Battered, bruised, and broken — these are three of the most common words to describe a team that is suffering from a quick-hitting wave of adversity. In the case of the Golden State Warriors, battered and bruised are the two words that can literally describe their predicament in these playoffs, and it has given them another steep mountain to climb on their way to a third consecutive championship.
Kevin Durant is still sidelined, recovering from his calf strain suffered during Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. As can be seen so far in this series, his ability to score at will, to act as a secondary or tertiary distributor, and to be a plus defender capable of making a difference on that end of that floor are sorely missed.
If that wasn’t already bad enough, the Warriors had to endure another set of injuries to two of their key players.
During last night’s Game 2, Kevon Looney was absolutely totaled by a driving Kawhi Leonard, whose strength caused Looney to momentarily fly helplessly in the air. He landed awkwardly on his shoulder, which was later ruled as a sprained collarbone. He would not return to the game.
In the second half, a 3-point attempt by Klay Thompson missed due to a mid-air bump from Danny Green. The obvious contact went unnoticed by the officials, and Thompson landed awkwardly, in a fashion very similar to a gymnastic split. Thompson would try to walk it off, but as the minutes went by, the injury started to worsen. He would be eventually taken out of the game due to what was ruled as left hamstring tightness.
Footage of Klay’s injury. pic.twitter.com/19xThpW3xd— 95.7 The Game (@957thegame) June 3, 2019
The Warriors were definitely bruised. Some will say that the Warriors are finally running out of dynastic luck, that the end of the circle is finally looping back to connect with its beginning. Others will say that the Warriors are getting visibly affected by the Toronto Raptors’ physical play — that a team bent on destroying their opposition while looking pretty at the same time are slowly wilting under the pressure of a team who is equally bent on destroying their beautiful brand of basketball.
They were literally being battered by the Raptors in almost every possession, but they were also being battered figuratively by the hunger of a team who is looking for that last drop of validation, the redemption they needed to wipe away years of disappointment. The Raptors drew first blood in emphatic fashion — and true to that same hunger, they were intent on drawing even more.
At halftime — after being down by as much as 12 points — the Warriors managed to escape with a 5-point deficit. The same predicaments and problems during Game 1 were there — difficulty in getting their motion sets up and running due to the suffocating defense of the Raptors, as well as turning the ball over and giving the Raptors additional possessions with which to score.
Despite such tribulations, the Warriors only had to climb over a 5-point hill — it was their time to shine, time to throw their own counterpunch after the Raptors’ furious flurry of combinations put them up against the ropes.
The stage was set for them to make their comeback.
DeMarcus Cousins — definitely not bruised but still trying to regain his conditioning and feel for the game — was given the start from Steve Kerr. Despite his potential shortcomings on the defensive end, Cousins was counted on to be another offensive threat, as well as a big body to counter the Raptors’ Marc Gasol. The coaching staff put faith in his desire to show up on the biggest stage in all of basketball — and Cousins did not fail to repay that faith in full. He wasn’t going to let go of this opportunity — he has worked too hard to come back from his Achilles rupture, too determined to not wallow in sadness after his quadriceps ruptured and sidelined him yet again.
The Warriors’ 18-0 run to start the second half was finally that counter right hand, the money punch that managed to land clean on the Raptors. The chin check was delivered for everyone to witness — and Cousins was front and center.
First, as a playmaker, whose 6 assists consisted of an Andre Iguodala corner 3, three link-ups with Klay Thompson including two well-placed passes from the low-post, a kick-out pass to Quinn Cook for a 3, and a lead pass to a cutting Shaun Livingston.
Then, as a scorer. He only shot 3-for-8 from the field, including one 3-pointer, but still found opportunities to be aggressive, drawing a couple of fouls and knocking down all 4 of his attempts from the free-throw line. Despite the relatively low points total for a player of his caliber, Cousins’ 11 points were a massive contribution to a team desperate for production outside of the Splash Brothers.
And finally, as a surprisingly stout defender. Many expected Cousins to falter on that end. He will most likely have more moments of being left on an island, trying to defend speedier and nimbler players who have the ability to bury a jumper over him or take him to the rim and score aggressively. But in Game 2, Cousins stood firm — drives were made more difficult, and Cousins’ rock-solid presence in the paint disturbed enough shots to make a difference, with the most eye-catching defensive plays coming from these sequences.
Pascal Siakam was the Warriors’ personal tormentor in Game 1, where he finished with 32 points on an incredibly efficient 14-for-17 clip from the field. Draymond Green admitted to being surprised at the way Siakam was able to make his way to the rim and make shots, as well as the Warriors inability to contain Siakam’s aggressive transition drives and leak-outs. Green vowed that he and his team would do better the next time around.
The Warriors indeed did a much better job on Siakam during Game 2. The Cameroonian wunderkind finished with 12 points on an extremely inefficient 5-for-18 clip from the field, with all 3 of his attempts from beyond the arc missing.
Green and the Warriors did much better this time around against Siakam. Seeing what he was capable of, they adjusted accordingly, as a team of their caliber are wont to do. And they didn’t disappoint.
Stephen Curry scored only 23 points in Game 2, but his impact went far beyond his tangible scoring ability. As usual, his gravity pulled its weight — even the mighty defense of the Raptors fell victim to Curry’s nature as an attention-grabbing force.
One such example is when the Warriors whipped out an old weapon — Cyclone. Borrowed from the playbook of Fred Hoiberg, this play leverages Curry’s gravity, as well as his underrated ability to set solid screens, to generate a wide-open bucket for Draymond Green.
Here it is, in its full glory.
Curry’s back screen allows Green to cut inside and catch the pass for the easy bucket, taking advantage of the Raptors’ lack of communication on defense. Danny Green, too focused on preventing Curry from getting free on the perimeter, fails to notice Curry’s screen, which fully catches Leonard. No switch is communicated, and Draymond cuts unhindered to the rim.
Here is yet another sequence in Curry uses his gravity and back screening, resulting in a quick backdoor cut by Shaun Livingston and an exquisite pass by Draymond Green that translates into a dunk.
Late in the 3rd quarter, the Warriors started to run pick-and-rolls with Curry as the ball handler. As Green sets the screen and gets into a short roll, Fred VanVleet quickly tries to recover and switch onto Green. However, VanVleet is too short to affect Green, who lobs a pass to Andrew Bogut near the rim for the dunk.
The Warriors run pick-and-roll with Curry again in the 4th quarter. This time, the Raptors opt to trap him, hoping to force a wild pass from Curry that would either give them ample time to recover or to force a turnover.
Instead, what happens is a 4-on-3 situation, where the Raptors defense is stretched too thin to stop a Livingston lob to Green for a lay-in.
On the next possession, Curry tries for a relocation 3-point shot, and his attempted relocation toward the corner is well covered by Kyle Lowry. But the confusion generated by Curry’s perpetual motion allows Bogut to trot toward the rim uncovered. Leonard and Gasol are caught watching Green, who throws the lob to Bogut for the bucket.
Even the final scoring possession of the game for the Warriors — a clutch, wiiiiiiide-open look from beyond the arc by Iguodala — was created due to the Raptors scrambling to trap Curry.
Down by only 2 points with a realistic chance of tying the game or taking the lead, the Raptors ramp up the pressure against Curry, who throws a dangerous pass to Livingston. The ball is almost intercepted by Leonard, but Livingston just barely beats him to the ball. Curry doesn’t stay still, and his attempt to relocate to the other side opens up the floor for Iguodala. With no one scrambling to cover him — Leonard and Danny Green look toward his way and ignore him — Iguodala comes through with this back-breaking 3-point dagger.
“Over the course of the game, that was kinda disrespectful to leave Andre Iguodala open like that,” Curry said to Doris Burke after the game. “With the game on the line he’s made big shots like that before, and he got it done tonight.”
It’s hard to blame the Raptors — prior to Game 2, Iguodala was shooting an abysmal 0-for-11 from 3-point range after putting away the Houston Rockets with his five 3s in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. Leaving him open and playing the percentages, focusing on rebounding the ball, and giving themselves a chance to tie or take the lead during the next possession would seem like the smart move.
But this is Iguodala — the same seasoned veteran whose two-way play in the 2015 NBA Finals helped the Warriors to their first title in 40 years, with a Finals MVP for Iguodala to boot; the same veteran whose clutch free-throws saved the Warriors against the Thunder in a regular season game back in 2016, which gave Curry the chance to put them away in overtime. This is a cool, calm, and collected operator, whose aforementioned five 3s helped to put the Rockets six-feet under, and whose clutch steal on Damian Lillard helped secure a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals. When push came to shove, Iguodala stared the percentages straight in the eye and muttered, “Not today.”
Iguodala has been a casualty of the wear and tear that the Warriors have been experiencing as of late. He still might not be completely 100 percent recovered from his calf injury. The extent of Looney’s injury is still not known. Thompson’s hamstring is a huge question mark, despite his confidence that he will be able to play on Wednesday. It’s still not sure if Durant will be ready to return for Game 3.
Despite these setbacks, the Warriors’ grit and determination managed to get them over the hump. They accomplished their short-term goal. Home court advantage was regained, and the Warriors — returning to the lofty confines of Oracle Arena — will now have a chance to put the Raptors against the ropes.
Battered? Certainly. Bruised? Most definitely.
But these Warriors are far from being broken.
Thirteen wins down, 3 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.