TORONTO — In the fervor of the Raptors’ first time in the NBA Finals, it felt as if the entire city of Toronto was on edge as game time approached, crowded into what amounted to celebratory events or group therapy for their nerves.
And it seemed understandable if that anxiety included the players in uniform for the Raptors. The franchise has a roster stocked with players who seemed like unlikely participants on this stage. They are led by a coach whose resume was dotted with stops at Grand View University, Belgium, the British Basketball League and the G League before finally getting the assignment in Toronto this season.
Against the two-time defending champion Warriors, making their fifth straight appearance in the Finals, it would have been understandable if the Raptors had been rattled. But they began the game with three-point field goals by players with their own Finals history in San Antonio — Kawhi Leonard and Long Islander Danny Green — and the rest followed.
Actually, more than followed. Pascal Siakam took over for much of the game, scoring a postseason-high 32 points to help the Raptors to a 118-109 win.
“I think we did pretty good job at home,” Siakam said. “The fans are amazing, man. I just want to say that. From coming out for warmup to the end of the game, it was just the support and then going crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that. Just happy to be a part of it.”
By the end of the night, the Warriors looked like the team overwhelmed by the moment. Klay Thompson was called for a technical foul in the closing minutes and Draymond Green found himself exchanging words with Raptors celebrity fan Drake.
Leonard had 23 points but was not the dominant force he has been in the postseason as the Warriors sent waves of defenders at him. But the Raptors didn’t need it as Siakam led the way and found plenty of help. Marc Gasol had 20 points, Fred VanVleet had 13 off the bench and Danny Green scored 11.
Stephen Curry scored 34 points, Thompson had 21 and Draymond Green added 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
“Unless you’re there five times in a row like them — you can see they’re very comfortable, cool and collected, not really worried about it — I feel like it’s something you can’t ever get used to without getting anxious or excited,” Danny Green said. “Especially if you haven’t won many or it’s your first time being here. I’ve only been twice and I’ve only won once. It’s not a recurring thing.”
“We know that they’re human, they’re a great basketball team, talented players, high-basketball-IQ players,” Leonard said. “You just got to go out there and compete, take the challenge. We know they’re going to make big shots, go on runs, and it’s about just keeping your composure and keep fighting through. Don’t put your head down when Steph or Klay make big threes. Just keep playing.”
Siakam, the likely recipient of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, delivered timely baskets again and again, shooting 14-for-17 from the field. At one point he converted 11 straight, and the last of those, an acrobatic shot in the lane over two defenders, made it 96-87 with 8:53 left after the Warriors cut a 12-point deficit to three early in the fourth.
Siakam then led a break and fed Green in the right corner for a three-pointer to increase the lead to 100-88. Leonard’s three over Kevon Looney made it 103-92.
The Warriors could point to the absence of Kevin Durant and consider this a settling of the argument of whether they are better without the elite scorer. They had won five straight postseason games without Durant but needed everything they could find against Toronto, which had a better record this season.
Durant recently made progress from a calf strain, getting back to on-court work. But he seems unlikely to return for Game 2, and maybe not at all. Whether he plays in this series — or ever again for the Warriors — remains a mystery.