OAKLAND, Calif. — The Toronto Raptors used a team effort to defeat the persistent Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
All seven Raptors who saw extended minutes made positive contributions. Pascal Siakam was unstoppable early on, Marc Gasol was steady throughout, Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard came alive in the second half, Serge Ibaka shook off a slow start for a very strong finish, and Fred VanVleet continued to nail impossible clutch shots in a nervy wire-to-wire victory.
Credit Nick Nurse for pushing all the right buttons against a Warriors side that refused to quit. An entire team delivering all at once isn’t a coincidence, and Nurse consistently put his players in the right spots to succeed.
It started early on with running the offense through Gasol. DeMarcus Cousins’ lateral mobility is non-existent since returning from a quad injury, so Nurse made sure to feature Gasol early and often, both on the low block and up top with the three-point shot. Cousins was a step slow in every situation, and it forced Steve Kerr to cut Cousins’ minutes in favor of more steady defenders. Cousins never got going, and finished the night with four points on 1-of-7 shooting while Gasol had 17.
Fortunately for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut stepped up in place of Cousins. Bogut’s defense in a frontcourt trio with Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green allowed the Warriors to trim the deficit by sitting back and packing the paint against Leonard and Siakam. But Nurse made the right adjustment after halftime, as he had VanVleet pull up with aplomb off the high screen, while sending Green around pin downs to fire away from the perimeter while Bogut was camped out in the lane.
Nurse also shuffled his starters for the third quarter. Green was playing great with three triples in the first half, but Nurse went with VanVleet to start because he’s the best option to hound Curry. Golden State is famous for making third-quarter runs (look no further than the 18-0 run that flipped Game 2) and Curry typically leads the charge. Green and Lowry just weren’t getting the job done in the first half, so Nurse took no chances and went with his best on-ball defender.
Shifting the Curry assignment to VanVleet also lightened the load for Lowry, who responded by delivering a 23-point performance. Lowry established himself as a threat with five triples on the night, and he leveraged the added attention into nine assists to his teammates. Lowry’s defense against Curry remains a concern going forward, but that’s less of an issue when Lowry can recoup some of the difference.
Finally, Nurse also stuck with Ibaka despite a mostly miserable outing. Ibaka was tentative and a step slow early on, but he rewarded Nurse’s faith in the second half as he locked in defensively after getting a pair of easy looks to drop. Ibaka got the benefit of the whistle on some 50-50 calls, but he ultimately racked up five blocks in the second half — including two on Curry’s drives — and was the main reason why the Warriors shot a dismal 16-of-36 in the restricted area.
All in all, Nurse managed the game beautifully to get the result. Yes, the Warriors were working with a short deck as Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant were sidelined with injuries, but this was not an easy game by any means. Curry went supernova, and as the Portland Trail Blazers can attest, no lead is ever safe in Oracle Arena. However, Nurse had the answer each time the Warriors made a run, and now the Raptors once again have control over the series.
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