OAKLAND, Calif. — In Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Raptors resorted to a box-and-one gimmick defense to contain Warriors star Stephen Curry, and though it worked briefly, it led to a loss that evened the series.
But with the Warriors playing severely shorthanded in Game 3 because of injuries, the Raptors allowed Curry to run wild for his playoff career-high 47 points while pretty much boxing out the rest of the Warriors on their way to a 123-109 victory Wednesday night at Oracle Arena to take a 2-1 series lead and regain homecourt advantage.
Curry’s other “Splash Brother,” Klay Thompson, was sidelined by a left hamstring strain that put him on the injured list with teammates Kevin Durant and Kevon Looney. Lacking so much firepower, Curry did all the heavy lifting, scoring his points on 14-for-31 shooting and adding eight rebounds and seven assists. But only two other Warriors scored in double figures.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse admitted junking the gimmick defense to play Curry straight up. “We wanted to get back to doing what we normally do,” Nurse said of a defensive effort that held the Warriors to 39.6 percent shooting. “[Curry] had a ton in the first half. We tried to up our presence on him with some double teams. But my dad used to tell me the stats don’t matter, just the final score.”
In this case, the Raptors had Curry and the Warriors outnumbered with six players in double figures led by Kawhi Leonard with 30 points, Kyle Lowry with 23 and Danny Green with 18, including a 6-for-10 effort from three. The Raptors converted 17 of 38 threes (44.7 percent) and led by 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Considering the Warriors’ injury circumstances, it was a game the Raptors knew they had to win. Leonard said Thompson’s absence increased the Raptors’ sense of urgency.
“It’s a lot of pressure if one of the main guys is not playing,” Leonard said. “They can still come out and get a win. Steph played great tonight. But it was big. I’m happy we got it. Two wins away now, and let’s see what this momentum carries us to.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr made the decision to sit Thompson to prevent him from suffering a more serious injury. “I never would have forgiven myself if I played him tonight and he had gotten hurt,” Kerr said. Hinting that not only Thompson, but Kevin Durant might be available for Game 4, Kerr added, “We’ve just got to bounce back and hopefully get back here Friday night, get a little healthier and get some guys back.”
Curry carried the offensive load for the Warriors from the outset, scoring 17 first-quarter points and taking half of the Warriors’ 22 field goal attempts. But the Warriors trailed 36-29. Curry had 25 points by halftime and reached 40 by the end of the third quarter.
But after the Warriors closed within seven points late in the third period, the Raptors responded with a 13-4 surge that included back-to-back threes by Long Island’s Green to build their lead to 91-75.
“Every time we made a run or got the crowd into it, they either made a tough three or there was a tough foul called and they slowed the tempo down or something went their way,” Curry lamented. “You have to tip your cap to all the guys that made pivotal plays at the right times.
“It’s no secret that we’re a little injury-plagued right now, and guys are just trying to find a way back to the court . . . But I liked the competitiveness we had understanding that we’re missing 50 points pretty much between KD and Klay. We’ll adjust. It’s a long series. It’s going to be fun for us."