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Kawhi Leonard leads Raptors to 3-1 lead and brink of NBA championship

Raptors center Serge Ibaka celebrates his three-point basket

Raptors center Serge Ibaka celebrates his three-point basket against the Warriors next to forward Kawhi Leonard during the second half of Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday in Oakland, Calif. Credit: The Canadian Press via AP/Frank Gunn

OAKLAND, Calif. — The cavalry arrived for the hobbled Warriors when Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney came back from injuries to make major contributions in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday night at Oracle Arena. But it wasn’t enough to tie the series, as the Raptors took a 3-1 lead with a 105-92 victory.

The Raptors will attempt to clinch their first NBA title in Game 5 on Monday night in Toronto.

The Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard turned in yet another superstar performance with 36 points and 12 rebounds, and he got an unexpected 20-point assist by Serge Ibaka off the bench.

The Raptors handled everything the Warriors threw at them, including an inadvertent elbow by Shaun Livingston that hit Raptors guard Fred Van Vleet in the face and knocked him out of the game with 9:35 to play. He suffered a wound that required seven stitches.

Immediately after the injury, a three-point play by Ibaka and a three-pointer by Leonard gave the Raptors their biggest lead at 88-72 with 8:44 left. Steph Curry hit a three at the 2:56 mark to pull the Warriors within 97-89, but that was as close as they got.

Asked what a title would mean for a team that represents an entire country, Leonard said, “They’re already excited just us being here [in the Finals] for the first time. They’re going crazy after the Eastern Conference finals. You’ve got to ask somebody that’s been living in Canada for a while, but I know they’re going to be super-excited.”

In the 2016 Western Conference finals, the Warriors overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Thunder to reach the NBA Finals, where they lost a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers.

“It’s not over,” Curry said. “It’s obviously not a good feeling right now, but we have been on both sides of it. It’s an opportunity for us to just flip this whole series on its head, and you do that one game at a time. In our locker room, we’re talking about believing . . . believe we can get this done. We can draw on those experiences we had back in the day and see what happens.”

If the Warriors don’t win Game 5, they will have played their last game at Oracle Arena before moving to a new facility in San Francisco.

Thompson led the Warriors with 28 points, Curry added 27 and Looney scored 10 off the bench with six rebounds. But the Warriors shot only 8-for-27 from three-point range (29.6%), including 2-for-9 by Curry, and committed 19 turnovers.

Thompson was expected to return after missing Game 3 with a hamstring injury. Looney was a surprise because he was considered out for the series with a fractured collarbone.

“There’s no long-term risk involved with him playing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before the game. “He’s dying to play, so we’ll give him a shot and see what he’s got.”

The return of Thompson and Looney left only Kevin Durant (calf) on the sideline, and Kerr said, “We’re hoping he can play Game 5 or 6.”

The Warriors took a 25-17 first-quarter lead, with Leonard scoring 14 of the Raptors’ points. The rest of the team shot 1-for-13.

Despite 34.1% first-half shooting, the Raptors cut their halftime deficit to 46-42. When they opened the third quarter with back-to-back threes by Leonard, they suddenly found themselves with a 48-46 lead. They finished the period on a 20-6 run, including 11 points from Leonard, for a 79-67 lead.

“I know Kawhi’s two big threes to start the second half really changed the whole feel of everybody,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Everybody was like, ‘OK, we know we are here. Let’s go.’ And we just kind of kept going from those two threes.”

New York Sports