THE Toronto Raptors held every possible advantage in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
Home court. Healthy lead. The continued absence of Kevin Durant. Plus additional knocks sustained by the Golden State Warriors.
And yet, a third-quarter abomination tossed all those credits away. With the best of seven series level at 1-1, have the Raps fatally doomed their hopes as we head to Oakland for Wednesday’s Game 3?
Kevon Looney gets injured on a Kawhi Leonard drive pic.twitter.com/t6fiQvdgNK
— The Render (@TheRenderSports) June 3, 2019
Probably not, and if the gods of fortune appear to have a favourite for this season’s NBA title, then they are still loading the decks towards Canada’s finest. Durant still missing. Kevon Looney done for the season on top. Klay Thompson a game-time decision due to his injured hamstring. If Toronto know they blew a golden shot to be 2-0 up, then they should be aware there may never be a better opportunity to steal one back on the road – and the momentum wh ch comes with it.
But for that, Toronto’s Other Guys – the ones not surnamed Leonard and Siakam – need to properly show up. And especially Kyle Lowry, who has scored just 20 points on 6-20 shooting over the opening two duels, below his post-season rate of 14.2 per night and well under the 17.4 ppg he collected in his team’s four wins on the bounce over Milwaukee in the East Finals.
For the sake of his own legacy, no-one needs a bigger surge now than an All-Star who has gone missing on too many big occasions but who, thanks to Leonard, has a real opportunity to convert himself into a factor in delivering a first non-American championship victor.
Throwing Draymond Green onto Lowry seemed to force the Raptors’ playmaker into stagnation at times. However, if Thompson sits out, he may have the luxury of various defenders at times – and the chance to get out to his mischievous best.
“I think we come into a sense of urgency, period,” Lowry said. “No matter the situation. We want to be the first to four, and every game is an urgent game. You're in the NBA Finals, so it doesn't matter. They still have professional basketball players down there, and they're really talented basketball players. So you still got to be ready to go out there and play your butt off and play hard.”
Marc Gasol got the job done on both ends tonight pic.twitter.com/GKa7cydx4j
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) May 31, 2019
He is not alone in being required to elevate. Marc Gasol scored 20 in Game 1 but only six second time around and he will need to repel the Warriors central committee of DeMarcus Cousins, Andrew Bogut and even Sweden’s finest Jonas Jerebko. The Spaniard will be relieved Looney is out. Despite Cousins’ remarkable recovery from injury, he now has the scales tilted his way.
And lest Durant returns, what the Dubs get from their three goliaths might be the true X-factor in these Finals with Leonard and Steph Curry seemingly cancelling one another out – with the former 3.75 to be Finals MVP (great value if you’re a believer in the Raps) and the latter 1.68 favourite. Who comes up big might shift the dial.
Toronto, still 3.35 for the title, will take comfort from the almost-but-not-quite nature of their shooting in defeat and their greater leeway for tactical adjustments. They are 18.00 to roll to a 4-1 series victory but this still feels like a battle where each combatant has just enough flaws to make it last the full distance.
DUBS WIN!! pic.twitter.com/WuN4atCHHy
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) June 3, 2019
Golden State is understandably the 1.53 favourite to triumph in Game 3 and in eight home playoff dates thus far, they’ve notched 114 points or more on six occasions. Contrast that, though, with their rivals who have conceded fewer than 105 on six of their eight trips south of the border and who are a generous 2.33 to deliver on a handicap of +2.5.
Short-handed and hampered, the Warriors possess a proud record of pushing through barriers and a revolving cast. “So our team is very adaptable,” Steve Kerr acknowledged. “We have a lot of versatility. What it requires is bench players being ready to step up, like they always are, and guys just playing hard and playing together. I think you have to be fearless, too, which our team is.
“You can't worry about anything. You just go out there and play and compete and let it fly and whatever happens, happens.”
These unpredictable Finals do not lack the unknowns that make them a thrilling drama to watch.