OAKLAND, Calif. — Kawhi Leonard bided his time, betting correctly that a night of high anxiety would soften up his opponents and a steady stream of jumpers would knock them out.
For once, the Golden State Warriors could not summon the magic that has become their custom the past five years. The defending champs, staring down the possible end of their dynasty and what could be their final game in Oracle Arena after 47 seasons, went cold and fell flat. Leonard, sensing opportunity, calmly picked apart the Warriors to key a 105-92 Game 4 victory that gave the Raptors a commanding 3-1 series lead.
“This is all for fun,” Toronto’s star forward had said earlier in the series, as if the high-stakes championship competition was nothing more than a pickup game in the park.
After a low-scoring first half in which the Raptors managed just 42 points, Leonard opened the third quarter with back-to-back threes to put the Warriors on notice. The next trip down, he expertly split Golden State’s defense with a pass to Marc Gasol. By quarter’s end, he had scored 15 of his game-high 36 points and left many fans at Oracle grasping their heads in disheartened disbelief.
“Kawhi’s two big threes to start the half really changed the whole feel of everybody,” Raptors Coach Nick Nurse said. “Everybody was like, ‘Okay, man, we know we are here, let’s go,’ and we just kind of kept going from those two threes.”
Three years ago, the Warriors watched as the 2016 title slipped out of their grasp during a frantic week that featured Draymond Green’s suspension, an all-time performance from LeBron James and an unprecedented Cleveland Cavaliers comeback from a 3-1 deficit.
Here, again, Golden State found its head spinning as another title shot became harder to envision. The distractions mounted throughout the previous 72 hours, both on and off the court.
Warriors minority owner Mark Stevens was banned by the NBA for a year for shoving Raptors guard Kyle Lowry during Game 3. The wife of Warriors owner Joe Lacob was targeted by cyberbullies for her interactions with Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
And unanswered questions swirled around the status of Warriors star Kevin Durant, who did not return to the Finals during Games 3 or 4 as many observers had long assumed he would. Coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors gave no firm indication after Game 4 that they expected Durant to return for Game 5.
The Warriors did benefit from reinforcements Friday as both Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney returned to the lineup after missing Game 3. Thompson scored a team-high 28 points and showed no ill effects from a hamstring strain. Looney, who was ruled out for the series after a collarbone injury, gamely scored 10 points in 20 minutes and contributed to a more focused defensive approach.
Indeed, increased intensity was the Warriors’ simple message, and they opened Game 4 as if poised to even the series through sheer effort.
“Play harder,” Kerr prescribed before the game. “Play better defense. Our defense stunk the other night.”
Green twice drew standing ovations for diving into the courtside seats after loose balls on defense, and Thompson’s return to the starting lineup helped the Warriors hold the Raptors to just 17 first-quarter points.
But Leonard’s patient calculation gradually opened holes. By the fourth, Golden State’s frequent double teams of Leonard led to space for the likes of Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to rattle Kawhi,” Green said. “I don’t think we’ve used that word once in our scouting report. He’s getting it done. He imposed his will on the game.”
Ibaka, an afterthought for much of Toronto’s postseason run, hit a three-pointer and confidently stepped into multiple jumpers to finish with 20 points. VanVleet, an offensive nonfactor through three quarters, hit two fourth-quarter three-pointers to help Toronto build its double-digit lead.
The Warriors, by contrast, sputtered to the finish in obvious exhaustion. Instead of launching a trademark third-quarter push, Golden State was outscored 37-21 in the period as Leonard took over.
Following a spectacular 47-point Game 3 eruption, Stephen Curry tallied 27 points but shot 9-for-22 from the field and missed seven of his nine three-point attempts.
DeMarcus Cousins, still battling a leg injury, committed three early turnovers and never made much of an impression. Green was whistled for a silly technical foul late in the third quarter for arguing a call, and the Warriors shot themselves in the foot with 19 turnovers.
In the game’s closing minutes, Golden State stood flat-footed as Danny Green claimed a long offensive rebound to set up a cutting Pascal Siakam for an uncontested layup seconds later. The Warriors, usually so full of self-belief, retreated to the bench with slumped shoulders and silence.
“We have got to lick our wounds tonight. It’s a tough loss,” Kerr said. “We’re not thinking about winning three games. We’re thinking about winning one game, and that’s the task. I know we’re capable.”
The weight of the night’s events was not lost on the crowd, which understood that Toronto is in position to end the series and win the first championship in franchise history Monday. To avoid that fate, the Warriors must join the 2016 Cavaliers as the only teams in NBA history to dig out of a 3-1 deficit.
“It’s not over,” Curry said. “It’s not a good feeling right now, but we have been on both sides of [a 3-1 lead]. In our locker room, we’re talking about believing. Everybody out there believes that we can get this done.”
For much of the fourth quarter, Oracle Arena understandably alternated between outright groans and hopeful cheers that went unanswered. That was until the final minute, when a few hundred scattered fans in red jerseys, saluted the heavy underdogs with a “Let’s go Raptors” chant that sealed the dissonance.
Highlights and quarter-by-quarter recaps
Fourth quarter: Raptors 105, Warriors 92
The Raptors kept the Warriors at bay in the fourth quarter, holding on after a huge third quarter turned the game around from a sluggish start. Toronto, leading 3-1 in a best-of-seven series, now has an opportunity to clinch the first NBA title in franchise history at home on Monday.
Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with 36 points and 12 rebounds. Serge Ibaka was huge for Toronto from the second quarter on, scoring 20 points in 22 minutes on 9-for-12 shooting. Pascal Siakam added 19 points.
In what may be the final game at Oracle Arena, the Warriors got 28 from Klay Thompson after he missed Game 3, but the team appeared exhausted and out of gas. Stephen Curry had 27, while Draymond Green just missed a triple-double with 10 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists. Kevon Looney, returning from an injury that was considered series-ending, had 10 points and six rebounds.
Raptors fans were predictably feeling the opposite.
A three-pointer from Curry with under three minutes remaining made it interesting. The Raptors’ lead was down to eight, but Toronto pushed it back to 12 within a minute.
In the scrappiest, ugliest game of the series, the Raptors kept the pressure on. The lead swelled to 16 after a Kawhi Leonard three with under nine minutes to go.
Klay Thompson, who hit his sixth three midway through the fourth, was not getting much help from his Warriors teammates.
Toronto super-sub Fred VanVleet took an elbow and headed for the locker room a little over two minutes into the final frame. He got seven stitches and was expected back.
The Raptors’ lead grew to a then-game-high 15 early in the fourth quarter before Klay Thompson answered with a three. Kawhi Leonard started the fourth on the bench.
Third quarter: Raptors 79, Warriors 67
Maybe the Raptors were just biding their time in the first half. After trailing by 11, Toronto came alive in the third quarter, scoring 37 points and building a double-digit lead late in the period. Kawhi Leonard had 17 in the quarter. He has 31 for the game.
Serge Ibaka (15 points) had a block followed by a three to give the Raptors their then-largest lead of the night with under four minutes to go in the third.
It’s not a pretty game, but it’s not short on scrappy energy. That’s for sure.
Draymond Green continued to give Golden State a little bit of everything (six points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, two blocks after three quarters). But this might take the cake.
The Raptors took their first lead of the night less than a minute into the third quarter. It came on back-to-back Kawhi Leonard three-pointers, but Stephen Curry (17 points after three quarters) immediately responded with one of his own to reclaim the lead.
Second quarter: Warriors 46, Raptors 42
After a huge first quarter, Kawhi Leonard didn’t score in the second, but his teammates finally woke up to keep Toronto in it. Serge Ibaka had eight points in the quarter and Pascal Siakam provided six. The Raptors shot 34.9 percent to the Warriors’ 47.7 percent, but somehow Golden State’s lead was just four at the half. The Warriors shot just 15.4 percent from three, while the Raptors were an unreal 12.5 percent.
What can we say? It was an ugly half.
The two guys returning for Game 4 proved huge for the Warriors in the first half. Klay Thompson had 14 points, while Kevon Looney provided a first quarter spark.
Draymond Green, meanwhile, had an all-around half with six points, seven rebounds and six assists. Plus a block and a steal.
The Raptors stayed close in the second, whittling the Warriors’ lead as low as three. Thompson responded with back-to-back baskets.
But given the Raptors’ slow first quarter, somehow the fact that they were hanging around didn’t add up.
DeMarcus Cousins’s rough night continued, at the hands of Ibaka.
Both Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Curry got an extended breather to start the quarter.
First quarter: Warriors 23, Raptors 17
Kawhi Leonard kept the Raptors in it by himself in the first. He had 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including two threes.
But with Toronto struggling outside of Leonard (the other Raptors were 1 for 13 from the field in the quarter), Golden State got a lot more balance than in Game 3.
They Warriors had a 12-2 run late in the quarter. Four of five starters scored in the frame and Klay Thompson (five points) looked like his old self. Steph Curry (six points), of course, kept looking like Steph Curry.
And how’s this for a stat?
The game started ugly. Especially for DeMarcus Cousins. He had two fouls and three turnovers in the first five minutes, getting yanked for Kevon Looney, in his return from injury. He immediately did this, and finished the quarter with six points and two rebounds
On the Raptors’ side, Danny Green started 0 for 4 (and 0 for 3 from three-point range) and got a quick hook for Fred VanVleet. Like we said, ugly. But Cousins took the brunt of it.
This game could be the last at Oracle Arena.
Klay Thompson (hamstring) is back and in the starting lineup.
This is rather amazing. Kevon Looney had suffered a non-displaced first costal cartilage fracture on his rib cage five days ago and the team initially expected him out indefinitely.
This is also amazing.
Raptors fans are showing up for their team in Oakland . . .
Catch up since Game 3
Full NBA Finals schedule
- Game 1; May 30: at Raptors 118, Warriors 109
- Game 2; June 2: Warriors 109, at Raptors 104
- Game 3, June 5: Raptors 123, at Warriors 109
- Game 4, June 7: Raptors 105, at Warriors 92
- Game 5 at Toronto: Monday, June 10, 9 p.m. (ABC)
- Game 6 at Golden State (if necessary): Thursday, June 13, 9 p.m. (ABC)
- Game 7 at Toronto (if necessary): Sunday, June 16, 8 p.m. (ABC)