This may be the Warriors fifth straight year in the NBA Finals, but they’ve never seen a defense like this. The Raptors are just a different animal.
Toronto eviscerated the Warriors like the pre-historic beasts emblazoned on their jerseys, earning a 118-109 Game 1 victory Thursday night north of the border.
It wasn’t Kawhi Leonard who led the charge, though. The Warriors showed how they are going to defend him, and that’s giving him the Stephen Curry treatment.
They blitzed every pick-and-roll with him and forced Toronto’s role players to beat them. It forced him into 5-of-14 shooting and just 23 points, boosted by his 10-of-12 free throw shooting, and largely limited his impact after he had his way in the Eastern Conference.
And while they executed their game plan perfectly on Leonard, it was Toronto’s role players who took up the slack.
Pascal Siakam had 14 of his 32 points in the third quarter and at one point, hit 11 straight shots. The young forward missed just three shots all told and looked like the second-best player on the court all night.
He poured in his points in a variety of ways, off-balance layups, transition 3’s and nifty post moves. He took it to Draymond Green fearlessly, and wasn’t intimidated in the slightest.
He also guarded Klay Thompson on most possessions, and while he gave up a few drives, his hounding defense forced him off the 3-point line for much of the game.
The Raptors also got big contributions from Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet who both were in double-figures with 20 and 15 respectively. Gasol did most of his damage in the first half where he had 14 points on a collection of wide-open looks, as the Warriors failed to rotate properly.
VanVleet not only provided scoring off the bench but defended Stephen Curry better than anyone who isn’t related to him.
Curry was essentially taken out of the game by the Raptors backup guard, and was denied the ball every second he was on the court. And when he did catch it, the Raptors made a concerted effort to run him off the line. He finished with 34 points but his touches were sporadic after a loud first quarter and he ended up taking a ton of midrange floaters, which the Raptors will gladly live with.
After going 3-of-6 from deep in the first quarter, Curry took just two 3’s the rest of the way. The Raptors essentially guarded him the same way the Warriors did Leonard, but their length stifled Curry’s looks all night.
And while he couldn’t get free for any 3’s Danny Green, who had shot 1-of-15 from downtown in his last four games, lasered in three of them Thursday.
As the Raptors bench shined, the Warriors bench was covered in rust.
Alfonzo McKinnie looked unplayable, especially since he was matched up on Leonard. Kevon Looney’s presence was neutralized — his impact on the boards was neutralized by Toronto’s bigs.
DeMarcus Cousins looked like how you would expect a guy coming back from a torn quad to look defending in space.
But despite that, the Warrior bench was able to keep the game close when Curry and Green were resting on the bench.
The problem was that once they came back in, the Raptors defense shut them down. After Thompson’s 21, the Warriors third leading scorer was Green with just 10.
Even down the stretch, the game score was still within reach, but the feel of it never felt that way. Golden State couldn’t get any quality looks, and the shot clock ran all the way down seemingly on every possession.
To make matters worse, Andre Iguodala came up limping in the final minutes of the game, re-injuring that left calf that forced him to miss Game 4 in Portland.
The Warriors have a lot of injuries to figure out — but more than that, they’re going to need to figure out this Raptors defense first.
After the frenetic pace to Game 1, both teams will get two full days of rest before they have to be back on the court for Game 2 Sunday.
For the first time in NBA history, an NBA Finals game was played outside of the United States.