OAKLAND, Calif. — The Toronto Raptors are one win away from their first NBA championship in the team’s 24-year history.
Kawhi Leonard scored 17 of his 36 points in the third quarter to lead to Raptors to a gritty 105-92 come-from-behind victory over the Golden State Warriors on Friday.
The Raptors, who lead the best-of-seven series 3-1, can capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy on home court at Scotiabank Arena on Monday.
Leonard also hauled down a team-high 12 rebounds for the Raptors, who are making their Finals debut. Serge Ibaka added 20 points for the Raptors, who took control with a massive third quarter. Pascal Siakam chipped in with 19 points, while Kyle Lowry had 10 points and seven assists.
Klay Thompson, who sat out Game 3 with a hamstring injury, had 28 points to top the two-time defending champion Warriors, who are making their fifth consecutive Finals appearance. Stephen Curry, who had a playoff career-high 47 points on Wednesday, scored 27.
Kevon Looney also returned for Golden State after it was previously announced he was out for the remainder of the series with a rib injury.
Trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half, the Raptors roared back with 37 points in the third, outscoring the Warriors by 16 points in the frame. Leonard had two straight threes to kick-start the quarter, then Marc Gasol’s jumper 1:29 into the quarter gave Toronto its first lead since early in the first quarter. The Raptors led 79-67 to start the fourth.
Leonard drilled a three with 8:44 to play to stretch Toronto’s advantage to 16 points. A Curry three-pointer capped a 13-6 Warriors run that sliced the Raptors’ lead to just eight with 2:56 to play. But Siakam made two free throws and then drilled a two before Lowry drove for a layup and the Raptors went back up by 14, sending hundreds of Warriors fans to the exits.
Siakam scored on a mid-range jumper with 52 seconds left, prompting a roaring “Let’s go Raptors!” chant from the Toronto fans in attendance.
Fred VanVleet, who had eight points on the night, took a massive elbow to the face from Shaun Livingston — and lost a tooth in the process — a couple of minutes into the fourth, and was bleeding profusely before he was helped off the court and to the locker-room. VanVleet received seven stitches but passed concussion protocol and returned to the bench.
The Raptors are 8-0 in playoff games in which Ibaka scores 10 or more points.
The Raptors acquired Leonard, Gasol and Danny Green in their quest for their first NBA championship. If there’s been one common character trait throughout the team in their historic post-season ability, it’s their ability to keep level-headed through both the highs and lows.
Asked in his pre-game availability whether the Game 4 pressure was on Toronto or Golden State, Raptors coach Nick Nurse told the media: “That’s probably up for you guys to decide.
“Again, whether we’re up 2-1 or down 2-1, or down 2-0 or blah, blah, blah, we haven’t really talked about the score of the series at all the entire playoffs,” Nurse said. “We have tried to just isolate every game.
“We know they’re all critical, right? I guess all I know is you need to win four, and you can’t win four until you win three, I think, if my math is good there … Take them one at a time.”
The teams split the two games in Toronto, then the Raptors captured Wednesday’s game in Oakland 123-109, a contest that saw all five starters score at least 17 points for just the second time in NBA history (Houston did the same in 1995).
Pockets of Raptors fans dotted Oracle Arena, at times breaking into chants of “Let’s go Raptors!” and “M-V-P!” when Leonard went to the line.
The Raptors rewarded the travelling fans with a win.
The star-studded Oracle Arena crowd included rappers Common, Snoop Dogg and E-40, comedian Dave Chappelle, actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lilly Singh and Jesse Williams, and filmmaker George Lucas.
Burlington, Ont., Indie band Walk off the Earth performed “O Canada,” drawing mixed reviews on social media, while Ne-Yo performed the U.S. anthem. Hip-hop dance group Jabbawockeez provided the halftime entertainment.
Leonard had 14 points in the first quarter, but Raptors baskets were otherwise in short supply. The Raptors missed their first four shots before Leonard ended the drought three-and-a-half minutes into the game. Looney tipped in a shot to give the Warriors an 11-point lead with 53 seconds left in the first. The Raptors closed the quarter with a mini 5-0 run and Golden State took a 23-17 lead into the second.
Toronto held the Warriors’ offence down in the second quarter, pulling to within three points on a pair of free throws by Lowry. The Warriors went into the halftime break up 46-42.
The two teams were a combined 4-for-30 from three-point range through the first half. Leonard had Toronto’s two threes, while Thompson scored twice for the Warriors.
A Game 6, if necessary, would be back in Oakland. Game 7, if needed, would be in Toronto.
THE CANADIAN PRESS