OAKLAND, Calif. – They got their money’s worth. The Bay Area is a long way to travel, so you might as well get the full Golden State Warriors experience.
It was the Raptors’ last regular-season visit to a venue that is in its last season and has been the sight of endless nightmares for Toronto, winless here since 2004.
During the pre-game, amidst the ear-splitting pump-up noise that is part of the Oracle Arena lovin, the public address announcer made the point that Golden State would be seeking revenge for the Raptors’ win in Toronto last month back when the Warriors were playing without Steph Curry and Draymond Green.
But they were healthy on Wednesday, making the matchup between the NBA-leading Raptors and the two-time defending champion Warriors as good as it gets, even if Toronto was playing on the second night of a back-to-back and without Kawhi Leonard, who sat for the second straight game with a bruised right hip.
On paper, it only made sense that the Raptors would be easy pickings with the whole world watching on ESPN.
Not so fast.
In a contest that proves why sports betting is a terrible idea, the short-handed, road-weary Raptors absolutely pummelled the most dominant regular-season team in NBA history, 113-93. They held the Warriors to just six threes and the mighty Curry to just 10 points, while Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 23 points and 12 assists as all five starters hit double figures.
A lot of outcomes might have been anticipated.
The Warriors smashing the Raptors? Sure. All the excuses in the world were available to them, some of them even reasons.
The Raptors fighting hard to the end but falling short? That might have been my bet.
But Toronto leading virtually wire-to-wire, never giving the Warriors a crack of daylight and sending scores of their manic fans up the aisles to beat traffic before the fourth quarter was half over?
A triumphant ‘Let’s Go Raptors’ chant echoing over a rapidly emptying arena as the horn sounded?
But the Raptors did it, using an 11-0 run to start the fourth quarter to build on their first 36 minutes of impeccable work and open up a 26-point lead with 8:48 to play. The Warriors waved the white flag with five minutes left as head coach Steve Kerr pulled his starters. It was only the Warriors’ 24th home loss since they started their championship run five years ago — against 123 wins. Amazing.
The win improved Toronto’s record to 23-7 – a franchise-best through 30 games – and enhanced its status as the NBA’s best story so far this season. That the club improved to 7-1 without Leonard and 2-0 against the Warriors (19-10), who came into the game as the top seed in the Western Conference, is gravy. What else? The Raptors are now 2-0 on what was rightfully projected as a monster Western swing as they enjoy an off-day Thursday before playing in Portland Friday night.
Coming off the heels of their blowout win against the Los Angeles Clippers, who were No. 2 in the West when the Raptors swamped them the night before, it is almost unquestionably the franchise’s most impressive back-to-back stretch in its history.
“I love Oracle. I love the fans here. I love the building,” said Lowry. I think they are moving to a new building next year so it’s going to be a missed place but it’s special. This is a great building. The atmosphere is unbelievable. They have done special things here. But it’s just a great building … we lost 13 in a row I guess as an organization … guess they got to start a new streak. What else can I say?
The Raptors led 57-41 at half, sawing through the Warriors like the magician does the lady in a box as they jumped out to a 13-point lead on Golden State after the first quarter – the largest hole the Warriors have been in to start a game at home this season. Then they held serve with the second unit as Raptors head coach Nick Nurse opted to tighten his rotation a little bit by giving Lowry and Siakam a longer stint with the struggling second unit. The Raptors pushed their lead to 18 on an Ibaka floater with a minute to play and went into the half in full control, to the extent that’s possible against the NBA’s most explosive offence. They did it in the first half by holding them to 38.6 per cent shooting and only three total triples, shades of what was to come.
The Warriors didn’t bring their ‘A’ game and the Raptors punished them for it.
“They have a little bit of everything – athletic wings and bigs that can shoot threes and put the ball on the floor,” said Curry. “We know Kyle Lowry is a great player … tonight they were obviously the better team and everybody seemed to have confidence and were playing off each other really well and on our end, we just didn’t have it.”
The only cloud was a nasty-looking injury to Jonas Valanciunas, who dislocated his right thumb as Green swiped at the ball as the big Lithuanian gathered it in the paint. Valanciunas was in agony and replays showed his thumb at a horrible angle. There was no foul on the play, although there were those in the Raptors camp that believed it was a reckless chop on Green’s part. It will likely cost Valanciunas considerable time – a shame as he was effective finishing in the paint against the Warriors, just as he has been all season. But the Raptors’ depth is something else, and they were able to get good minutes from little-used Greg Monroe and will be able to rely on him if Valanciunas is out for any extended period.
After the half the Raptors kept pushing. Even as the Warriors were trying to position themselves for a fourth-quarter surge, Fred VanVleet snuck in for a steal on Kevin Durant and took it the length of the floor for a layup, sapping the home team’s momentum with one of a handful of sharp plays that helped the Raptors maintain a healthy 15-point cushion with 12 minutes to play.
But this was what the Raptors signed up for, right? A chance to knock off the kings on their home court?
Before the game, it was worth asking how the Raptors would manage Golden State with its full roster (less Andre Iguodala, out with a hip injury of his own), and specifically Curry, who returned to the lineup the game after the Warriors’ visit to Toronto and has promptly resumed lighting up the league like few ever have.
Through 17 games, Curry was averaging an NBA-best 30.1 points a game while shooting a preposterous 50 per cent from three. Only six players have ever shot better than 50 per cent from deep since the line was introduced in 1979 while making at least one a game, and three times it happened in the mid-90s when the line was shortened to 22 feet and nine inches. No one has ever done it while even averaging three attempts a game.
Could he be the first high-volume three-point shooter to make half of his attempts?
“For sure [someone can shoot 50 per cent from three], but you would expect it to be from a guy who is just going to stand there and be wide open and shoot three of them a game. There a couple of guys who have done that before,” said Kerr, the NBA’s all-time leader in three-point accuracy, poking fun at himself. “In terms of flying around like Steph does and shooting off the dribble and shooting the volume of threes that he does and shooting the half-court shots at the end of quarters, fearlessly, it’s almost impossible to do that over the course of the year, but I don’t put anything past Steph, that’s for sure.”
But Curry never had a chance as he had to grind out a 2-of-8 night and got just 12 shots overall for an underwhelming 10 points. VanVleet got into his shirt and Danny Green chased him around and even made him work in the post at times. Klay Thompson (14 points on 17 shots) was a rumour too. It was elite team defence against the game’s best offensive weapons.
“We just tried to make them uncomfortable,” VanVleet said. “They’re one of the best teams in the league for a reason and their offence [is as well], so we tried to take their main guys out and make them do things they’re not comfortable doing and try to play to their tendencies and take things away and I thought we did a good job following the game plan.
“Obviously a lot of that has to do with them missing shots sometimes. They missed some open ones that they usually make but you would hope that the aggressiveness and disruptiveness that we tried to play with on the defensive end [paid off].”
It was one part of the recipe for one of the most unlikely games the Raptors have ever played at Oracle Arena in the last season the Warriors will play here before heading for shinier digs in San Francisco.
They shut down Curry. They shut down everyone. They sent a message that was hard to ignore and won’t be forgotten.