Winners of four consecutive games, the Warriors welcomed the Toronto Raptors to Oracle Arena on Wednesday night. The Warriors were looking to avenge their 131-128 overtime loss to the Raptors on November 29th in Toronto and send a message in a game many were calling a NBA Finals preview.
Even though they were without Andre Iguodala for the second-straight game, most people assumed that the Warriors would get revenge for that late-November loss. The Raptors were playing their second game in two nights (they blew out the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Arena on Tuesday) and were without their MVP candidate, Kawhi Leonard.
But even though they were undermanned and perhaps overworked, the Raptors dominated the game against the Warriors from start to finish, taking the lead with under eight-and-a-half minutes to go in the first quarter and never giving it back. Though Kevin Durant scored 30 points, trying valiantly to steal the game for the Warriors, it wasn’t enough as when the final buzzer sounded, the Raptors had a 113-93 win over the Warriors. The win gave the Raptors the sweep in the season series with the Warriors and was their first win at Oracle since 2004
Poor three-point shooting means trouble for the Warriors
With Stephen Curry healthy and back in the lineup, the Warriors subsequently rediscovered their love for the three-point shot. But after putting together some good performances from long distance against the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves, the Warriors were absolutely dreadful in that area against the Raptors. As a team, they shot 6/26 from three-point range. The Warriors have made 6 or fewer three-pointers in a game four times this season. Each of those games ended with a Warriors loss.
It was an especially rough night for Klay Thompson from beyond the arc. Thompson went 0/5 from three-point range on his way to a forgettable 14-point performance. It was the fourth time this season Thompson was shut out from three-point range, something that happened to him just three times in the entire 2017-18 season. There have been some great highs for Thompson this season (his record-setting 14 three-pointers against the Chicago Bulls obviously comes to mind) but this was one of the low points for the Warriors shooting guard.
Curry had been playing well during the Warriors’ four-game win streak, shooting 55.3% from three-point range during that stretch. But against the Raptors, Curry came back to Earth and had an underwhelming performance, scoring 10 points while going 2/8 from long distance.
Any game when the Warriors struggle to that degree from three-point range is going to be a tough one to win. But a game where they can’t seemingly make it from anywhere (the Warriors missed quite a few point-blank layups and other high-percentage shot opportunities) and are playing one of the best teams in the league? That’s going to be a night where it’s nearly impossible to get a victory.
Van Fleet causes problems for Warriors
While the Warriors’ poor offensive performance was due in part to it just being an off night when they missed shots they normally make, the Raptors’ defense played an enormous role in the Warriors’ Wednesday night struggles. They confounded the Warriors all night, stifling their high-powered offense and making it impossible for them to get anything going. Whenever the Warriors looked to be on the precipice of going on a run and cutting into the deficit, the Raptors came up with a stop they turned into more points to maintain their lead.
A big reason for Curry’s struggles was the play of Fred VanVleet . In the starting lineup for the injured Leonard, VanVleet pressured Curry at every opportunity, sometimes picking him up full court, while contesting Curry’s shots and preventing him from getting many clean looks. At times, you could tell VanVleet’s pressure was affecting Curry as he put up a bad shot just because there was the slightest opening.
The Raptors are a top-ten team in terms of opponent’s field goal percentage. You certainly saw why on Wednesday night in the Warriors’ shooting woes. VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Serge Ibaka all played great defense against the Warriors, disrupting their offense and grinding things to a complete halt.
The Raptors’ defense looks impressive
I tweeted this after the game but the Raptors remind me of the 2016 Oklahoma City Thunder, specifically the problems they that can create for the Warriors with their defense. The way they contest shots and play the passing lanes with their length call to mind that Thunder team who pushed the Warriors to seven games in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. I believe that was the best/toughest team that the Warriors have faced in this run precisely because of that element to their team.
For that same reason, I think that makes the Raptors the Warriors’ toughest potential opponent should the two teams meet in the 2019 NBA Finals.
The Raptors’ defense also created opportunities for their offense by taking the ball away from the Warriors. After turning it over 17 times against the Bucks and 16 times against the Timberwolves, the Warriors had 19 turnovers against the Raptors, continuing their carelessness with the basketball. In those other games, they’d been able to make up for their turnover proclivity with their three-point shooting. There was no such help against the Raptors on Wednesday night.
Though Durant was the Warriors’ only consistent offensive weapon in this game and did his best to get the Warriors back into it, he hurt the cause by turning the ball over five times. Curry and Draymond Green each had four turnovers of their own while Jonas Jerebko came off the bench and turned it over three times. Playing against a tough defensive team that pressures the Warriors into turnovers and bad decisions is a matchup where Iguodala could play an outsized role and thus his absence was strongly felt in this game.
Lowry attacks listless Warriors defense
Without Leonard in the lineup, Kyle Lowry picked up the offensive slack for the Raptors and had a strong game, scoring 23 points, handing out 12 assists, grabbing 5 rebounds, and getting 3 steals, following up his 21-point performance against the Clippers on Tuesday. It was the first time this season that Lowry has scored 20+ points in consecutive games.
The Warriors didn't have answers defensively for Lowry, Ibaka (20 points), and Danny Green (15 points), all of whom provided more than enough offense to get the Raptors the road win.
The Warriors’ defensive rotations were all a step slow, giving the Raptors easy looks at the basket. Jordan Bell really struggled on defense, biting on quite a few pump fakes that sent Raptors players to the free-throw line. But it wasn’t just Bell as the team’s defensive effort looked uninspired and out-of-sync, not making it difficult for the Raptors to score.
Some of this might have been the result of Green picking up two fouls early in the first quarter, sending him to the bench and preventing him from being as physical or intense as he would like to be. Though Green’s foul troubles and Iguodala’s absence played some small part, the Warriors simply did not play good defense against the Raptors and it kept them from putting together any kind of sustained run in this game that might have allowed them to make things more competitive.
Durant provides lone Warriors highlights
It was not a night of many positives for the Warriors. The sole good moments for the Warriors came courtesy of Durant.
The first came at the end of the second quarter, with this acrobatic dunk that got the crowd on its feet just before halftime.
The second came at the end of the third quarter when Durant threw down a thunderous dunk to cap a frustrating and exhausting stretch for him.
Though Durant had these personal highlights, it was a poor game for the entire team and one that they would probably like to forget.
The Warriors will look to get back to their winning ways on Friday night as they travel to Sacramento to face the Kings.