After nine days off following their Western Conference finals win over the Portland Trail Blazers, there were concerns the Golden State Warriors would be rusty for the NBA Finals.
Those worries were warranted.
Opening on the road for the first time in their stretch of five straight Finals appearances, the Warriors took the floor at a raucous Scotiabank arena without Kevin Durant.
Raptors cruise behind big game from Siakam
They looked off from the opening quarter as the Toronto Raptors cruised to a 118-109 victory to fire the opening salvo of the NBA’s championship series behind a monster effort from breakout forward Pascal Siakam.
An active Toronto defense slowed Golden State’s transition and forced the Warriors into 10 first-half turnovers and 36.6 percent shooting from the field in opening a 59-49 lead.
A 10-point lead against these Warriors is far from comforting as so many teams in their path have learned the hard way. But the second-half run that Golden State fans have come to expect never arrived as Toronto struck back against the narrative they were outmatched in this series, Durant or no Durant.
Raptors punch back after Warriors close gap
Golden State came close to start the fourth quarter, cutting a 10-point deficit to 90-87 behind its bench as Kawhi Leonard rested. But the Raptors struck back with two unanswered buckets, forcing the Warriors into a timeout. Toronto maintained control of the rest of the game.
The Raptors secured the win with balance on offense and an unforgiving effort on the defensive end. And they won without a dominant performance from Kawhi Leonard, who struggled from the field and took a back seat to Siakam, who led the way with 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Siakam’s big third quarter
Siakam took over in the third quarter, scoring 14 points in the stanza during a run that saw him hit 11 consecutive field goals. He finished 14 of 17 from the field while adding a steal and a pair of blocks on the defensive end.
“It’s amazing man,” Siakam told ESPN of drawing energy from the Toronto crowd. “The best fans in the NBA. Just like this moment, we want to continue to do what we do, and hopefully we’ll get it done.”
“We’ve got to stay solid. It’s a great team we’re playing against,” Siakam continued when asked about moving forward against the Warriors. “It’s gonna be tough. We’ve just got to be ourselves. They’re gonna make adjustments. We’ve got to be ready for that.”
True team effort from Toronto
Leonard picked up his game after an eight-point first half to finish with 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists. But he struggled from the field, hitting 5-of-14 shots and looked off his game at times, failing to hit his second field goal until the final two minutes of the first half.
But Toronto didn’t need Leonard to be at his best on offense, as five Raptors players scored in double figures.
Marc Gasol tallied 20 points and seven rebounds in his NBA Finals debut. Finals veteran Danny Green chipped in 11 points while hitting 3 of 7 3 pointers. And Fred VanVleet sparked the Raptors in a key second-quarter run, finishing with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field.
Kyle Lowry only scored seven points, but added nine assists and six rebounds and was a nuisance on defense.
Toronto finished the game hitting 50.6 percent of its field goals and connecting on 13-of-33 (39.4 percent) 3-point attempts.
Raptors defense set the tone
And the defense.
The Warriors team that cruised in the latter stages of the series against the Houston Rockets and swept the Portland Trail Blazers with Kevin Durant sidelined was nowhere to be found on Thursday.
Stephen Curry was outstanding, posting 34 points while hitting 4-of-9 3 pointers and all 14 of his free throws. Klay Thompson was solid with 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field.
Warriors not named Steph, Klay struggled
But it was mostly a two-man show from Golden State, which struggled to find offense outside of its star guards.
Draymond Green posted a 10-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist triple double, but couldn’t get going from the field on 2-of-9 shooting.
No other Warriors scored in double figures.
DeMarcus Cousins made his return to the lineup in a limited bench role, not entering the game until the second quarter. He looked healthy after suffering a quad injury in the opening round of the playoffs, but was largely ineffective, scoring three points in eight minutes.
The Raptors limited Golden State to 43.6 shooting from the field and forced 16 turnovers in an active effort that saw Toronto defenders consistently attacking the ball and putting themselves between the ball and the basket.
This is a team that could have used Durant.
Raptors put Warriors on notice
As far as Game 1s go, this was as close to a must-win as it gets for Toronto. There’s no sign of when or if Durant will return, but losing at home against a short-handed team of Golden State’s caliber would not have bode well for Toronto’s chances in the series.
The Raptors answered the bell in convincing fashion. The heavily favored Warriors have been put on notice.