We’ll never know what might have become of that one final possession with the Toronto Raptors (12-9) trailing by three at the end of a thrilling, frenzied game against the presently unbeatable Golden State Warriors, although just about any outcome was on the table for a dramatic contest that had gone back and forth. Unfortunately for the host Raptors, that possession was quickly snuffed out as Steph Curry capped off another superlative outing by poking the ball out of bounds of a Cory Joseph dribble just steps from the Raptor basket and giving Golden State the ball to seal a 112-109 victory, their 21st win of the season in as many games (they’ve since gone to 22-0 with a win over Brooklyn).
That Curry was even in the game represents a level of competitive pressure that the Raps have been able to provide that the Warriors haven’t often faced this year. Of Golden State’s four narrowest margins of victory through their as-of-yet undefeated season, two have come against the Raps, who have consistently risen to the occasion in big games, even if they don’t always do so against lesser opponents. Against the Dubs on Saturday, Toronto washed away deficits of as many as 13 points and even led as late as inside three minutes remaining. In the end, though, Curry hit a go-ahead three with 2:33 left in the fourth quarter and the Warriors managed to hold off the charging Raps by making all of their final 10 free throws from there.
For the first time this year, one of Curry’s seven games of 40+ points was matched by an equally game opponent. While Curry continued his statistical assault with 44 points on 14-24 shooting, 9-15 from the three-point line and 7-9 from the charity stripe while adding seven assists and two rebounds, Lowry nearly matched his production with a career-best 41 points, making 14 of his 26 shots, including 6-10 shooting from deep and 7-8 from the line, while registering seven assists and three rebounds. In the deciding fourth, Curry posted 15 points while Lowry answered with 14.
Highlighting a player who delivered a 44-point master class in offensive production might seem like an odd aspect of Sunday’s game to include in The Good, but I can’t remember an in-game subplot as captivating as the dueling point guard battle since Terrence Ross’ 51-point night against the Clippers. One day, Lowry may well tell his grandkids about the night where he nearly matched Curry shot for shot during what could wind up as one of the best individual seasons in NBA history. Curry won the head-to-head, but much like the game itself, the battle was closer than Golden State was probably comfortable with.
Big game energy
In the aftermath of Sunday’s game, Dwane Casey praised his team’s ability to rise to the occasion while also raising the perplexing question of why they can compete like that against an elite team and then look so sloppy and plodding against lesser lights, as they have in recent home losses to Phoenix and Denver. Whatever the reason may be, the Raps may need to treat every opponent like the unbeated Warriors. The hustle against the league’s best team was evident from the get-go, as Toronto refused to cede the early lead that has plagued them lately. From there, they recorded nine steals on 12 Golden State turnovers and penetrated for a commanding 58-32 scoring lead in the paint. Lucas Nogueira, who was called up from the D-League simply on account of Jonas Valanciunas’ injury, was hustle personified and won’t be going down again any time soon after putting up 14 points on 7-9 shooting in a significant, 25-minute role.
The first year Raps
Beyond Lowry and Nogueira, it was tough to find any reliable scoring help on Toronto’s side of the court. The club shot 44% (40-91) on the night as a unit, but just 33.9% (19-56) if you remove the production of the two key contributors. It didn’t help that DeMar DeRozan needed 19 shots to get 16 points (compared to 26 points on 15 shots by two-guard counterpart Klay Thompson), but it was the group of off-season additions that really didn’t bring much to the table on this night. DeMarre Carroll finished a game-worst -16 with nine points on 4-10 shooting, Luis Scola missed seven of nine shots and found himself in foul trouble on account of the Warriors’ quick pace, Bismack Biyombo ceded minutes to Nogueira after also looking to slow to keep pace while racking up four rapid fouls and Joseph coughed up the game-deciding turnover while also failing to burn a Golden State team that opted to play off of him at the three-point line.
The second annual Masai Ujiri-hosted Giants of Africa gala event in recognition of the third anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death brought soccer superstar Didier Drogba, models Winnie Harlow and Alek Wek, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum and NBA legends Bob Lanier and Isiah Thomas to Toronto. Other stars taking in Sunday’s game included Drake and Donovan Bailey.
Instead of looking for other ways to say that Golden State is really, really good, let’s examine their upcoming slate to see just where this professional sports-wide record-setting start might finally end. A big game in Indiana on Tuesday is now tempered after the Pacers have cooled off some after winning six in a row, although a Curry / Paul George battle will still be worth the price of admission. The Celtics are a feisty and well-coached, albeit untalented, bunch. Get past those, though, and they may not be pushed again until their Christmas Day Finals rematch game against Cleveland.
Next Up: After a visit by the undefeated Warriors and preceding a Wednesday tilt against the elite San Antonio Spurs, the Raps could sure use a win when the Los Angeles Lakers arrive on Monday for Kobe Bryant’s final game in Toronto (7:30pm, SN1).
Prediction: Raps 107, Lakers 103 (record this season: 8-12)