Another massive opportunity — and stiff test — awaits the Toronto Raptors tonight in Oakland, where they’ll be looking to take a commanding 3-1 lead versus the two-time defending champ Golden State Warriors.
Klay Thompson is expected to suit up, while Kevin Durant has officially been ruled out, setting up a fascinating matchup Friday night before the series shifts back to Toronto on Monday night.
From the Raptors’ being doubted despite looking every bit like the better team, to the performance of Kawhi Leonard, and the Raps’ hot shooting, here’s what the out-of-market media are saying about the Raptors ahead of Game 4:
FiveThirtyEight’s predictions model gave the Raptors a 55-per cent chance to win the Finals against the Warriors before Game 1 tipped-off and, three games in, it appears to be an accurate prognostication about the series. And yet, even with a chance to take a convincing 3-1 lead tonight, it seems the Raptors — Vegas underdogs for the second consecutive game — are still under-appreciated. The FiveThirtyEight staff discuss:
natesilver: Handicappers still have the Warriors as ever-so-slight favorites, though pretty close to 50/50. So our model is still a little out of line with the consensus.
tchow: Handicappers are really not appreciating what Toronto has done this series.
sara.ziegler: No one believes in the Raptors!
sara.ziegler: (Except us, obviously.)
natesilver: Yeah, it’s a bit nuts. Like, this could easily be a 3-0 series. Toronto clearly played better in the two wins, and Game 2 could have gone differently if they’d hit more shots.
natesilver: Let’s remember that the Raptors’ two wins have come by 9 points and 14 points, respectively. Those are pretty solid margins. I know you can’t be quite this linear because of gameflow and all that, but our model figures that a healthy Warriors team is maybe 6-ish points per game better than the version they’ve been putting out there, so maybe Games 1 and 3 are still narrow wins for the Raptors.
neil: And yet, didn’t it feel at times down the stretch of Game 3 that maybe — mayyyyyyybe — the Warriors would make a push?
tchow: Yes! Everytime they cut it to 8 or 9, I was like, “here we go.”
neil: That was the least safe-feeling 10-point lead ever.
natesilver: They were on the verge of being on the verge, but never on the verge.
I think the 14-point scoreline pretty accurately reflected how competitive the game was.
tchow: Credit to Toronto for making shot after shot to not allow the comeback to really have momentum.
natesilver: They did sink a lot of shots, yeah. Except in that stretch in the second quarter. But they don’t squander very many possessions on EITHER end, and that counts for a LOT.
Shot chart guru Kirk Goldsberry examines the Raptors’ hot shooting and what the depleted Warriors can — and can’t — do to slow them down:
The Dubs need to find ways to slow down a Toronto team that has scored at least 118 points twice, while Golden State has scored 109 points in each of the first three games.
Toronto Scoring By Game:
Game/Result — EFG (%) — TOTAL POINTS
Game 1 win — 59.1 — 118
Game 2 loss — 43.1 — 104
Game 3 win — 62.8 — 123
It’s unlikely this is purely shooting luck on the Raptors’ end. Given both the shot quality and the shooter, Toronto had an expected eFG of 53.4% on 3s in the regular season, per Second Spectrum tracking. That has bumped up to 54.3% in the playoffs and 55.3% against the Warriors. The Raptors outperformed their shot quality in their two wins, but they are creating legitimately good opportunities.
As much as Thompson and Durant help on offense, their talents and experience are just as vital on the other end. The Warriors’ dynasty will rightfully go down as one of the best perimeter offenses the world has ever seen, but this group owes just as much of its success to dominant perimeter defense.
SI’s Andrew Sharp previews Game 4 and wonders if this is the game we’ll see Kawhi Leonard absolutely take over in a way we haven’t seen yet in these Finals:
It sounds strange to say this about a superstar who’s currently averaging 29 points through three games, but Kawhi’s had a quiet Finals thus far. For one, the Warriors have done an excellent job shading help defenders toward his drives to disrupt his rhythm. Kawhi also looks sluggish moving up and down the floor with a leg that’s been injured since early in the Bucks series. No one is sure how severe the injury actually is, but he’s been more earthbound even as he continues to produce at a superstar level.
If I were a Warriors fan, I would be wary. Kawhi can play better than he has. He can dominate in the midrange, he can hit from outside, and when the game slows to a grind, he can take over. The Raptors have gotten a great win at home (Game 1) and a killer game from their role players (Game 3), and now Golden State is wobbling. Game 4 would be the perfect time for Kawhi to step forward and provide a knockout punch that changes the entire series and sends the Warriors into full-on crisis mode.