In the first meeting of the NBA Finals opponents since the Raptors celebrated their title-winning Game 6 victory well into several nights, the Raptors paid tribute by winning in their first-ever visit to the Chase Center, the Warriors’ new building.
Fitting, as they won the last game they — or anyone — ever played at Oracle also.
The 121-113 victory wasn’t a classic, given the win improved the Raptors’ record to 44-18 while the last-place Warriors fell to 14-49.
Toronto needed a little bit of everything and then some luck to move on with the win. Leading by four with 27 seconds left the Raptors proceeded to turn the ball over out of timeout, put the Warriors on the line, were blessed with two missed Warriors free throws and then failed to rebound the second miss only to survive as open looks from three by the Warriors — before Norm Powell was finally able to ice it at the line with 15.3 seconds left, capping a career-high 37-point night that would have been spoiled had Toronto blown a nine-point lead in the final three minutes.
The win improved the Raptors’ regular-season winning streak over the once-mighty Warriors to three straight. Kyle Lowry finished with 26 points — just like he did last June — and Serge Ibaka returned after missing four games with knee soreness to provide 13 points and 13 rebounds as Toronto improved to 2-1 on their five-game road trip.
It’s just another signature night in a season full of them for Powell, the blossoming fifth-year guard.
“Honestly, I feel like it’s a broken record with me saying it, but I work on my game, I work on my craft year in, year out, day in, day out and I go out there and try to help the team win,” said Powell. “Good games, bad games, it doesn’t matter to me — as long as the coaches and my teammates trust me to go out there and make winning plays, I go out there and believe in myself.
The Warriors were optimistic that the return of their two-time MVP would provide them a boost in a season that has been spoiled by injuries. Klay Thompson will miss the entire year after tearing his ACL in Game 6, Curry had missed 58 games after breaking his hand on Oct. 30. Kevin Durant left in free agency and he’s effectively been replaced by Andrew Wiggins.
But there was a giddiness at the prospect of Curry’s return and all things considered he delivered spectacularly after a four-month absence and two surgeries on his left hand.
“He’s always gonna be great,” said Lowry. “The only rust I seen was Norm stealing the ball from him [in the second quarter] and that’s about it. Other than that, I seen Steph Curry. I think he’s one of the best players in the league still and he’s going to be. I think him coming back is a great decision. He’s going to get to play the rest of this season under his belt and kind of get used to everything and have a great rest of the season.”
For the Warriors, it was basketball Christmas.
“Everybody is excited. It just feels like, in a lot of ways, and not just [because of] Steph’s return, it just feels like we have emerged from the woods a little bit,” said Kerr. “The last week or two, knowing Steph will return, but winning a couple of games this week, getting some clarity on the roster with the trade with Andrew (Wiggins) … it’s been a nice little stretch here. I think Steph has a lot to do with that … but I think the last 20 games are really going to be a springboard into next year, I think that energy will be high and remain high.”
Curry was on a minutes restriction — the plan was to keep him to 24-to-28 minutes with a maximum of 30. Credit the Warriors coaching staff as Curry had about 10 minutes — he’d put up 19 points and six assists through his first 20 minutes — to burn to start the fourth quarter with the Raptors clinging to a 89-99 lead.
Curry finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 27 minutes and cut the Raptors’ lead to two with a twisting lay-up with 64 seconds left. But the Warriors couldn’t get closer.
He got some help. One of the Warriors’ best stretches came when he was sitting during the third quarter. The Raptors had led by as much as 14 before half but saw that wasted when Eric Paschall — one of the unheralded rookies that have thrived with a big dose of opportunity — hit a triple to put the Warriors up 85-83 with 3:27 to play in the third.
Their run was sparked by a pair of threes by Wiggins, playing his first game against his hometown team as a member of the Warriors after being acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves. He finished with 21 points and nine rebounds.
The opening quarter lacked the electricity the opening of Game 6 carried, for obvious reasons. Curry got a massive ovation in the pre-game introductions and another one when he took the floor for the opening tip and another when he touched the ball for the first time, and pretty much every time after that. Warriors fans were happy to have Curry back.
It took a while to get rolling, as he was scoreless in the opening quarter, although he did have three assists. And Lowry didn’t explode for 11 straight points as did last time he played the Warriors, but he did knock down a pair of threes, as did OG Anunoby, and the Raptors led 32-27 after the first period.
Curry has made a habit of coming back from injury on fire. The last five times he’s missed four games or more he’s averaged 32.4 points in his return. The fireworks weren’t there this time around. Instead, it was Powell who did his vintage Curry impression.
The Raptors guard scored 12 straight to start the second quarter and 15 of the Raptors first 20, his spree interrupted by a pair of swooping driving dunks by Terence Davis, the second a three-point play. Powell had 19 of his 23 first-half points in the second quarter. Curry did find a way to impact the game. He created several easy hoops for his teammates and did light up the crowd with one trademark deep bomb, but the Raptor led 62-55.
The Warriors made the Raptors work for it, but Toronto was able to leave with the win. This time they’re headed to Sacramento for a game Sunday rather than to Las Vegas for an epic bash that peaked in a parade, but any win against the Warriors brings back fond memories, and likely will for years to come.