As the Toronto Raptors look to widen their NBA Finals series lead against the Golden State Warriors, the anticipated return of star guard Klay Thompson to the opposing lineup may make that challenge a bit more difficult.
Thompson sat out Wednesday’s Game 3 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., due to a hamstring injury as the Raptors went on to win decisively 123-109, taking a 2-1 advantage in the series.
“We expect him to play barring something unforeseen. He’s continued to improve,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters on Thursday.
“When you’re without some key guys, now you’re ending up with five guys on the floor who generally haven’t played together a whole lot. While the effort was there, the execution was not.”
Stephen Curry had a strong performance Wednesday night, leading the Warriors with 47 points — a career playoff high — followed by Draymond Green with 17 points. Kevin Durant and Kevon Looney also sat out of the game due to injuries.
For the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard led the team with 30 points and Kyle Lowry had 23 points. Pascal Siakam had 18 points and Marc Gasol had 17.
Kerr said going into Game 4, the Warriors are looking to make a noticeable improvement to their defence. He cited Danny Green’s six three-pointers in Game 3 as an example.
“Our defence was poor last night, in particular leaving Danny when we didn’t need to. He’s a shooter who commands attention and respect … we’ve got to stay connected to him,” Kerr said, adding later on he thinks mistakes, combined with roster changes, contributed to the outcome of Game 3.
“All our guys played hard. I thought they competed their butts off, but we didn’t play well enough to win.”
When it comes to Thompson, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said the team found out he wouldn’t play during Game 3 when they arrived courtside. Nurse said that decision didn’t change their strategy.
“We’re just trying to play with some pace and with some space and hit the open man a little better … we moved the ball a lot better and we made more shots than we did in Game 2,” he said.
“He’s a great defender. I think he’s one of the best — right up there at the top of the best wing defenders in the league … it probably helped us.”
During a news conference Thursday afternoon, Lowry was asked what the team needs to do in order to walk away with back-to-back wins at Oracle Arena.
“We’ve got to go out there and do our job. We’ve got to continue to be better as a basketball group. We watched film this morning and we found a lot of mistakes that we made,” he said.
“I think we’ve got to continue to just stay in the moment, continue to push the pace and continue to play defence the way we know how to play defence.”
Lowry also commented about being shoved by Mark Stevens, an investor in the Warriors, after crashing into a row of seats while trying to save a ball from going out of bounds during Wednesday’s game.
He said Stevens should not be allowed to be part of the league going forward, adding Stevens is “not a good look for the ownership group that they have” with Golden State. Lowry said he’s also thankful for the support he’s gotten from other NBA players, including LeBron James.
“There’s no room in our game for that. In that situation, I don’t think I could have handled it any better,” he told reporters.
“It sucks that this has to take the front page of the Finals. It’s been a fun Finals. It’s been a competitive Finals.”
Shortly after Lowry spoke, the NBA announced it banned Stevens from attending games and any Warriors team activities for a year, and fined him $500,000. Stevens’ ban was effective immediately and will carry through the entire 2019-20 season, including the playoffs.
Stevens subsequently issued a statement apologizing for what happened. He said he was “embarrassed” by the incident and takes “full responsibility” for what he did, adding he “fully” accepts the NBA’s ruling.
“What I did was wrong and there is no excuse for it. Mr. Lowry deserves better, and I have reached out today in an attempt to directly apologize to him and other members of the Raptors and Warriors organizations.
“I hope that Mr. Lowry and others impacted by this lapse in judgement understand that the behavior I demonstrated last night does not reflect the person I am or have been throughout my life. I made a mistake and I’m truly sorry. I need to be better and look forward to making it right.
Game 4 of the NBA Finals is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET on Friday in Oakland.
— With files from The Canadian Press