For once, Warriors’ inability to overcome slow start costs them Game 1

Klay Thompson talks about how the Golden State Warriors will look to adjust their strategy after falling to the Raptors. Courtesy NBA TV.

TORONTO — The Third-Quarter Warriors.

Last year, Jalen Rose called the Golden State squad that comes out of the locker room after halftime the 31st team in the NBA. This year, that group pretty much single-handedly dispatched the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals after the First-Half Warriors (the 32nd team in the NBA? Didn’t Adam Silver say the league isn’t in expansion mode?) allowed halftime deficits in three of the four games.

On Thursday night, Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Warriors and the Toronto Raptors looked like it could play off the same script.

Golden State came out aggressive on defence from the first possession, with Klay Thompson picking up Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry at the logo and momentarily poking the ball away before 10 seconds had lapsed off the clock.

A healthy dose of 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and a steady stream of double teams stymied Kawhi Leonard in the first half, holding the high-scoring forward to just eight points. But it also created a plethora of open looks off ball movement, and allowed the Raptors to shoot eight of 19 from three and 50 per cent overall.

Meanwhile, the Warriors shot just 36.6 per cent from the field, leading to a 10-point deficit at the half and setting the stage for yet another vintage late rally. But, for one night anyway, the Third-Quarter Warriors didn’t show. Or, more to the point, they weren’t enough. The Raptors came away with a 118–109 victory, leaving the Warriors with a 1–0 hole in the series — the first 1–0 Finals hole of the Steve Kerr era.

Yes, the Warriors managed to win the third 32–29, but that’s nowhere near what they did in the Western Final, where they put up a 25.3 net rating and ran the poor Blazers off the floor.

After the game, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse talked about the frightening prospect of the Golden State offence’s ability to close gaps in a hurry.

“Even though you’re trying really hard sometimes … they will come down and they will make you look silly,” he said. “They will hit, cut, boom, layup, and you’re just like, ‘Man, how did that happen? That happened fast.’”

But he also stressed that, just like with the Milwaukee series, his team’s own offence has a role to play in avoiding that reality.

“Offence is really important for us here, taking care of the ball and getting shots, and getting some to go through the net because if they take it from you, they’re down the floor in a hurry, probably spraying for a three,” Nurse said. “And if they’re playing off the rim all the time, they’re coming downhill fast at you and either at the rim or spraying.”

In Game 1, the Raptors played both roles — theirs and the Warriors’ — to a tee, making shots in the half-court in addition to running off misses and scoring 24 fast-break points.

It didn’t go unnoticed on the Golden State bench.

“The biggest thing for me was our transition defence was just awful and that’s the game,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “That’s the No. 1 priority when you play Toronto.”

Again, this isn’t a new issue for these Warriors in these playoffs. In the Western Final, the Warriors gave up 8.5 first-half fast-break points per game — the highest figure among all four teams in the conference final.

But it’s something they’ve been able to overcome with halftime adjustments and strong second-half play. In the second of two games versus Portland, the Warriors allowed just a single fast-break point per.

On the eve of the game, Draymond Green — who it should be noted didn’t spend much time defending Leonard in Game 1 despite hype around a potential one-on-one matchup of the two — was asked about the Warriors’ slow-starting defence and whether he thought it’d be good enough. While he essentially said yes, he did think they’d be good enough, he also pointed out part of what’s made the Warriors great is identifying what’s not working and fixing it — hence the halftime transformation motif.

“I do think we have the ability to say, ‘Okay, we weren’t that good and we need to focus more here, let’s lock in this half on the defensive side of the basketball,’” said Green. “I do think we have that ability.”

Thursday night that ability didn’t materialize, and neither did the third-quarter run. But theirs is an earned confidence, and one that will take far more than one game to shake.

“We got some tape now and we’ll go to the drawing board,” said Thompson. “And we’ll come back and be much better on Sunday.”

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