During our most recent Golden State of Mindcast with Toronto resident Hugo Kitano the other day, we chatted for a bit about how good the Toronto Raptors are and why they’ve been so adept at giving the Golden State Warriors a challenge.
Consistent with that pattern, the Raptors managed to come back from a 27-point deficit to come within a shot of beating the Warriors in a thrilling game in Toronto on Saturday evening. This time, they impressively did it without the aid of Kyle Lowry and relied on a dominant individual performance by DeMar DeRozan, who scored a game-high 42 points to keep his team afloat.
Shortly after that game, the folks from SB Nation’s Raptors HQ addressed this issue of repeated close losses by tweeting that the Raptors are the best in the NBA at almost beating the Warriors, a dubious distinction that could be seen as either an accomplishment or a shortcoming depending on your perspective.
Your reminder: the Raptors remain the very best team in the NBA at almost beating the Warriors. Nobody better.— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) January 14, 2018
Raptors HQ manager Daniel Reynolds followed up that observation in his recap of Toronto’s loss last night by describing the previous few meetings between the two teams:
Then again, the Raptors lost another close one to the defending NBA champions, this time by two points, 127-125. That’s the fourth time in five games it’s happened over the past three seasons. (That one other time saw them give up a huge first quarter lead before trimming into a competitive-looking 10-point final deficit.) That the Raptors had to comeback from 27 down, after giving up an 81-point first half, puts the final score in perspective. That the last meaningful plays for both teams were the same — an elbow jumper miss by DeMar DeRozan while down 1, followed by a make by Kevin Durant in the same spot to put the Warriors up 3 — makes them feel much closer. (And hey, Kyle Lowry wasn’t even playing in this one.)
When checking the Basketball-Reference Team Score Finder, it actually looks like it’s the fifth time in six games since the 2015-16 season that the Raptors have come within two possessions of the Warriors but lost.
Perhaps even more interesting, the Raptors have been within one point of the Warriors in four of those five games decided by two possessions or less — in three of those four, the game was tied in the last minute (or so -- in the Warriors’ 117-112 win on October 25 earlier this season, the game was tied at the 1:02 mark of the fourth quarter).
So we’ve established that the Raptors are repeatedly playing the Warriors close, but are they really the best at ...losing close games to the Warriors? How do they compare to other teams that have played the Warriors within two possessions during the Steve Kerr era?
If we expand that Team Score Finder query to the entire NBA over the entire Kerr era, we can see that the Raptors have a pretty strong case (click here to open the table of results from Basketball-Reference in a new tab).
Of the 28 teams who have played a game decided by two points or less against the Warriors, the Raptors and Boston Celtics are tied for the most at five apiece during the Kerr era (all between 2015-16 to present) — that alone is a somewhat remarkable statement about the talent on those teams due to the fact that they only play the Warriors twice a season.
The Raptors are 0-5, the only team that has played five two possession games against the Warriors in the Kerr era without managing to earn a win — Kerr is currently undefeated against the Raptors despite almost every game in the last three seasons being close. At the other end of the spectrum, the Celtics are an impressive 3-2 against the Warriors in those games, which makes them one of two teams in the NBA to win more than once in close games (the Rockets are 2-1 in two possession games with the Warriors.
These are, of course, incredibly small sample sizes — nobody has played the Warriors in close games more than five times over the last few years and, as last night illustrated, an argument could be made that injuries matter as much as anything else. But consider this as well: independent of final score differential, the San Antonio Spurs have beaten the Warriors five times during the Kerr era and that’s a league-high (the Denver Nuggets?!? and Memphis Grizzlies are next closest at four wins apiece against the Warriors). That the Raptors have gotten themselves within a shot or two of the Warriors five times during that same period — and, more specifically, just in the last three years — is quite a feat.
As Josh Kern of Raptors HQ concluded in his analysis this morning, “Although they haven’t yet proven that they can beat the champs, they’ve proven that the matchup is at least a heck of a lot of fun.”
Which non-Spurs team has been the toughest regular season challenge to the Warriors during the Kerr era?
This poll is closed
Boston Celtics (3-2 in two possession games since 2015-16)
Cleveland Cavaliers (because LeBron?)
Denver Nuggets (four wins since 2015-16)
Houston Rockets (2-1 in two possession games since 2016-17)
Memphis Grizzlies (four wins since 2014-15)
Toronto Raptors (five two possession games since 2015-16)