The good, the bad, and the hobbled from Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
Game 2: Warriors 109, Raptors 104
Winner: The Warriors’ Role Players; Loser: The Injured Warriors
Andre Iguodala didn’t need to take the shot, but the dagger had to come from someone, and a double-teamed Steph Curry had just passed the ball up. After somehow grappling Curry’s pass away from Kawhi Leonard with 10 seconds left in the game, Shaun Livingston found a wide-open Iguodala, who took his time and launched it. It rattled—literally rattled—touching almost every part of the rim before falling in. Iguodala’s long arms followed the shot through, and it was enough to seal the Warriors’ win. But as early as the second quarter, it looked like the shot, if it came to that in crunch time, would be Klay Thompson’s to take.
You know it’s going to be one of those Klay Games when the ball barely settles in his hands before he launches a 3. In the first half, Klay took a shot that was more touch-and-go than catch-and-shoot, but the ball still swished in. All 10 of his field goals in the first half were contested, and he made seven of them, going 3-of-3 from deep. We were primed for a Klay Game, all right. But then in the second half this happened:
Holy crap was that an awkward landing by Klay. Lucky he’s okay. pic.twitter.com/r20e70Kujq— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) June 3, 2019
Klay was suddenly limping, and angry—either at Danny Green for how he contested the shot, or at the fact that there was no injury timeout until after Serge Ibaka made a 3. He went back to the locker room with what was eventually reported to be left hamstring tightness and wouldn’t return. “I don’t see myself missing Game 3,” he said postgame (presumably after he called Drake a “bum ass”). Game 3 could have been a far more dire situation if it hadn’t been for Iguodala, who not only hit that crucial shot, but—after going back to the locker room with an apparent injury of his own in the second quarter—ended up with eight points, grabbed eight boards, and had six assists. Or Quinn Cook, who came in and channeled his own Curry mode and hit three monumental 3s in the second half.
But Thompson wasn’t the only Warrior who suffered an injury. Kevon Looney left the game with a sprained collarbone and also didn’t return. That left a void that DeMarcus Cousins—in his first start after returning from injury in Game 1—was ready (maybe even too ready) to fill. From tipoff, Cousins was energized, perhaps to his detriment initially. He picked up two quick fouls, missed shots, and was erratic on both ends of the floor as the Raptors targeted him in the pick-and-roll. Slowly, he began to turn it around, and he did it by being more patient and trusting his most underrated skill: passing.
Cousins dished players open down the stretch run, finished with six assists (the Warriors assisted on all of their last 22 shots), and used his size to grab important boards, 10 in total. Looney had been Golden State’s best big, but Boogie adds more talent when he can rein it in. The Warriors can’t afford any more injuries, so they need Boogie to replicate his second-half performance. And perhaps that attrition, not the tight-locked matchups between the two squads, gets Kevin Durant to return in Game 3.
Winner: The Warriors Defense
If you want to get a sense of what the Warriors can do on defense when they flip that switch, all you have to do is see Pascal Siakam’s face in the third quarter of Game 2 when Iguodala brick-walled him underneath the basket and forced him into a jump ball. He winced and grimaced and became an emoji for frustration. Or maybe take a glance at just how upset Kawhi Leonard appeared to be as he tossed the ball toward the referee in the fourth quarter after Nick Nurse called a timeout because Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut had stood up like twin towers and trapped Kawhi near half court. Even Kawhi, in that scenario, had no answer.
After cutting the Raptors’ 12-point lead to five by halftime, the Warriors went into third-quarter mode from the jump and blazed an 18-0 run—22-1 going back to the final minute of the second quarter. That happened only because the Warriors defense had set the stage. The Raptors failed to make a shot until a Fred VanVleet 3 from the right corner with 6:20 left in the quarter fell. Toronto could muster only 21 points in the entire frame. And in the fourth, the Raptors finished with a slightly better 24.
The Warriors avalanche can’t begin without an earthquake, and that’s what Golden State’s defense does—shake an opponent to its core. To describe it as suffocating doesn’t do it justice. This is a unit that can, in a second, tie your hands behind your back and put you under lock and key, and you’ll wake up to find yourself lost at sea, confused, and without a sense of direction. What we talk about when we talk about the Warriors’ absurd third-quarter greatness is really their defense. The shots and the ball movement are aesthetic bliss, but they can’t happen without the extra effort on closeouts, the savvy cutting off of passes, and the rim protection.
Loser: The Raptors’ Shooting
Disclaimer: For the first part of this blurb, I will be in overreaction mode. After the Raptors cut the lead to eight points with just over three minutes left in the game, they did the following: missed a 3, missed a 3, turned it over, missed a shot. Then, with a minute left and the lead suddenly down to five, they did this: missed a 3, missed a shot, missed a 3. Had any two of those shots gone in, the Warriors would be down 2-0. Instead, I fear we may look back at that stretch and say that’s where the Raptors lost the series.
Any of a handful of 3-point attempts could have saved the Raptors. After a healthy shooting performance in Game 1, the North froze over and all Toronto could do was keep shooting in vain. The Raptors shot 28.9 percent from 3 and 37.2 percent from the field. In Game 1, those numbers were 39.4 percent and 50.6 percent. That’s the difference. Part of this was, again, the swarming defense of the Warriors, but in the first quarter, when the Raptors were threatening to manufacture a big lead, they missed wide-open 3s. And at the end of the game, they kept forcing them. Both were counterintuitive.
I’m all for Kyle Lowry thriving in his first-ever Finals appearance, but that he led the team with three made 3s is not exactly great, Bob. Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, Danny Green, and Serge Ibaka combined to shoot 11-for-28 from the field. And though Fred VanVleet had another stellar post-childbirth performance with 17 points, he took eight 3s and made only two. That kind of volume isn’t exactly what you’d want out of a role player unless he’s scorching. The scariest part for Toronto is that these are the shots that are supposed to go in when they’re playing at home—the shots that are supposed to win them a game. But they didn’t, now the series is tied, and the deluge of noise and tension and pressure of Oracle Arena looms.
Winner: Andrew Bogut, Lob Master
If the Finals were a baseball game, then what Kerr did with Bogut in Game 2 is like a manager bringing in a reliever for a single pitch. Bogut didn’t play at all in Game 1, and though he started six games in these playoffs, he had slowly been played out of the rotation, especially because of the matchups in this series. But Bogut saw time on Sunday and made the most of it.
Bogut walked onto the court and ambled his 7-foot body toward the rim, jumping slightly. The lobs from Steph Curry and Draymond Green were picture-perfect and allowed the Australian to merely stretch out his arms like he was waking up from a midday nap and push the ball down into the hoop. Three lobs, three makes, six points—all as easy as signing with the Warriors in March and ending up with another ring. Now, at least Bogut can say he helped them get it.
Loser: Pascal Siakam’s Regression
Regression to the mean is a brutal reality, and Siakam felt the brunt of it in Game 2. After going 14-of-17 in Game 1, Siakam was stifled on Sunday, shooting 5-of-18. The corner 3s that fell in Game 1 were falling short, and the sudden aggression that allowed him to barrel through Draymond evaporated. In some ways, it was predictable that Siakam would take a trip back down to earth after the best game of his life. But it wasn’t just his shooting that suffered. His decision-making did too, especially in the most important possession of the game:
Watch Siakam.— Boogie Bousins (@bansky) June 3, 2019
Tried to cherry pick and ended up leaving Iguodala open in the process pic.twitter.com/ksoR8SlShJ
In Game 1, his youth and relative inexperience were touted to enhance the performance he put together. But Sunday’s game showed us the flip side of those traits. Siakam has now had at least one great game in each of the Raptors’ playoff series. Logic says Siakam will bounce back. But Toronto had better hope that Game 2, not 1, was an aberration.