But once the game started, it was apparent the real question was, how would they defend without their All-Star guard.
The answer turned out to be simple — they wouldn’t. The Toronto Raptors took it to the shorthanded Warriors and left Oracle with a 2-1 series lead after a 123-109 win Wednesday.
Steve Kerr said it the decision to sit out Thompson was all about his health going forward:
“Well, the whole point was to not risk a bigger injury that would keep him out of the rest of the series. So that was the decision we made, and I feel very comfortable with it. Never would have forgiven myself if I played him tonight and he had gotten hurt. So you live with the decision you make, you make a wise decision, the wisest one you can, and then you live with it and move forward.”
Much like he has his entire career, Thompson’s defensive contributions get overshadowed by his offense. While, yes, it was an absolute struggle to put the ball into the hoop for the Warriors, that wasn’t where the game was lost.
They just couldn’t stop anyone in a black jersey.
It started with a ton of dribble penetration, but add in missed rotations, slow closeouts and a total lack of defensive chemistry and it’s no surprise that every trip down the court for the Raptors resulted in an open shot.
And most of those open shots found the bottom of the net, especially from deep.
Danny Green had the game of his young Toronto career, hitting six 3’s with seemingly each and every one of them coming after the Warriors had just started a mini run.
When it wasn’t Green burying a clutch shot it was Kyle Lowry, who had five 3’s and 23 points of his own. Or it was Fred VanVleet. Or Serge Ibaka. Basically, everyone in a Toronto uniform came up clutch at some point.
Stephen Curry said that it was just one of those games when his team couldn’t the ride the momentum all the way to a lead:
“Every time we made a run or got the crowd into it, they either made a tough 3 or there was a tough foul called and they slowed the tempo down or something went their way. So it’s just how it goes sometimes. You have to tip your cap to all the guys that made pivotal plays in the right times.”
It’s also easier to hit timely shots when they are wide open.
Far too often did the Warriors get outright beat on the perimeter, which forced their bigs, namely DeMarcus Cousins, to sprint over to help and then have to sprint out onto a shooter the very next second.
It’s easy to see why that would be tough for the big man, who has just come back from a torn quad, but it was tough for every Warriors center — particularly considering the absence of Kevon Looney, Golden State’s best perimeter defending big man.
The Raptors tore through Golden State’s center rotation like they were chained up sheep. Cousins was constantly hunted on defense and wasn’t able to operate in as much space with Thompson not on the court.
Toronto also made sure to put him in as much pick-and-roll action as possible and created many open looks that way.
Jordan Bell couldn’t stay in front of anyone and put the defense in a compromised position with every time he got burned. Jonas Jerebko looked unplayable for the rest of the Finals with the way he was relentlessly attacked on defense.
But then there was midseason pickup Andrew Bogut. The Aussie gave the Warriors 22 productive minutes and was obviously the team’s best option at the five spot.
His line of six points and seven boards don’t jump off the page, but he was the only center who put up any kind of resistance defensively.
While there are more questions going into Game 4, Bogut looks like he might have given the team a viable option to replace Looney’s valuable minutes.
Green said that while they obviously miss the injured guys, they can’t think about it:
“Not having anyone makes a difference because when you assemble a team, everyone brings something different. But no one cares if guys are hurt. Everybody wants to see us lose. So I’m sure people are happy they’re hurt… We can sit and talk about the injuries until we’re blue in the face, it’s not going to change how Kevin’s calf feels or how Looney costal cartilage fracture, something like that, it’s not going to make that feel better. And it ain’t going to make Klay’s hamstring feel better either.”
With the defensive effort, that this was even semi-close was a testament to Curry.
Curry dragged himself to a playoff career high of 47 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while playing 43 grueling minutes.
Kerr was still impressed after the game with the way Curry played despite the tough loss:
“Steph was incredible. The stuff he does is, he does things that honestly I don’t think anybody has ever done before. The way he plays the game, the way he shoots it and the combination of his ball handling and shooting skills, it’s incredible to watch. He was amazing.”
It started immediately when he scored or assisted on all but one Warriors field goal in the first quarter. There was no box-and-one and barely any doubles, and curiously Curry was able to shake free and get a ton of open looks.
But he wasn’t able to sustain the energy for the entire game, and it’s impossible to think he would.
Green blamed himself for not giving Curry any help Wednesday:
“He was amazing. I got to play better and offer him more help. I think if I played better with the night that he had, we would have won. So we need him to continue to be aggressive like he’s been, and all of us got to continue to fill in and be better. And like I said, that starts with me.”
The other problem for the Warriors was that no one else could do anything offensively.
The usual read heavy offense that’s a strength for the Warriors was turned into a weakness as the unfamiliarity with the shorthanded lineups created a ton of miscues.
The backdoor passes that are a staple of the usual motion offense routinely sailed out of bounds. And almost every drive to the hoop ended with a jump stop and pause, waiting for a cut or a rotation that never came.
Andre Iguodala and Green were the only other Warriors to break double-digits, and that is just not enough without Thompson or Durant.
Curry said that while the offense could have been better, it still comes down to the other end of the court:
“We were a little rushed early. But we were just trying to create good offense. It’s just a matter of our defense and we can’t fall into the trap of thinking offense alone is going to win us another championship or letting that end of the floor affect our defense. That will be the biggest adjustment for us Game 4 all across the board.”
With everything that went wrong for the Warriors, they had their chances.
They were down just eight at the half and managed to cut it to five midway through the third.
The problem was that any run the Warriors managed to will themselves into, Toronto calmly and coolly hit big shot after big shot to extinguish it.
Now all eyes turn to Game 4, with Thompson and Durant’s availability still up in the air, the Warriors backs are up against it now. But is help on the way?
For the one and only time these Finals, the two teams will have just a day break between Games. With Game 4 Friday, the Warriors look to guarantee a final game at Oracle Thursday the 13th.
The Warriors have now finished with 109 points every game this series. Kerr joked after the game that it’s the only constant for the Warriors:
“I just knew we were going to score 109 points because that’s all we’re going to do the rest of this series. So if we’re going to keep scoring 109, we got to keep them to 108 and that’s the biggest thing.”