There may be no satisfying takeaway from Toronto’s Game 3 123–109 victory over the Warriors in Oakland, beyond the completely obvious reminder that however great Steph Curry is, he cannot beat an NBA Finals team completely by himself. Steve Kerr held Klay Thompson out of the action, and so the Warriors had exactly zero non-Steph players in their rotation who can create a shot; the Raptors, who are very very very good at basketball, did what they were supposed to do.
It’s to Steph’s enormous credit, and the credit of his largely under-qualified teammates, that the Warriors made the Raptors sweat for this victory for as long as they did. Steph, even with the Raptors hounding and trapping him nearly every time he touched the ball, managed to put up a reasonably (and, given the circumstances, miraculously) efficient career-playoff-high 47 points, while also leading the Warriors in rebounds, assists, and steals. He was beyond any doubt the best player on the floor. Considering how many Finals games the Warriors yanked away from the Cavaliers over the years despite LeBron James’s singular heroics, this felt a little bit like a Twilight Zone-esque form of cosmic comeuppance.
Every team to ever win the Finals in NBA history benefited from luck, so it would be silly and unfair to hold it against the Raptors that the Warriors team they beat Wednesday night was downright unrecognizable. They have no control over which Warriors suit up and play, and a responsibility to beat the team in front of them, whether they’re whole or not. But it’s also true that the more the Warriors are depleted by injuries, the more it becomes the case that the only interesting outcome is the Warriors winning. The Raptors did well to handle their business, sure, but it hardly makes for a stirring showcase, unless you are especially a fan of euthanasia.
For that reason, the second half of this game became a real slog, as it became apparent that the Warriors would not be making a huge push. Toronto jumped out to an early lead in the first half, but the Warriors closed to within single digits, and for a while it remained possible to believe that the home crowd and some timely bombs from Steph could trigger one of those huge Golden State second-half runs. But every time the Warriors looked like they might have a third-quarter explosion in them, Danny Green or Fred VanVleet or Kawhi Leonard or Kyle Lowry would drop in a clutch bucket or a pair of free throws to stem the tide. This was made a lot easier by the absence of Klay Thompson, who did great work defending Kawhi in Game 2. Without Klay—and without Kevon Looney, and without Kevin Durant, and relying far too much on DeMarcus Cousins and several well-meaning but overmatched subs—Golden State’s defense couldn’t provide the stops and transition opportunities their offense desperately needs right now.
Without stops they couldn’t hope to run; without running, there was no reliable way to create easy offense for the various non-Steph Warriors; without easy offense, the only hope the Warriors had of creating buckets came from Steph being about as aggressive as he has ever been in an NBA game—this was just the eighth time in his career that he’s attempted more than 30 shots in a game. It’s a testament to Steph’s greatness that you can stick him in a lineup with Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala and Quinn Cook, in the NBA Finals, and still wring out a 112.5 offensive rating, but it’s also insane to think that lineup is going to come out ahead. And it did not. No Warriors lineup that played more than four minutes Wednesday night was able to. By the midpoint of the fourth quarter the Warriors were too frantic and the Raptors were too comfortable, and the result became inevitable.
So the Raptors now have a 2–1 series lead. So much of what happens next in this series will come down to whether the Warriors start getting some bodies back. Steph is a brilliant, amazing basketball player, but even he can’t realistically hope to topple a team like the Raptors by himself. He did as much as can be reasonably asked Wednesday night, and the teams weren’t close. The situation now calls for reinforcements, for everyone’s sake.