OAKLAND, Calif. — DeMar DeRozan was Kyle Lowry’s closest friend, and when DeRozan was traded to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green last July, Lowry was hurt and angry. But with the Raptors two wins away from a title heading into Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday night at Oracle Arena, Lowry understands that landmark trade gave his team something it was missing.
“I think we just added a couple great pieces with Danny’s and Kawhi’s championship pedigree,” Lowry said after a Game 3 win that gave the Raptors a 2-1 lead over the two-time defending champion Warriors.
Lowry also said the midseason addition of center Marc Gasol was another important piece of the championship puzzle. “We’ve got a bunch of guys who are professionals, and we’ve got a good veteran group,” he said. “You’re not going to win every game, but you can continue to grow to the point to play into June, and that was always the goal with this team was to get to June.”
Lowry said first-year coach Nick Nurse’s experience winning titles in England and in the G League has helped the Raptors navigate playoff waters they’ve never seen, but Nurse downplayed the effect of the winning mindset the Raptors have acquired in favor of focusing on the moment.
“Not really trying to think about that,” Nurse said. “We’re just trying to take them like each game is critical. If we put a huge effort in and we’re the hardest-playing team, then we’re going to deserve to win. And that’s all we’re focused on.”
Suddenly, an injury-plagued Warriors team seeking its third straight title and fourth in the past five seasons finds itself in a precarious position, needing to win both of its potential remaining home games plus one more in Toronto. The Warriors got Klay Thompson back for Game 4 after a one-game absence because of a tight left hamstring, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr announced the surprise return of center Kevon Looney, who was said to be out for the series with a fractured collarbone but wound up missing only Game 3.
Kevin Durant (calf) sat out Game 4, but Kerr said, “We’re hoping he can play Game 5 or 6.”
Kerr said his team has relied on experience to roll with the punches. “I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but the benefit of having been through five years of this is we have seen everything. We have lost a 3-1 lead in heartbreaking fashion, we have come back from 3-1 down, we have had to win a Game 7 on the road. You can name it and we have seen it.
“The key is you just zero in on the next game. You make your adjustments, you win the next game, and all of a sudden, everything shifts and the whole narrative changes. Just don’t get caught up in the hoopla.”
Thompson’s return figured to allow the Warriors to return to more comfortable lineup rotations, and with his defensive ability on the perimeter, the Warriors were hoping to do a much better job defending the three-pointer. The Raptors were 17-for-38 on three-pointers in Game 3, including a combined 11-for-19 by guards Green and Lowry.
“I think Klay is going to come out and be aggressive and be himself,” Lowry predicted. “The one thing about Klay is he brings defense, he brings offense, he brings just that extra swag that they have as a team and as an individual competitor. He’s one of the toughest guys out there.”
The question going into Game 4 was whether that would be enough to keep the Warriors’ three-peat hopes alive.