The Golden State Warriors choked away a must-win Game 4 of the NBA Finals against a ready Toronto Raptors teams that survived an awful-shooting first half and punished the defending champions with searing runs in the second.
Now the Dubs find themselves at the other side of the coin, hoping to become the second team to ever win the NBA Finals when staring at a 3-1 hole.
These are 5 Clutch Points of Game 4 of the NBA Finals:
Bad Cousins/Good Looney
In an ironic reversal of fortune, the Warriors were forced to count on big man DeMarcus Cousins after Kevon Looney went down in the first half of Game 2, failing to return to the floor. An impactful 11 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks in 28 minutes gave some glimmer of hope that he could be a workable cog in Looney’s absence.
Yet now — two poor games in a row have proven that was wishful thinking.
Much like in Game 3, Cousins’ start to Game 4 was littered with poor decisions — decisions a well-tuned postseason player does not make at this stage of the game.
His first three minutes on the floor were as disappointing as they can get, committing three turnovers and one foul before a timeout was called by Steve Kerr, as the Warriors somehow held onto the early lead.
Kerr stuck with his big man, but got little reward from it, as Cousins totaled only six points, four rebounds, an assist, two blocks and four turnovers in 15 minutes of play.
Looney, who was coming off a collarbone injury, miraculously returned to the active list after trainers deemed his injury could not get worse by playing — giving the Warriors 20 valuable minutes off the bench and putting up 10 points and six rebounds (three offensive).
Cousins has now amassed 11 turnovers in 68 combined minutes of play in these NBA Finals, or roughly-speaking, one cough up every six minutes of play — something the Warriors simply can’t afford.
Expect coach Kerr to have a much tighter leash on him from now on, with zero margin of error ahead for this injury-laden team.
A defense that fell apart
The Warriors’ theme in a shutdown first quarter was to not allow anything easy at the rim. It worked, as they limited the Raptors to 6-of-21 shooting from the field, with Kawhi Leonard owner of five of those makes.
Leonard took over late in the quarter to keep his team within striking distance, scoring 14 of their 17 points in the quarter — but the support play simply wasn’t there, as his teammates shot a baffling 1-of-13 from the floor.
Kawhi in the 1st quarter: 5-8 FG for 14 pts
All other Raptors combined: 1-13 FG for 3 pts pic.twitter.com/sDt7SF2dLC
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 8, 2019
Golden State led by six after a Stephen Curry basket was disallowed upon review for a shot-clock violation, yet the Warriors managed to hold the Raptors to a collective 34.1% from the floor at the half, yet only leading by four at the break.
Signs pointed to better shooting by the Raptors, but Curry had been scuffing and had yet to heat up, going the entire first half without a 3-point field goal.
The Raptors took the third quarter by storm, outscoring the Warriors 37-21 and grabbing a commanding 12-point lead heading into the fourth. This sequence by Kawhi Leonard was symbolic of what would take place for the remainder of the quarter:
in less than 20 seconds 😳
— ESPN (@espn) June 8, 2019
Toronto punished Golden State with every turnover the team committed, turning it into buckets as they found their touch from deep, or fouls, where they were a clinical 23-of-24 (95.8%) for the game.
Couple that with 19 total turnovers and the Warriors spelled their own demise, now losing two games at home against a team that came into the series with the home court advantage.
The Warriors have now trailed by double digits every game of this series, making it seven straight games in which they’ve had to come from behind — a recipe for ultimate disaster.
Klay’s big game
Klay Thompson, who missed Game 3 due to a pulled hamstring first suffered in Game 2 of the series, returned to have an impact not many expected him to have after a challenging injury to hurdle.
The Warriors’ sharpshooter dropped a team-high 28 points, a large part of why Golden State treaded the waters early in the game, shooting a sharp 6-of-10 from beyond the arc.
Thompson’s feathery touch from the perimeter did not skip a beat after missing his first-ever playoff game, making the same shots he’s been known to make during this postseason.
Look at Klay’s celebration 👀👀 pic.twitter.com/0W6nG3sQAj
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) June 8, 2019
Besides the shot-making, Thompson played a whopping 42 minutes, but was clearly limited in his side-to-side movement and ability to sprint back, which gave Kawhi Leonard the edge to have his best game of these NBA Finals.
It sounds like the Warriors will be able to count with Thompson the rest of the way, which should bode well as a potent offensive contributor, but he will be at less than full strength defensively, unable to explode off his feet, given the sensitive nature of his hamstring injury.
Steph’s nightmare game
Coming off a 47-point masterpiece, expectations for a must-win Game 4 were sky-high, considering the stakes. Yet Curry started the game indecisive, wrestling between his eagerness to take over and his measured approach of getting his teammates involved early.
Curry missed his first five attempts from beyond the arc before connecting on his first trey a minute into the third quarter.
caught the roll 💦
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) June 8, 2019
The Warriors’ leading scorer mainly played off the ball during this game and was constantly hounded by two bodies when he had the ball in his hands, unable to find crevices to drive the ball effectively or find separation to get clean looks from deep.
Late in the third quarter, coach Steve Kerr chose to take out Klay Thompson for his due rest, and the Raptors broke out their box-and-one defense again, frustrating Curry — the lone capable shooter on the floor.
Kerr hustled to put Quinn Cook back in the game to provide some floor-spacing, but by that point, the Raptors had already managed to pry the ball away from Curry’s hands and put it into his struggling role players’, increasing their lead.
Curry managed 27 points on 9-of-22 shooting — a respectable outcome, but well-shy of the stellar performance the team needed him to have at this stage.
Facing the other side of the mirror
It was only three years ago that the Warriors went up 3-1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the infamous 2016 NBA Finals, heading into Game 5 without Draymond Green, who had been suspended for a game after accumulating enough technical foul points to warrant his suspension.
Things were downhill from there, as the Warriors struggled without their emotional leader, dropping their last three games and losing the NBA Finals in awful fashion.
Golden State is now staring at the same fate, but from the opposite side of the mirror, finding themselves down 3-1 in the series after a 105-92 Game 4 loss — with their back against the wall against a team that has had the answer for their every adjustment.
While overcoming a 3-1 deficit has only been done once before in the NBA Finals, the Warriors did come back from that same fate during their 2016 playoff run, as they turned the tables on a Kevin Durant-led Oklahoma City Thunder team, which eventually stamped their ticket to The Finals.
“You just try to win one game,” said coach Kerr after the loss. “That’s what we did three years ago against OKC. Win one game and we move forward. That’s our focus now.
“Fly to Toronto tomorrow and take a look at the film, see what we can do better. Try to win a game. We’ve won a lot of games over the years, so we’ll try to win another one.”
Kerr on trying to come back from the 3-1 deficit. “Fly to Toronto tomorrow and take a look at the film, see what we can do better. Try to win a game. We’ve won a lot of games over the years.” pic.twitter.com/EMNhRtgYh2
— The Athletic (@TheAthleticSF) June 8, 2019
Ironically enough, Durant is in the position of being a crucial part of history yet again, as he could be the single most important X-factor that can swing the momentum of this series and turn the tide in the Warriors’ favor.
The star forward has now missed nine straight postseason games since suffering what the Warriors called a “mild” calf strain, which has now put him out of action for an entire month. He has yet to engage in full on-court work, which he will need to be cleared to play. The hope remains that the two days off between Games 4 and 5 can be enough time to get him back in uniform.
Draymond Green; the team’s emotional leader, was visibly frustrated in Game 4 and earned a technical foul for complaining after a call, putting him now two away from a one-game suspension. Yet the all-motor forward seemed serene in his post-game press conference, noting this is an opportunity for the Warriors to engrave themselves in the right side of history.
“Like [Kerr] said, we got to take it one game at a time,” said Green, concurring with his coach. “We gotta win one game. We win one and we’ll build on that. “I’ve been on the wrong side of 3-1 before, so why not make our own history.”
Draymond Green: “I’ve been on the wrong side of 3-1 before, so why not make our own history.” pic.twitter.com/VySovYAmYn
— The Athletic (@TheAthleticSF) June 8, 2019