TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors had tried to downplay the game’s significance.
But they were all business on a night billed as an NBA Finals preview.
Kawhi Leonard poured in 37 points – his best as a Raptor – to lead Toronto to its seventh straight victory, a thrilling 131-128 overtime defeat of two-time NBA defending champion Golden State that lived up to its hype.
“I’d rather have blown them out, but it was a fun game man, it was a fun game,” Kyle Lowry said. “This is what the league is about.”
Pascal Siakam, who didn’t miss a shot until the final minute of the third quarter, added a career-high 26 points for the league-leading Raptors (19-4). Serge Ibaka chipped in with 20, Danny Green had 13, Jonas Valanciunas added 12, and Lowry finished with 10 points and 12 assists.
Kevin Durant scored 51 points – his third consecutive 40-point performance – to lead a Golden State squad (15-8) missing Steph Curry. Klay Thompson had 23.
The Raptors had lost eight straight to Golden State, but that was pre-Leonard, and now Toronto is the talk of the East. The game was nationally televised in the U.S., rare for the Raptors. And Thompson fanned the flames earlier this week when he suggested it was a potential preview of June’s NBA finals.
“It was great, great. It felt like a playoff game, to be honest,” Siakam said. “Those are the type of games we want, just to kind get familiar with it. I think the fans did a great job, just to be engaged in the game and making it fun, too.”
The Raptors raced out to an early 18-point lead and for the most part maintained a double-digit advantage until Durant lit it up late in the third quarter. The nine-time NBA all-star scored the Warriors’ final 13 points of the quarter, including a three-pointer from the mid-court logo at the buzzer that sliced Toronto’s lead to 96-88, and set up an edge-of-your-seats final frame.
Thompson capped a 9-0 Warriors run that pulled the visitors to within two points with eight minutes to play. But the Raptors clawed their way back and when Green drilled a three-pointer with 4:42 left, it capped an 8-0 run that put Toronto back up by 10, prompting a deafening roar from the Scotiabank Arena crowd that included Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, Drake, and UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway.
Up by just three points heading into a crazy final minute of regulation, Lowry drilled a three, but Durant replied with two of his own, his second dagger tying the game with 8.6 seconds to play and sending it to overtime.
The crowd of 20,073 was on its feet for the extra period, erupting when Green knocked down a three with 2:07 to play to put Toronto up by three. With 22 seconds left, and the Raptors clutching a three-point lead, Andre Iguodala had a clear path to the basket but was whistled for travelling, and Siakam iced the victory with three free throws in the dying seconds.
“I was proud of them,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “When a team gets drug into overtime like that on some tough shots, it’s a lot of times that team will feel sorry for themselves and not come out and play. We didn’t. We came out and scored the first four on them and that’s what I told them in the locker-room.
“I was proud of them for that, to kind of take the emotional punch in the gut, take a few deep breaths and then go back out there and play the overtime like they did.”
Nurse was certainly dressed for a big night. The coach wore a shiny royal blue suit jacket for Sager Strong night in honour late NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager, known for his colourful attire.
“He definitely nailed it tonight,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Leonard is now a perfect 7-for-7 in the regular season and playoffs against Golden State since the 2014-15 season.
“I’m happy that we executed down the stretch and we were able to make shots, we were able to get some stops in overtime, and it’s a building block for us, and I’m happy we got the win,” he said.
Curry, meanwhile, sat out with strained adductor (groin). The two-time NBA MVP hasn’t played since Nov. 8, but is expected to return Saturday in Detroit. The Warriors were also missing Draymond Green (toe injury).
The Raptors will get another chance at Golden State soon – the Warriors host Toronto on Dec. 12.
While the Raptors’ pre-game mantra for Golden State “just another game,” Kerr had said it was no ordinary night.
“It feels different for us when we know we’re playing one of the best teams in the league. The media coverage we’re used to, the fans outside the hotel,” Kerr said. “(But) we’re well aware of who we’re playing and who we might see later on and tonight is definitely one of those games.”
The Raptors seemingly couldn’t miss in the first quarter, with Leonard, Siakam and Ibaka shooting a combined 12-for-12 to start, and Toronto shooting 72 per cent in the frame. The Raptors went up by as many as 18 and led 38-25 to end the quarter.
The Warriors pulled within eight points with a 21-10 run in the second, and the Raptors went into the halftime break up 67-58.
The Warriors game was the second in a tough stretch for the Raptors. Only four of their next 14 games come against teams with losing records, including two against Cleveland.