OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors may never play another game at Oracle Arena, the concrete relic they call home, but that is suddenly a secondary concern at best for the N.B.A.’s reigning but reeling champions.
The Toronto Raptors moved to the brink of their first N.B.A. championship Friday night by outlasting the favored Warriors, 105-92, in a Game 4 slog. Fueled by a Golden State-style haymaker in the third quarter, Toronto seized a three games-to-one series lead to take back to Canada for Monday night’s Game 5.
The Warriors and their fans, who have reveled in three N.B.A. titles in the past four seasons, understood what was at stake on this night perhaps better than anyone else. A three games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven finals has led to 33 titles in 34 prior finals series. The only exception: Golden State’s loss against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
The Warriors will now need their own Cleveland-style comeback to ensure that their dynasty of the past half-decade — as the first N.B.A. team to make five successive trips to the finals since the Boston Celtics in the 1960s — does not end in defeat. They could also clearly use Kevin Durant, who was expected to have returned by now from a strained right calf.
Golden State welcomed Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney back from injury in this Game 4, before a noisy and nervy sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle, but the hosts could not muster a response to Toronto’s 37-21 edge in the third quarter.
Kawhi Leonard scored 17 of his 36 points in the period, and Serge Ibaka finished with a crucial 20 points off the bench. The Raptors stretched the lead to as many as 16 points in the final period and have won 13 of the 16 quarters in the series.
“We were taking a lot of punches early, and we just kept standing in there and playing,” Raptors Coach Nick Nurse said.
“I don’t play hero basketball,” Leonard told ABC’s Doris Burke after the game, attempting to play down his performance, which featured two early 3-pointers in the third quarter to give Toronto its first lead. “I’m just playing to win.”
Thompson led the Warriors with 28 points, and his backcourt mate, Stephen Curry, added 27. But Curry missed 7 of his 9 attempts from 3-point range, and no other Warrior scored more than 10 points in a game that, based on finals history, Golden State had to take.
The Warriors remain hopeful that Durant — who last played May 8 — can follow the lead of Thompson and Looney and finally make a comeback in Game 5 after missing the past nine games. But that is no lock. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr acknowledged in his pregame news conference that Durant’s comeback may have to wait until next Thursday’s Game 6 back at Oracle — provided Golden State can get there.
Team officials entered the championship series loosely targeting Game 5 for Durant’s return, according to two people briefed on the situation who were not authorized to discuss it publicly. That has quickly become Golden State’s best-case scenario.
The Warriors had to settle for Thompson (hamstring) rebounding from his one-game absence and Looney (chest) rejoining the rotation after Kerr initially described the reserve center as out for the rest of the series after his Game 2 injury.
But it was not enough against the gritty Raptors, who, remember, are not without their own injuries. Leonard’s movement has looked labored at various points since the Eastern Conference finals against Milwaukee. Kyle Lowry is playing through the constant pain of an injured left thumb, and Fred VanVleet needed seven stitches in Friday’s fourth quarter after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face from Golden State’s Shaun Livingston.
“I would say the cards are stacked against us in terms of injuries and things like that,” Curry said after Toronto’s Game 3 victory on the Warriors’ floor. “But it’s a sob story nobody really wants to hear.”
After two wins on the road, the latest featuring a third-quarter rush straight out of Golden State’s playbook, Toronto has firmly established itself as the talk of the league.
Here’s how the Raptors beat the Warriors in Game 4 of the N.B.A. finals, as reported by Sopan Deb in New York:
Final score: Raptors 105, Warriors 92
The Raptors lead the series 3-1. Game 5 is Monday in Toronto.
4th Quarter: One last gasp.
Golden State making a last-ditch effort here. Curry hits a 3 to cut this lead to 8 with less than three minutes left. Of course, on the other end, Green commits a silly foul far away from the basket. Siakam hits both. Back to a double-digit lead.
4th Quarter: Time to pray.
The Warriors are essentially going to have to play perfect basketball for the rest of the game to win. The talent is certainly there to do that. A 10-point lead with 5 minutes is doable, but the Warriors have to lock in.
4th Quarter: It’s getting out of control.
Steph Curry with an absolute defensive blunder there leading to a wide open Danny Green 3 and now the Raptors are up 15. That might’ve been the ballgame right there. Those are the kinds of mistakes that happen when you are tired.
4th Quarter: It’s not looking good for the Warriors.
I might regret saying this, but it doesn’t feel like the Warriors have a comeback in them tonight. Raptors up 16 with less than 9 minutes left. Leonard with another 3.
4th Quarter: Scary moment for Toronto’s Fred VanVleet.
An inadvertent elbow to the face by Shaun Livingston left VanVleet bleeding from below his eye. He was able to get up and walk to the locker room on his own.
Update: The N.B.A. later announced that VanVleet received seven stitches but did not sustain a concussion.
4th Quarter: Raptors hold on while Kawhi sits.
Kawhi Leonard, after a couple minutes of rest, re-enters the game in the 4th with less than 10 minutes left. The Raptors survived with him out, and still lead by double digits. That’s huge.
End of 3rd Quarter
The Warriors are in some serious trouble right now. Toronto role players are finally hitting their jumpers and the Raptors have extended their lead to 12. Leonard is heating up.
3rd Quarter: Draymond Green was asking for this one.
There are two players who consistently get officiated in a beneficial way that no other player gets: Draymond Green and James Harden. Harden with creating contact. Green by yelling at referees. That technical on Green, which was long overdue, could be a huge deal later given how close this game is.
3rd Quarter: Curry is struggling.
Steph Curry hits two free throws to cut the lead to one. The Raptors seem to be getting some momentum now. Curry seems frustrated out there with Toronto not letting him get any open looks. He’s only shooting 5 of 13 from the field.
3rd Quarter: O.K., this is fun.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?! BLOCKS. STEALS. DEFLECTIONS. 3-POINTERS. This is, as they say, the good stuff. The Warriors are clinging to a two-point lead right now (58-56).
3rd Quarter: Something nice to say about Cousins.
Credit where credit is due: Cousins came out strong in the second half. Active hands on Leonard when he drove the lane, forcing a bad shot followed by an and-one giving the Warriors some breathing room. Plus a forced jump ball right after.
3rd Quarter: Trading 3s to start the 3rd
Wow, looks like we’re in for a fun second half. Leonard and Curry exchange three pointers and the lead goes back and forth. Golden State might want to whip out one of its big-time third quarters right now. The Warriors’ season is on the line.
What N.B.A. players are saying
Halftime: The Warriors lead, 46-42.
Let’s all breathe. It’s halftime. The Warriors up by just four, which is, honestly, very fortunate for Toronto and speaks to its resilience. Leonard has 14 points and 5 rebounds. Thompson has 14 points for the Warriors. Most impressively: Don’t-Call-It-A-Comeback Looney has 8 points. Now, Kerr has a decision to make. Do you start the second half with Cousins? He’s been rough on both sides of the ball.
2nd Quarter: Kawhi Leonard came ready to play.
The non-Leonard starters for the Raptors are right now shooting 7-22 and Toronto is down 44-40. Steve Kerr noticing this too, trapping Leonard and making him give up the ball. Raptors hanging in though.
2nd Quarter: About Kevin Durant …
2nd Quarter: Don’t worry, Raptors fans.
It feels like the Warriors are up 10, yet Kyle Lowry just hit some free throws to cut this to a one possession game, 37-34 Warriors, followed by an offensive foul on Steph Curry. You have to feel good if you’re a Raptors fan.
2nd Quarter: Ibaka is coming up big for the Raptors.
Serge Ibaka providing a great counterweight to Looney off the bench for Toronto, with 6 early points, including a nice stepback in Cousins’s grill. Raptors have cut this lead to 4. Cousins is really not playing well on both sides of the ball.
End of 1st Quarter
All things considered, the Raptors are pretty fortunate to be only down 8 at the end of one quarter. Leonard is incredible, scoring 14 of the Raptors’ 17 points. The Warriors are getting more balance, pretty much an inverse of Game 3. Looney is having a remarkable game: 6 points in six minutes when we all woke up this morning thinking his season was done.
1st Quarter: Looney > Cousins
Man, Kevon Looney. He’s giving Kerr some much needed flexibility. He doesn’t make many mistakes and has hit a couple of buckets while playing tough defense. Looney doesn’t try to do too much, which automatically makes him more useful than Cousins right now.
1st Quarter: Danny Green is struggling.
Danny Green giveth and taketh away. He’s missing wide open threes that he needs to hit for the Raptors to win. Toronto scored only 7 points in the first six minutes of the game yet is just down 3. Somehow. The good news for Toronto is that Steph Curry is missing those shots too.
1st Quarter: 3-pointers aren’t falling for anyone.
On cue, Cousins hits a tough layup underneath, so maybe don’t listen to me. He also has 3 rebounds. Klay Thompson is moving pretty well. The hamstring doesn’t seem to be affecting him. But overall, both teams look tired. Jumpers are rimming out: Both teams have missed a total of six threes to start the game.
1st Quarter: Both teams get off to a rough start.
An absolutely brutal start for DeMarcus Cousins. Three turnovers in less than 3 minutes of play, which is fairly difficult to do, and a sloppy shooting foul. His lift still isn’t there, and his decision making is really hurting Golden State. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no N.B.A. coach, but it is worth thinking about whether Steve Kerr should pull Cousins early. When he’s on, he can win you games by himself. When he’s not, he can lose them.
Warriors — Raptors
Stephen Curry — Kyle Lowry
Klay Thompson — Danny Green
DeMarcus Cousins — Marc Gasol
Draymond Green — Pascal Siakam
Andre Iguodala — Kawhi Leonard