TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors feel good mentally, and they are certainly in better shape physically than the Golden State Warriors.
The Raptors know they have outplayed Golden State for perhaps 90 of the 96 minutes of the NBA Finals, and they almost overcame the one brutal stretch where they didn’t. Despite being blanked for nearly half the third quarter of Game 2, the Raptors were within two points in the final seconds.
Golden State held on to win 109-104, tying the series that moves to Oracle Arena for Games 3 and 4. The Raptors lost the game and home-court advantage, but not any of their belief that they can win the series.
“We fought back and we know that going towards Game 3 we’ve got to play a lot better, and it’s going to be even harder on the road,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said, “but we’re capable and we know what we bring to the table.”
The Warriors aren’t quite so sure, at least as it relates to their health.
They are hoping Kevin Durant is close to returning from a seven-game absence with a strained right calf, and that Klay Thompson’s hamstring injury wasn’t serious after he limped off the court early in the fourth quarter Sunday. They also could be without Kevon Looney, who has been their best center in the postseason, after he sustained an injury to his chest or shoulder and sat out the second half of Game 2.
So the Warriors were in no condition to dance their way back across the border in this first NBA Finals to be played outside the U.S. – in fact, DeMarcus Cousins posted an Instagram picture of he and Andre Iguodala being moved through the airport in wheelchairs.
But they wouldn’t have even in peak condition. They’ve played in so many series during their run to five straight finals that they understand better than anyone how momentum works.
“It swings so much. They’ve gone through it, too, when they were down 0-2 last series and won four straight games,” Iguodala said. “We won two games at home and went to Houston and lost two and everyone thought the world was ending, especially with our team. Certain things that we pick up along the way, that experience will help us with emotional swings from game to game in this series.”
Iguodala hit the clinching 3-pointer after the Raptors had clawed their way within two points by scoring 10 straight in the final minutes. It certainly seemed it would be easier for the Warriors after their 18-0 run to start the third quarter, an NBA Finals record to begin a half, had put them in control.
Toronto stayed in it thanks to Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 34 points and 14 rebounds, and an assault on the backboards in which they outscored the Warriors 23-0 in second-chance points.
It might take even more than that to get a game at Oracle Arena, where the two-time defending champions will play Wednesday for the first time in nearly three weeks. Golden State hasn’t played a home game since Game 2 of the Western Conference finals against Portland back on May 16.
Winning the “finals is not going to be easy,” Leonard said. “The only thing that matters is the four. Four wins. Once you get it, two wins, three wins, it does not matter. Just take one game at a time and just play through the adversity.”
That’s what the Warriors did in Game 2, when a dynasty turned to all the tricks it learned to pull a rabbit out of its hat.
Now they have to hope they won’t run out of rabbits.
“Obviously, we have the star power, but when you bring guys off the bench, that goes a long way,” backup guard Quinn Cook said. “I don’t think they’ll get tired for the finals. There are two days between games. They’ll be back hungry on Wednesday, just like us. We just have to keep being better.”
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