaving early to beat traffic following a series-evening win, perhaps the last Golden State Warriors crowd in the arena’s history left disappointed, peeling off special edition playoff shirts as the Warriors limped to a 105-92 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
Armed with two of its best defenders back from injury, Golden State opened with a lock-down first quarter, but then delivered three tired ones. Toronto outscored the Warriors by 16 in the third quarter they usually dominate, capitalizing on turnovers and exhausting Stephen Curry en route to a taking two road games and a 3-1 series lead. With the possibility fading that Kevin Durant will return, Golden State — once prohibitive favorites to win its third straight title — may be staring at the end of their dynasty.
“We’ve got to lick our wounds tonight,” said head coach Steve Kerr, whose team has now lost five of six to the Raptors going back to the regular season. “The game’s a few days away. We’ll have plenty of energy, and we’ll be ready to go.”
They may very well have to do without Kevin Durant, who has been out with a right calf strain since Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals, and who has yet to so much as practice with any kind of contact. Before the game, Kerr was curt when asked about Durant’s status, saying that he would no longer provide incremental updates, and expressed only that the Warriors “hope” Durant will be back in time for Game 5 in Toronto.
“There’s been hope that he will come back the whole series,” forward Draymond Green said. “That’s not going to change now … We don’t make the final call. He don’t really even make the final call. His body will tell him if he can get out there or not.”
Without him, Golden State’s offense couldn’t endure an off night from Curry (a quiet 27 points on 9-of-22 shooting), despite a team-high 28 points from Klay Thompson in his first game back off a strained hamstring, and a 10-point, 5-of-8 shooting, six-rebound night from Kevon Looney, coming off a chest injury that looked to knock him out of the finals.
“Klay was amazing,” Kerr said. ‘With a tweaked hamstring to do what he did, Looney as well, coming in and playing 20 minutes, given his injury status, both of those guys, they’re warriors, no pun intended. They compete, compete, compete. I’m proud of both of them, but it wasn’t enough, with our team effort.”
The Warriors held the Raptors to 6-of-21 from the field and 2-of-10 from 3-point range in the first quarter. Like Looney, they were buoyed by adrenaline, and at one point held an 11-point lead. Then, in the second quarter, they started pressing. Thanks to 10 sloppy and careless turnovers, along with a 10-2 free throw deficit, Golden State went into the locker room up by just four.
Coming out of the half, a pair of 3-pointers from Kawhi Leonard — the second coming off one of Golden State’s eventual 17 turnovers — put the Raptors ahead for the first time. Even though Thompson continued to try and stem the tide — hitting eight of his first 12 shots — Curry looked spent. Two nights after scoring a personal playoff high of 47 points on 31 shots, the Warriors point guard had to contend with constant double teams and the same box-and-one Toronto deployed in Game 2. He hit just five of his first 12 shots, and started 1-of-6 from 3-point range.
“The ball moves, and Steph is one of the great off-ball cutters in the league, and can play on and off the ball, so we’re trying to mix up the different things that we do,” Kerr said. “It wasn’t his best game, but he’ll bounce back.”
In a quarter Golden State has historically owned, Toronto used ball movement reminiscent of the Warriors at their best, and outscored the Warriors 37-21. Leonard hit 5-of-7 from the field for 17 of his game-high 36 points in the third quarter as the Raptors shot 12-of-22 — including 5-of-7 from 3-point range (they finished with 10 from beyond the arc).
“This sucks,” Green said. “It sucks really bad. You just ry and do whatever you can to change it, get a stop, get a bucket, get some momentum. Every time we did, they answered.”
Many of those answers came from Serge Ibaka, who went 3-of-3 in the third. Despite the return of Looney — who played solid defense on Ibaka in the first two games before going out with a non-displaced first costal cartilage fracture — the Toronto center ran roughshod over Golden State all night, going 9-of-12 for 20 points off the bench.
With Thompson the only Warrior who could find the bottom of the net with regularity, Toronto silenced the crowd with an 18-4 run from 3:49 in the third to 11:48 in the fourth.
“We played pretty well for 26 minutes,” Curry said. “Then they took control of the game. It’s one of those nights where you play a lof of energy, and you start to build momentum, and then the wheels fall off a little bit.”
The last time Golden State went down 3-1 was in the 2016 Western Conference Finals against the then-Durant-led Oklahoma City Thunder. The Warriors came back to win three straight games, but two of those came at Oracle Arena. That was back before the Warriors played 64 extra games over the last three seasons, before the long Finals runs took their toll. With Durant and nine other players set to hit free agency this summer, this may be this group’s last shot.
They will now have to replicate their 2016 feat, but with one key difference: Two of the final three games of this series would be played on the road, in a Scotiabank Arena where the Raptors have proven to have a sizeable advantage.
“I don’t think it’s daunting at all,” Kerr said. “We go to Toronto, and this is what we do for a living: We play basketball.”
No team that has gone up 3-1 in series by winning both road games has ever gone on to lose since the NBA shifted its seven-game series to a 2-2-1-1-1 format (30-0).
“We’ve got to win one game,” Green said. “We win one, then we’ll build on that. But I’ve been on the wrong side of 3-1 before, so why not make our own history?”
Where once Golden State had the entire Bay Area behind them on their first climb to the title, the Raptors have an entire country behind them. As the Raptors walked off the court, a sizeable contingent of Raptors fans, taking up an entire section of the largely-empty arena, began singing “O, Canada!”