OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors openly admitted it when these N.B.A. finals began. The two-time defending champions said they didn’t know the Toronto Raptors as intimately as they would have liked at the start of a series this big.
“Not very familiar with this team” were the words Klay Thompson used after Golden State’s Game 1 defeat in Toronto. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said as much even before Game 1 tipped off, noting that the Warriors “hardly know” the Raptors.
They know now.
The Warriors are all too aware, four games into these finals, that Kawhi Leonard is better than ever. It’s clear that the rest of the Raptors, under a sharp rookie coach in Nick Nurse, have taken on a good bit of their star’s unflappability — and were all ready for this moment with that withering defense they play.
Suddenly facing a three-games-to-one deficit in a best-of-seven series, Golden State won’t be overly concerned by the smothering “We the North” passion that surely awaits in Toronto for Monday night’s Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena.
For the Warriors are facing a team that believes it is Warriors North. That is the real issue.
That and the Warriors’ health woes, which remain significant.
“I give them the credit,” Kerr said Friday night, after Leonard’s near-flawless Game 4 (36 points, 12 rebounds and 0 turnovers in 40 minutes) led Toronto to a second straight win at Oracle Arena. “They have just played really well offensively, and they’ve got a lot of threats out there, a lot of shooters, a lot of passers.”
Kerr could easily point to the injury absence of Kevin Durant as the true culprit, along with the fact that so many of his regulars — Thompson, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevon Looney to name four — were playing hurt in what history tells us was a must-win game. One suspects that a clutch of pundits will do that for Kerr and slap an asterisk on the end of this series if the Raptors can clinch the first title in franchise history on Monday.
Don’t expect the Warrio