People he’d pass on the streets of Toronto would tell Danny Green to stay positive and keep shooting, keep shooting, keep shooting. Fans filled his Instagram inbox with similar messages. Even Shaq had a few words for the slumping player on Wednesday.
The Raptors sharp-shooter ended his slump in spectacular fashion on Wednesday. And now Toronto has regained momentum in the NBA Finals.
Green had six three-pointers in an 18-point performance to lead Toronto to a 123-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday at Oracle Arena. Toronto now takes a 2-1 lead into Friday’s Game 4, also at Oracle.
Moments after the decisive win, Green joked about the shooting tips he received from former teammate Shaquille O’Neal.
“I spoke to him before the game briefly. He’s always on the TNT set. And every time I see him, he’s giving me his pure shooting advice — because he was good at it,” Green deadpanned. “But just the fundamentals, the small things, telling me to be confident and just hold the follow-through.
“And obviously after a good shooting night, it’s easy to see that his advice has worked,” added Green, who played with Shaq in Cleveland in 2010. “He’s always been that guy to me every year that we get on the playoffs or on this stage where he comes over and tells me stay confident and give me his shooting advice.”
Kawhi Leonard led six Raptors in double figures with 30 points. Kyle Lowry had 23 points and nine assists for the Raptors, who are making their NBA Finals debut. Pascal Siakam had 18 points, while Marc Gasol finished with 17, and Fred VanVleet had 11.
Stephen Curry had a playoff-best 47 points for the banged-up Warriors, who lost for the first time in six games at Oracle Arena.
“My dad used to tell me the stats don’t matter, just the final score,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said on Curry’s big night. “So we’ll take the win and be thankful for that.”
Green’s huge game ended a lengthy dry spell for the Raptors long-range specialist, who made four three-pointers in the entire six-game Eastern Conference final against Milwaukee. Green has now made six or more three-pointers in three career NBA Finals games, the second most in history.
“Danny’s buckets I think boosted our whole team’s confidence because we’re kind of used to most of the year relying on those,” Nurse said. “I think that when he banked a couple there and then he kind of kept it going, I think it was just a huge confidence boost all around.”
Moments before tipoff, Nurse noticed three words scribbled on the whiteboard in the Raptors’ locker-room: “Let it rip.”
“I [asked Lowry], ‘Did you write that?”‘ Nurse said. “But he said, ‘No, but that’s what I’m thinking.”
Lowry was the Raptors’ motor. VanVleet figured the veteran point guard was in for a good night.
“He came out firing tonight and he was big,” VanVleet said. “I think putting him on Steph early got his juices going a little bit as a competitor. He was unbelievable for us tonight. Every time we needed a bucket, he gave us one. Every time they made a run, he had an answer. Kyle was unbelievable.”
The Raptors led virtually from outset, going up by 12 points in the first quarter, stretching it to 14 in the second, and 16 in the third to stun the yellow-clad crowd, which hadn’t seen a loss at Oracle Arena since April 25 — Game 5 of the opening round of the playoffs versus the L.A. Clippers.
There was zero letup by Toronto in one of its most consistent games of the post-season. With 29 seconds left in the third, Leonard hustled to keep the ball inbounds after Lowry’s shot was blocked, then fired a deft pass to Green, who launched his sixth three-pointer of the game. Toronto took a 96-83 lead into the fourth.
“They outplayed us. They deserved it,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
The Raptors held their proverbial foot to Golden State’s throat in the fourth. A Serge Ibaka steal led to an easy Siakam dunk just three minutes into the quarter that set the tone for the final frame. Leonard drove to the hoop three minutes later to put Toronto up by 17 points.
A driving layup by Draymond Green sliced Toronto’s lead to 10 with 2:28 to play, but then Leonard, with Curry and Alfonzo McKinnie all over him, got a pass off to VanVleet, who drained a three-pointer as the shot clock buzzer sounded. The play with 1:37 left put the Raptors back up by 13 and sent many Warriors fans to the exits.
“We answered a lot of runs,” Nurse said. “Each time they chipped, we kind of answered back.”
Virtually any fan left sitting departed when Gasol connected on a three with just over a minute to play. Toronto fans in attendance chanted “Let’s go Raptors!” over the game’s dying seconds. They broke into a raucous singing of “O Canada” as the players headed for the locker-room.
“All around the world there’s Canadian fans surprisingly. That’s one thing I learned being on this team, a lot of Canada is all over,” Green said. “Raptors fans are crazy, man. They’re all over the place and they come from all over the place to watch the games and to support us.”
The Warriors’ slogan is “Strength in Numbers.” But they were down in numbers on Wednesday.
Klay Thompson, one half of the Splash Brothers with Curry, was ruled out shortly before the game because of the left hamstring injury he suffered in Game 2. The Warriors were already without Kevin Durant and Kevon Looney because of injuries.
“The whole point was not to risk a bigger injury that would keep him out rest of series,” Kerr said. “That was the decision we made. I feel very comfortable with it. I never would have forgiven myself if I played him tonight and he would have gotten hurt.”
The Raptors have their own battle wounds. Lowry has been playing with a serious thumb injury since the conference semifinals, and Leonard, who played just nine games last season with San Antonio, has hobbled at times.
The Raptors captured Game 1 of the Finals 118-109, but dropped a 109-104 decision to Golden State in Game 2, allowing a 20-0 Warriors run that straddled the end of the second quarter and the first five minutes of the third — the longest run in NBA Finals history.
The Warriors, who swept Portland in the Western Conference final, were playing their first home game since May 16. Oracle Arena, which has seen the Warriors win four of the past five NBA titles, is in its final season as home of the Warriors. The team is moving to the new Chase Center in San Francisco next season.
Pockets of Raptors fans dotted the arena, enough to produce an audible “M-V-P!” chant when Leonard went to the free-throw line. There were also plenty of stars on hand including Beyonce and Jay-Z.
Vince Carter was in attendance as part of ESPN’s broadcast crew, a full-circle moment for the former Raptors star who won the dunk contest during NBA All-Star weekend at Oracle Arena in 2000, an event that helped put Toronto’s basketball team on the map.
Canadian Tenille Arts sang “O Canada,” while Metallica’s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett performed an electric guitar rendition of the American anthem. Rapper Lil Pump performed at halftime.
The Raptors led for all but 30 seconds of the first quarter, despite 17 points from Curry. A Siakam step-back shot capped a 13-3 Raptors run that put the Raptors up by 10. They stretched their advantage to 12 with 2:13 left in the quarter, and led 36-29 heading into the second.
Ibaka’s free throws had Toronto up by 14 points midway through the second. The Warriors responded with a 10-3 run to pull to within seven. The Raptors took a 60-52 lead into the halftime break.
The series returns to Toronto for Game 5 on Monday. A Game 6, if necessary, would be back in Oakland.