After all the waiting and speculation, the 2019 NBA Finals finally began on Thursday night. Playing in their first NBA Finals, the Toronto Raptors welcomed the Golden State Warriors (making their fifth-consecutive trip to the championship stage) north of the border to begin this highly-anticipated series. Even though they would still be without Kevin Durant, who is continuing to recuperate from his right calf strain, the Warriors and their fans felt confident going into Game 1 even though the series would be starting on the road.
But the Raptors and their frenzied crowd, so excited to see their team finally make it to the Finals, had other ideas. Though the Warriors played well enough to keep things close and make a few runs throughout the game to try and steal a win, the Raptors played a much more complete game than the defending champs. Led by an outstanding defensive effort and big contributions from their most important players, the Raptors handed the Warriors a 118-109 loss in Game 1, taking the early lead in this best-of-seven series.
Gasol’s three-point shooting gives Raptors early advantage
The Warriors fell behind early, trailing by four points at the end of the first frame, and Marc Gasol a big reason why the Raptors possessed that early advantage. Gasol scored 8 of his 20 points in the first quarter, going 2⁄3 from long distance. The Warriors frequently left Gasol open beyond the arc, choosing to focus their defensive energy elsewhere, and the veteran was more than happy to take those shots and knock them down.
As a team, the Raptors made a point of attacking the Warriors from the three-point line, attempting 14 shots from long distance in the first quarter. The Warriors, meanwhile, struggled from long distance in the first quarter, going 3/10 from three-point range, the sign of tough Raptors defending.
The Warriors failed to get anything going on offense at any point in Game 1 thanks to that Raptors defense. The Warriors shot just 43.6% from the field on Thursday night and turned the ball over 17 times, which resulted in 17 points for the Raptors. Five of those turnovers came in the first quarter, though they only resulted in three Raptors’ points.
After the game, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was quick to point to those turnovers as being a big part of why they did not pick up the Game 1 victory.
Steve Kerr: “Our transition defense was awful...We gave up 24 fastbreak points, turned it over 17 times. That’s the game.”— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 31, 2019
Facing middling team defenses while playing the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers, the Warriors offense was able to play well even with Durant out of the lineup. In this game, facing one of the best defensive teams in the league, you saw how much Durant was missed and what can happen when they don’t have him. The Raptors’ physicality prevented the Warriors from finding any offensive rhythm, highlighting the absence of a player who can always get his own shot and work even when the offense is not flowing.Early in Game 1, it was evident that things would not come quite as easily for the Durant-less Warriors as they had in the Western Conference Playoffs.
Second unit plays well, but Warriors don’t close the second quarter strong
The Warriors did get one injured player back for Game 1—DeMarcus Cousins. After suffering a torn quad in Game 2 of the team’s opening-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, Cousins made his return to the Warriors’ lineup. In his nearly five minutes of action in the second quarter, Cousins played well, scoring 2 points and handing out 2 assists, one of those assists coming on this Klay Thompson dunk.
Cousins posted a plus/minus of +2 in those second-quarter minutes as he, Jonas Jerebko, and Quinn Cook were all able to cut ever-so-slightly into that Raptors’ lead while the starters got some rest on the bench.
But as the second quarter progressed and the starters reentered the game, the results were less-than-impressive. The Warriors briefly retook the lead with five-and-a-half minutes left to go in the second, but the Raptors then went on a 19-8 run to close the quarter out, which gave them a ten-point advantage as the teams went into halftime.
While players like Cousins, Jerebko, and Cook made positive contributions in their second-quarter minutes, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green did not make a single field goal in the second while Thompson did not make a field goal in the final five minutes of the quarter. The Warriors’ offense stagnating coupled with Raptors getting hot from three-point range (they went 3/5 from long distance ) was a recipe for another double-digit halftime deficit for the Warriors to try and overcome.
Warriors can’t slow down Siakam and Leonard in the third
The Raptors saw their ten-point advantage at the half trimmed to a seven-point one at the end of three quarters. The Warriors were able to cut into that lead, even getting as low as four points, mainly because of Curry’s play. Curry scored 13 of his 34 points in the third quarter, trying to lead the Warriors to yet-another comeback win.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t Curry’s three-point shooting that was responsible for these points. After starting the game 3/5 from long distance, Curry went 1⁄4 the rest of the way. That final three-pointer came at the start of the third, cutting the Raptors’ lead to nine points.
Rather, it was Curry’s willingness to drive to the basket in the third and get to the free-throw line that was responsible for most of his points. Curry went 6/6 from the charity stripe in the third quarter and 14/14 for the entire game.
While Curry did his best to bring the Warriors back, they were only able to close the gap so much because of the play of Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam. The two main cogs of the tough Raptors defense made major offensive contributions in the quarter as they combine for 24 of the team’s 29 points in the third. The Warriors were able to somewhat slow down Leonard on Thursday night as he scored 23 points and shot 5/14 from the field. But while the Warriors focused on Leonard and Kyle Lowry, Siakam stepped up and seized the spotlight, leading his team to victory. In his first Finals game, Siakam scored 32 points, shooting an impressive 14/17 from the field, while also grabbing 8 rebounds and handing out 5 assists.
It was an impressive offensive night for Siakam and Green took the responsibility for not doing more to stop it. During his postgame press conference, Green said, “I let him get in a rhythm...I gotta do a better job of taking him out the game.” For the Warriors to even things up in Game 2, they’ll need to do a much better job defending Siakam, something that starts with Green.
Big makes from long distance seal the Raptors’ win
The Warriors’ second unit, like they did in the second quarter, cut into the Raptors’ lead at the start of the fourth quarter, even getting it to as low as three points with ten minutes to go in the game. But that same unit gave it right back as they allowed the Raptors to push their lead back to ten points as the home team began to put the game away. While Cousins did some good things in the second quarter, he struggled in the fourth quarter, picking up two fouls in succession that took care of whatever limited momentum the Warriors possessed in the early minutes of the final frame.
The Raptors also came up with some backbreaking three-pointers in that fourth quarter from Leonard and Danny Green. After shooting 4/23 from three-point range in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks (going 0/4 in the closeout Game 6), Green rebounded in Game 1, going 3/7 from long distance and scoring 11 points.
Though it wasn't a three-point shot, Fred VanVleet scored two of his fifteen points on this fadeaway jumper that was another nail in the coffin and pretty good evidence that it just wasn’t the Warriors’ night on Thursday.
Something very alarming for the Warriors happened late in the fourth quarter as Andre Iguodala exited the game after hurting his left leg, the same one that kept him out of Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. When asked about it postgame, Iguodala said “I’ll be fine” and that we can expect him to play in Game 2 but it’s still the last thing the Warriors wanted to see at the end of this Game 1 loss. Though he failed to make a three-pointer (going 0/4 from beyond the arc) and scored just 6 points, Iguodala was vital to the Warriors’ defending of Leonard in Game 1.
After the game, Thompson (who struggled at times in Game 1 while scoring 21 points) put things into perspective, saying “We’re not that familiar with this team but that’s no excuse. Our goal is to come out here and get one. I know we’ll respond like the champions we are.” The champions will get that chance to respond on Sunday night when Game 2 tips off at the Scotiabank Arena.