Does Toronto’s Game 1 Win Spell Doom For The Warriors?

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): One game into the NBA Finals, and #WarriorsIn4 is already over. But what a first game! The Toronto Raptors led for most of the contest but weren’t able to put away the Golden State Warriors until the very end.

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): I’m gonna be honest. I was second screening Game 1 because my eyes were glued to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I learned some new words that I’m gonna try to sneak in here, so you all better have your dictionaries ready — I’m about to drop some 🔥

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Omg, Tony

sara.ziegler: Tony

Though, I’m not gonna lie, I turned to that after the game was over.

neil: Fortunately, the NBA can’t declare an eight-way tie for the championship. (Sorry, Celtics.)

sara.ziegler: Chris, you’re in Toronto right now. What was the game like up close?

chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): The atmosphere was incredible, and loud — both during the game and then pretty wild after. The fans here are insane.

I think the game was what we hoped it would be, after years of watching relatively uncompetitive series with a team that couldn’t defend Golden State well enough. The Raptors’ defense is no joke, and it challenged the Warriors all game long. Toronto presents real problems for a club missing someone like Kevin Durant.

neil: Yeah, Chris, this was the Warriors’ 20th-worst shooting game of the season by effective field-goal percentage. They still managed to get to the line, but they had a lot of turnovers, and Toronto held the non-Steph Curry scorers mostly in check. Fred VanVleet even did an admirable job keeping Curry from truly exploding.

chris.herring: The Warriors shot 23 percent on contested shots last night, the worst mark they’ve had in a playoff game in the Steve Kerr era, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group.

neil: And you have to think that Durant — one of the best tough-shot makers in history — would have boosted that some.

chris.herring: Yeah. I’m really curious as to where Curry is going to have problems with VanVleet — we mentioned in our preview that he’d done very little scoring this season — averaging just 10 points per 100 possessions when VanVleet is the man defending him. That continued last night.

sara.ziegler: FiveThirtyEight’s most valuable player (valuable in the most literal sense), Pascal Siakam had an amazing NBA Finals debut, scoring 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting. How surprised were you at how well he played?

tchow: You could say Siakam was shining bright like a pendeloque last night.

neil: LOL

Our model definitely thinks highly of Siakam as a player, but I’m not going to say I saw him scoring 30+ going in. He had 32 points on 82 percent shooting!!! That’s the fourth-best shooting percentage in a 30-plus-point finals game EVER, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

chris.herring: The Warriors got a lot of questions here about Siakam after last night’s performance. Draymond Green said it’s clear that Siakam is “a guy” now — meaning that we might not have treated him as a difference-maker before, but we sure as hell will now.

sara.ziegler: He’s a ⭐ now.

chris.herring: Golden State basically acknowledged leaving certain guys open to begin the game in hopes of taking away Kawhi Leonard. That process worked, in a way. Leonard wasn’t efficient.

But as a result, everyone else — particularly Siakam and Marc Gasol, who played brilliantly — got going. Danny Green was also himself again. And Golden State was never able to turn off that faucet.

neil: Siakam might be a problem for the Warriors going forward. They didn’t have many good options to stop him. He scored 16 directly on Draymond. He also showcased his dangerous range as a 3-point shooter when rotations broke down or he trailed the play.

chris.herring: I understand why GSW was willing to take that gamble with Siakam. He’s become very good from the corners but is right around 30 percent — if not worse — from above the arc. The real issue was letting him get whatever he wanted in transition. He was 5 of 5 in transition and hit 11 shots in a row at one point — the longest streak in a finals game over the last 20 years. As good as he is, that simply can’t happen in a game like that if you’re the Warriors.

Golden State gave credit to Siakam but also largely chalked the game up to them not having seen this Raptors club before. They hadn’t played since early December, and Toronto has added Gasol, while Kawhi obviously took turns in and out of the lineup to rest.

sara.ziegler: Yeah, no one was expecting this from Siakam, so game-planning it would have been tricky.

chris.herring: I feel like I should get my apology in now.

Although I don’t know if I’m apologizing to a person or an algorithm.

neil: Or are you apologizing directly to CARMELO Anthony? Lol.

chris.herring: Our model narrowly had Toronto winning this series. I ruled that possibility out pretty swiftly last week.

But Thursday’s game was enough for me to think that their defense is good enough to win the series — particularly if Durant doesn’t return, and perhaps even if Durant is back but doesn’t jell right away after the long layoff.

neil: I wanted to go back to what you said about loading up to stop Kawhi. Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala did a good job limiting his efficiency, although it seems like that played a little into Toronto’s hands. Jackie MacMullan had a great reaction story about just how many other efficient options the Raptors have now if a team tries to focus too much on Kawhi.

Only two of the seven Raptors who played at least 10 minutes averaged fewer than 1.2 points per individual possession, according to Basketball-Reference. (For reference, the Warriors as a team averaged 1.17 points per possession in the game.)

sara.ziegler: And even with Kawhi bottled up, he still scored 23.

neil: And! I worry about Iguodala’s health after he came up limping late. He did the bulk of the job guarding Leonard.

tchow: So far, it looks like he’ll be OK, though.

chris.herring: Yeah. That was the one other concern we mentioned in the preview: While the Warriors clearly could use Durant on offense, their defense becomes really, really thin on the wings without him. Especially if Iguodala is hurt or isn’t himself. This is now the second time he’s been banged up — he didn’t play in Game 4 against the Blazers, either.

Speaking of Durant: The Raptors’ starting front court outscored Golden State’s 75-18.

neil: 👀

sara.ziegler: Wow

How much of a problem is that for the Warriors? If there’s no scoring help for Steph and Klay?

neil: Certainly Draymond wasn’t much of a factor. Yes, he got the rare 10-10-10 triple double, but he also shot 2 of 9 from the floor and was a minus-8.

chris.herring: They’re now 29-2 when he records a triple-double.

neil: And both losses have come this postseason.

chris.herring: I think what we saw yesterday is this: The Warriors, without KD, don’t have anyone who can shoot outside of Curry and Thompson.

sara.ziegler: That seems … bad.

chris.herring: I think Quinn Cook is probably the most reliable guy outside of those two.

neil: How weird is it to think about the Warriors not having enough shooting?

chris.herring: That’s where Durant’s ability to get his own shot comes in handy. He forces enough defensive attention to where he can play other guys open. Generally speaking, Steph often commands a second defender’s attention, so that’s enough to get someone else open and get the ball moving. It’s a tougher task when the other team can guard him and everyone else straight up.

sara.ziegler: And Klay doesn’t really create his own shots.

chris.herring: We haven’t talked much about DeMarcus Cousins’s return, but that’s both the blessing and the curse of having him

You hope he can create an occasional double-team. But by the same token, his spot could have been used on a guard — and I think some people were of that opinion when they first got him: that the Warriors might have been better served by having another shooter.

neil: Yeah, I thought the Warriors might go smaller and take somebody like Gasol out of the game, but either Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell played most of the game, and Gasol logged nearly 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Cousins played eight minutes and didn’t really do much of note.

chris.herring: He looked a little rusty, but he made a few really nice passes.

It’s tough to get your first playing time in weeks and weeks at this level, in the finals. Same may be true of Durant, honestly, if and when he comes back.

tchow: It feels like it might be too soon to judge Cousins, but this is the problem of reintroducing someone like him back into the lineup during the finals.

chris.herring: Exactly.

neil: And that might be one of the ways our model was overrating the Warriors. It considered him one of the biggest talents of the series, which is true, but didn’t factor in the injury comeback.

chris.herring: Not to mention the fact that Golden State has been better with Cousins off the court this season.

Albeit with Durant playing more often than not.

tchow: Yeah, Neil, it probably did overrate the Warriors because of his return. He ranked as the fifth most valuable player (behind Curry, Durant, Leonard and Lowry) according to our projections.

neil: And at full health, that might be true in terms of skills. But that was a lot to expect with him easing back into playing.

sara.ziegler: While Cousins did play a bit, the other injured Warrior was spotted high-fiving teammates behind the scenes. What did you make of Durant traveling with the team?

neil: It has to be an encouraging sign for his chances of returning sooner rather than later, right?

sara.ziegler: Is there a chance he plays in Game 2?

chris.herring: No, it sounds like he won’t. Kerr was pretty firm about him needing to practice before having a chance to play.

They’ll have another two practices — today and again on Saturday — before Game 2. But it doesn’t sound like he’ll be ready to practice here in Toronto before they suit up again Sunday.

neil: The good thing about the finals is the sheer gap in days between games.

Game 1 on a Thursday — Game 2 … all the way on Sunday.

sara.ziegler: He has at least resumed “basketball activities,” which is my favorite phrase in all of basketball.

neil: That reminds me, I need to go to the gym and “resume basketball activities” as well.

sara.ziegler: 🤣

So what do the Warriors need do to even the series?

neil: Well, it seems obvious that Siakam won’t be down for 30+ again, so they have that going for them.

chris.herring: Be a little less focused on stopping Kawhi to make sure that the other Raptors don’t overtake Jurassic Park again.

And they have to slow Toronto down in transition, where the Raptors can be wildly efficient.

It’s more of a question as to what they do differently on offense. But getting more stops and creating more opportunities to get out and run off those misses will ease some of that concern, I’d think.

neil: Yeah, and that probably played a part in Toronto’s 24-17 disparity on fast-break points as well. Not enough stops turning into chances the other way.

tchow: They have to play with rhathymia. (Am I using that right?) Just be the fun-loving Warriors we know.

sara.ziegler: LOL

tchow: I also agree with Neil in that the Warriors could afford to play smaller and get Gasol out of the game. He’s been solid all playoffs like an imbirussú for the Raptors. Otherwise, the Raptors could embarrass you again. Calembour intended.

(OK, now I’m just forcing it.)

neil: Tony, you’re banned from watching the spelling bee at work ever again.

chris.herring: It’s a lot tougher for the Warriors to dictate the tempo without Durant. Playing smaller alone doesn’t get it done if you don’t have enough shooting to force the Raptors to come out and guard you on the perimeter.

sara.ziegler: It’s interesting to me, too, that Kyle Lowry didn’t add much on offense again. He had as many field goals as charges forced. If he heats up, that’s a different wrinkle for Toronto.

neil: Lowry continued his trend of being associated with strong Raptors play (+11) despite garbage individual stats.

chris.herring: Frankly, if they’re getting what they got from everyone else — Green, Gasol and Siakam — they don’t need Lowry to do anything but bring energy. He had massive moments in that last series, and he’s always going to give you what he has on defense.

It also helps a ton that VanVleet can stay attached to Curry so well in the minutes that Lowry is taking a breather.

tchow: VanVleet was draped over Curry like a ferraiolone and actually guarded Curry for more possessions than Lowry in the end (33 possession vs. 16).

chris.herring: O_______o

neil: I’ve come around on this, Tony, and I applaud your spelling work here.

👏 👏 👏 👏

tchow: Can we all pretend to be a marmennill for a minute? What do you think is going to happen now? Do the Warriors still three-peat? Do the Raptors pull this off?

sara.ziegler: Our model (which accepts Chris’s apology) now has the Raptors at 63 percent to win it all. That feels right to me.

chris.herring: The Raptors are the lone team that the Warriors haven’t beaten this season, and they have now won all three matchups against Golden State. I expect Golden State to respond. But stuff will get SO interesting if Toronto takes Game 2 as well.

neil: 63 percent kinda makes more sense than our pre-series projection, to be honest. Home teams that win Game 1 of the NBA Finals win the series 78 percent of the time, historically. So this suggests that Toronto has far less of a talent edge than the typical home team that takes a 1-0 finals lead. Which is definitely true.

tchow: This is anecdotal, but I was chatting with my cousin who lives in Toronto during last night’s game, and he said: “There’s just one guy outside our building somewhere screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘Let’s go, Raptors, over and over.” I can’t imagine what that guy will scream if the Raptors pull this off. That city is gonna be WILD.

neil: I love seeing how excited Toronto fans are. (Drake aside.) Nav Bhatia was going nuts trying to distract Warrior free-throw shooters.

chris.herring: I decided to walk home last night, about 35 minutes to my hotel. These two people were shouting “Let’s go, Raptors!” for entire blocks. I thought it was a crowd of people, and it was actually just those two guys.

But between that, and all the car horns going off last night, people are on a noisy cloud here right now. Sort of how Milwaukee was to begin the last series. So we’ll see how it plays out.

tchow: The city is gonna be as loud as a large flock of emberizines.


From ABC News:
Raptors, Warriors to face off in NBA Finals Game 1


Check out our latest NBA predictions.