OAKLAND, Calif. — As the NBA Finals shift to the Bay area, where the two-time defending champion Warriors are most comfortable and the challenging Toronto Raptors are still adjusting to this rarefied air, there is more anxiety and uncertainty surrounding Golden State than usual because of attrition.
Kevin Durant won’t return for Game 3 Wednesday night, making it the eighth consecutive game he has missed because of a strained calf. Backup center Kevon Looney will miss the rest of the series because of a fractured rib, after being banged into by Kawhi Leonard on a drive to the basket in Sunday’s Game 2. And Klay Thompson is questionable because of a strained left hamstring suffered late in the Warriors’ 109-104 victory that tied the series at a game apiece.
Thompson took some shots during practice Tuesday afternoon and then addressed the media with the same coolness that has encapsulated his career. He’ll play in Game 3. He may not be 100 percent, but he’ll play.
“It will be a game-time decision. But for me personally, it would be hard to see me not playing. Hopefully I’ll feel much better [Wednesday] and be a go for tip-off,” he said.
Motivation, of course, is generally no issue in the NBA Finals, but the Warriors have won three of the past four titles. All of their core players are household names, and 15-year veteran Andre Iguodala stirred up some Hall of Fame talk on social media after his clinching 3-pointer in Game 2.
Healthy, the Warriors are by far the best team in the NBA, but they haven’t been healthy for most of the postseason. Center DeMarcus Cousins missed the final two rounds of the Western Conference tournament because of a quadriceps injury. Durant has been out for more than three weeks now, and there have been various ailments with Iguodala, Thompson, and even Stephen Curry.
It will be a pivotal game, and the Warriors are depleted. Thompson won’t be 100 percent and without Durant, that places much of the offensive onus on Curry. Toronto coach Nick Nurse was so desperate to stop Curry in Game 2 that he implemented a box-and-one, in which one player guarded Curry and the other four played zone.
Curry called it “janky” after Game 2, and Nurse admitted he was trying anything to get defensive stops. Curry may see even more of that defense if Thompson is hobbled or ineffective, but his mentality remains the same. The Warriors will keep moving forward.
“The way that we play, everybody feels involved on both ends of the floor and has an opportunity to impact the game, not necessarily scoring every possession but just playing within the flow and sharing the ball, moving, playing unselfishly,” Curry said. “Just a style where everybody is going to get touches and you just have to be confident and aggressive. So again, day to day it’s just whoever is healthy. Be ready to go, compete, have fun doing it. Whoever is out there on the floor, just feel like you can help us win the game. A lot of guys showed that resiliency in Game 2. It’s going to have to continue for us to get three more wins.”
The vulnerability gives the Raptors a chance to steal a game and take back home-court advantage. They rallied despite an offensive drought after Golden State’s 18-0 run to begin the second half put the Warriors in control.
The win was impressive — considering Thompson and Durant were out — but Toronto came away believing it has a chance to win the title with improved execution.
“Every possession counts and I think definitely we are playing against champions and guys that’s been there,” Toronto forward Pascal Siakam said. “Obviously they know how to make adjustments because they have done it before. We also have a team of veterans and guys that know what’s going on.”
So if there were ever an opportunity for the Raptors to steal a game, this is it, and it could mean the series. They don’t want to go back to Canada in a 3-1 hole and face the same road the Cleveland Cavaliers did in beating the Warriors in 2016. Despite the atmosphere and the opponent, the Raptors need to make a statement, take advantage of a hobbled champion, and prove they are worthy of extending this series.
“We kind of let you guys worry about that type of [injury] stuff,” Toronto guard Fred VanVleet said. “As players we respect their entire roster. Quinn Cook’s pretty damn good. Obviously Looney went out, that’s unfortunate. Shaun Livingston is pretty good. Iguodala is pretty good. So we’re not worrying about who is playing and who is not playing. Whatever team that they put out on the floor is going to be a pretty good team, and it’s going to take a full effort from us to go out there and take care of business.”