The good, the bad, and the Sisyphean from Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
Loser: Steph Curry’s Iconic Finals Game
This is how this dynasty could end. Not with a bang, but with Steph Curry turning into 2015 Finals LeBron James, pushing the limits of what he can do, but getting little help due to injuries. Yes, the irony is palpable—the parallels between Curry and the player he beat in 2015 are almost too obvious, but even still, the Warriors technically have three 2017-18 All-Stars healthy. But with Kevin Durant still out due to a calf injury, Kevon Looney done for the year with a broken collarbone, and Klay Thompson sidelined with a bad hamstring, Game 3 was either going to be the Raptors’ best chance to take control of the series or an all-time performance from Curry that would be played at his Hall of Fame ceremony. But: Porque no los dos?
Game 3 didn’t just bring that now-old-school Curry phenomenon back for a game; it also provided a glimpse of what Curry might look like if he were to adopt Russell Westbrook–like usage. Because no other Warrior besides Curry could consistently hit a shot, he had to become the version of Curry many have longed to see, not the #StrengthInNumbers facilitator, but the blinding supernova. At halftime, he had 25 points to the rest of the team’s 27, four 3s to the team’s one, and seven field goals to the team’s nine. In the second half, Curry put up 22 and finished with more field goals than the rest of the starting lineup combined. He ended up with 47 of the Warriors’ 109 points—a playoff career-high—on 31 shots. But Golden State probably needed him to go for 60.
This game also showed us what we’ve been missing from Steph since Durant’s arrival in 2016. For as much as Curry has proved he is a transcendent talent, his evolution toward the best player in the league was inevitably stifled the past three seasons. Curry no longer had to put the team on his back because if it ever came to that, both he and Durant could split the bill. Curry hero ball—that is, him pulling up for 30-footers, swerving in and out of the defense to find the ball, and driving to the hoop often like he did on Wednesday night—was nearly extinct.
But without Durant as the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option, and without Thompson and Looney, the Warriors’ obscene margin for error suddenly became razor-thin. During a regular-season matchup in November, Curry’s otherworldly performance might have been enough. But in the Finals, against the Raptors, who are far deeper and healthier, it was futile. Much like LeBron’s 2015 games, Curry’s showcase will be one for only the memories.
Winner: The Raptors’ Clutch Shooting
When Jordan Bell pinned Kyle Lowry’s shot against the backboard so hard it ricocheted into the backcourt, it should have been the start of a Warriors fastbreak that would result in either an easy layup or induce a Mike Breen “Bang!” after a Steph Curry 3. Instead, Kawhi Leonard got to the ball first and found Danny Green behind the 3-point line. Green barely had time to get set, leaning forward like he was getting up from a chair, but got the shot off, sinking the 3 and getting Breen’s “Bang!” to serenade him instead.
40 pts, 8 rbds et 6 pds pour Stephen Curry. Mais Danny Green est chaud à 3-pts (6/8) et les Raptors ont toujours un matelas d'avance (96-83) à l'entame du dernier quart-temps. pic.twitter.com/azYZDRrJY7— Basket USA (@basketusa) June 6, 2019
It was that kind of night for Toronto. All of the small breaks, bounces, and shots seemed to go their way, or rather, the Raptors seemed to bend the game to their will through all these small moments. Every time the Warriors threatened a run and shortened the deficit down to seven points, a Raptor responded with a big-time 3 on the other end. Green and Lowry were the main perpetrators.
In his past six playoff games, Green, who was a killer for the Spurs in the Finals of years past, had made a total of six 3s. In Game 3, he hit six on 10 attempts (he also added a couple of crucial plays on the defensive end, including a savage chase-down block on Quinn Cook). Early on, Lowry showed he wasn’t about to lose this game without taking some shots, pulling up for deep 3s like he was Curry. Together, the two kept the game out of Golden State’s grasp.
After Curry scored his 45th point of the night and looked to be trying to get the Warriors back into it yet again, Lowry rendered Curry’s efforts meaningless and downed his fifth 3. Toronto as a whole shot the ball like they were playing in the North and not in Oracle in what could be the penultimate game in that arena. It seemed like every time the crowd would explode due to a Warriors basket, the Raptors silenced it quickly with a shot of their own. Toronto ended up shooting a ridiculous 45 percent from 3 and 52 percent from the field, while the Warriors were sub-40 percent in both categories. Somehow, someway, we’ve arrived in a reality where the team that has the best shooter on the planet isn’t the team with the most, or the best, shooting.
This shooting performance was so monumental that it’s almost surely a one-off, but that just makes it easier to appreciate. When I say it was all going the Raptors’ way in this one, I mean it. Just look at the dagger that dusted off Golden State for good:
Loser: Every Warrior Not Named Steph Curry
Larry O’Brien is looking down from basketball heaven and frowning. This is not what he’s used to seeing from the Warriors roster. It’s not what he’s come to expect of the team that’s owned his trophy three of the past four seasons. He sees Quinn Cook driving to the basket and getting stuffed twice, playing 29 minutes and ending up with a minus-8. He side-eyes Jonas Jerebko, who air-balls a 3 and finishes 1-of-6, and he sighs as Jordan Bell freezes up on defense, Alfonzo McKinnie makes one shot in 18 minutes, and Andrew Bogut records six points in 22 minutes.
These Finals are not supposed to look like this, but here we are. Game 3 was a dark reality for the Warriors. Where Steph shined, nearly everyone else failed. Almost no one could hit a 3 but him (the rest of the team shot 6-of-22 from deep), and at times, no one could generate any offense if it didn’t go through him first. Somehow, he was the leader in not just points, shots made, and 3s made, but assists and rebounds too.
Even starters like Andre Iguodala (minus-14) and Shaun Livingston (1-of-4) didn’t pull their weight. Draymond Green had four turnovers, and when he would try to jump-start the fast break as he’s wont to do, his passes would often end up out of bounds; Cook, Jerebko, and McKinnie were not in the exact spot where Klay Thompson would have been. Neither Green nor the role players adjusted or came to life in a way that would have given them a chance at winning this game. There was plenty of room for someone to be the hero while Curry was the catalyst, but no one stepped up. This game was a vivid reminder of two things: The Warriors need to do everything they can to bring Durant back, and they need to pay Klay Thompson whatever money he wants, too.
Loser: DeMarcus Cousins; Winner: Marc Gasol
Here’s a snapshot of how quickly things can change in the NBA Finals. For the Warriors, DeMarcus Cousins’s Game 2 performance was like finding change in the cracks of an old couch. But in Game 3, when Golden State needed Boogie to be its second- or third-best player, he was one of the worst. And while Cousins’s return from a quad injury to play in this series is admirable in and of itself, the Warriors need him to be more like his Game 2 self than the version that showed up in Game 3.
Walled off by Marc Gasol, and sometimes by Serge Ibaka (who finished with six blocks!), Boogie finished 1-of-7. It became clear rather quickly that he wasn’t just unproductive—he was unplayable. Boogie had no lift in his shots and his poor movement hurt him on defense, where Gasol finished with an all-too-easy 17 points on 11 shots in 26 minutes. Add seven rebounds and four assists for Toronto’s big man and it was exactly the type of performance Boogie and the Warriors could not allow Gasol to have. Toronto dominated the paint (the team finished with 38 points there), and the Warriors had no answer.
Looney’s absence is more detrimental than it may seem at first glance, because it has a domino effect that forces Kerr to scramble for alternate options, which perpetuates the Warriors’ vulnerabilities. Bogut was serviceable, but Boogie’s poor play forced them to turn to Jordan Bell, who wasn’t much better. It could be that the Cousins we saw in Game 2 may be the aberration. And who can blame him for not being able to put together back-to-back performances? It’s wild that we’ve arrived at a place where a guy coming off an Achilles tear and a torn quad is crucial to a championship team. Durant can’t return soon enough.
Winner: Kawhi’s Quiet 30-Point Game
The Raptors put on a clinic in balanced scoring in Game 3. No starter had fewer than 17 points, and that group combined to score 106 of the Raptors’ 123 points. Leonard started off slow, and at halftime it looked like his hurt knee was bothering him. But slowly, surely, and methodically, Kawhi kept hitting shots throughout the second half. By the time I glanced at the box score again, he had 30 points, leading all of Toronto’s scorers. It was his 13th playoff game this season with at least 30 points. What injured knee?
The matter-of-fact nature in which Kawhi comports himself is reflected in his scoring. It comes in waves and it builds up throughout a game in a way that is almost as unassuming as he is. It’s why we’ve probably come to appreciate more than just his scoring. I can guarantee you that no shot he hit tonight was as impressive as this rebound he stretched out to get:
There are rebounds. And then there are REBOUNDS. pic.twitter.com/kgPddCaKp0— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) June 6, 2019
Never forget that the board man gets paid.