Raptors Win a Wild One in Steph Curry’s Return

The Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors played Thursday night in a wild game that saw Norman Powell notch a career-high 37 points. It was the first game between the Warriors and Raptors since Toronto won Game 6 and sealed the deal last year.

If it strikes you as unusual that the Raptors and Warriors are only just now playing for the first time since the Finals, you’d be right. In recent years, a Finals rematch kicks off the regular season, the built-in assumption being that the two may once more square off in the Finals again in June. But even the most optimistic prognosticators didn’t give this years Warriors team, sans Kevin Durant, Andre Igoudala and Klay Thompson much of a chance of that. And even the most pessimistic forecasters didn’t predict happened, a broken hand for Steph Curry, Kevon Looney and Draymond Green both missing significant time, and the D’Angelo Russell experiment being over before the Trade Deadline. The Warriors have been a dire watch most of the season, but the Raptors are catching them on the upswing.

Steph Curry, perhaps only second to LeBron as the player that defines this current era of basketball, returned after missing 58 games. And since his departure, the team had been remade. After the acquisition of D’Angelo Russell didn’t work out, the Warriors swapped him for Canadian wing Andrew Wiggins. If just considering roster balance and positional need, it makes sense. The Warriors were already a guard-heavy team, and it never became clear that Russell and Curry would play well together. Wiggins is a wing, and the ultimate reclamation project for the organization that once claimed to be “light years ahead” of the competition.

On paper, the Raptors had the edge against the still depleted Warriors. You have to be an absolute diehard NBA fan to be remotely familiar with half the Warriors players and the names you are familiar with are far from inspiring.

The Warriors roster is made up of castoffs from other teams, G-League guys that haven’t cracked an NBA rotation before, and young players still finding their way. The Raptors meanwhile are a veteran squad, disciplined, and cohesive – in a typical game it should be a blowout. But that simply wasn’t the tenor of the game at all. The undermanned Warriors were ferocious, and Toronto had to scrap their way to victory, only pulling away in the fading minutes.

OG got Toronto off to a strong start, hitting his first 2 3’s in the opening quarter and playing his usual tenacious defense. And Norman Powell picked up right where he left off after a terrific game in Phoenix. Attacking early and often and capitalizing on a porous Warriors defense. He made his money in the first with soft floaters in the lane.

But as soon as Curry touched the ball, the crowd erupted. You’d be forgiven for forgetting this game wasn’t being played in Oracle Arena, the cheers seemed to drown out the announcers at points. Curry’s play is infectious, the crowd and he feed off each other, and suddenly a pedestrian roster is making highlight plays.

While Curry is rightfully known for his shooting – he is unquestionably the greatest shooter in NBA history – his passing was what opened up the game for the Warriors in the early going. He created numerous opportunities off simple pick and roll action and picked apart the normally solid Raptors backline. A laser behind the back pass in the first got the crowd off their feet.

Steph went scoreless in the first, but quickly notched his first bucket for a highlight and one in the second quarter. Then he knocked in a three and it felt like it was all the way back. Powell really turned it on in the 2nd, scoring a quick 15 points in the first 4 minutes, including back to back 3’s and a slithery layup at the cup. Powell showed no emotion as he continued to pour it on.

Terrence Davis got loose and punished poor transition defense by the Warriors for a dramatic slam. And then did the same thing soon after, when he got switched on Chriss. His athleticism was on full display. It makes you wonder every game how he went undrafted.

There remains nothing more fun than when Steph Curry gets hot. Curry hit a buzzer-beater to as part of an 11 to 2 rally that returned the Warriors to within striking distance when it seemed like the Raptors might pull off an early rout.

But the Warriors just had no ability to defend inside the arc consistently and when Toronto worked it inside, they had no answer. But this is why Pascal’s game was so disappointing. He was settling for fadeaways from inside the arc, which was just not an optimal play. It’s discouraging because he has a length and athletic advantage against everyone he was playing. Whether it’s either fatigue or mentality, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t have been more successful in this game.

If you only watched Andrew Wiggins when he plays against the Raptors, you might think he was an All-Star. That’s because Wiggins typically shows out against his hometown Raptors, indeed he had a triple-double earlier this season when still a member of the Timberwolves. But he was held in check by the Raptors, despite a few highlights plays including a block of a jump shot that led to a fastbreak.

With Curry on the bench the Warriors miraculously retake the lead due to strong play by Damion Lee, Eric Paschall and others. In part this was spurred by Golden State taking care of the ball, as the rally coincided with a 13 minute stretch without a turnover. It was their first lead since the opening seconds of the game. What had looked like a game well in hand suddenly was a dogfight for the Raps. After falling victim to the Box and One of the Warriors in the finals, the Warriors themselves went to a 2-3 zone to contain the Raptors in the 3rd, and it was then they made up major ground.

But Powell’s stellar and consistent shotmaking had a calming effect on the Raptors offense. His stoic demeanor was not reflective of what was an otherwise sloppy period for the Raptors.

Ultimately the Raptors prevailed, but Steph’s performance was a reminder of how quickly this team will be back to the teams elite. The Warriors are still missing Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, that trio that has terrorized the NBA the last several years. They’ll be back. And their other pieces have had unique opportunities to grow in their absence.

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