The Toronto Raptors are one win away from their first NBA championship as they defeated the Golden State Warriors 105-92 in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead in the 2019 NBA Finals on Friday. 

After the Warriors came out firing in the first quarter, the Raptors were able to withstand the charge behind Kawhi Leonard’s game-leading 36 points and 12 rebounds. Both teams struggled mightily from 3-point range as they combined to go 18 for 59 from beyond the arc. But it was the Warriors who were even worse, converting on just 8 of 27 attempts (29.6 percent) from 3-point range. Even the game’s best shooter, Stephen Curry, went 2 of 9 from beyond the arc as his 27-point effort wasn’t enough for Golden State to overcome Toronto.

Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 28 points in his return, while Kevon Looney contributed 10 points and six boards in his first action in two games since getting injured, but it wasn’t enough as the Warriors dropped both games at Oracle Arena.

With the Raptors now one win away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the Warriors will have to win Monday’s Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena in order to ensure that one more game — Game 6 — will take place at Oracle Arena next Thursday night.

Here are five main takeaways from Toronto’s Game 4 win:

1. Kawhi Leonard for MVP

One more win for the Raptors, and this is a lock. Kawhi Leonard will be the Finals MVP and go down as a Toronto hero forever and ever, no matter what he decides to do in the offseason. Kawhi went for 36 points, 12 boards and four steals on Friday and was, yet again, the clear best player on the court. The Raptors flipped the third-quarter script on the Warriors with a 37-point period coming out of halftime, and Kawhi had 17 of those. He stepped into a couple of 3s to start the third that were absolute statements. 

If you Warriors think you’re just going to hit the gas in this third quarter like you normally do, you’ve got another thing coming. 

Kawhi came out aggressive from the start after it took a bit for Toronto to settle in, unlike Steph Curry (which we’ll get to), and started sticking shots in the lane with a clear intent of not hesitating for a single second — he finished 5 of 9 from 3-point range and 50 percent from the field overall. 

What a story this is close to becoming. Toronto goes out on a limb to trade a franchise pillar in DeMar DeRozan for Leonard knowing he could just walk after one season. The Raptors knew they had to make the most of this season, but honestly, how often do hopes turn into reality? This is total storybook stuff.  

2. Raptors’ wake-up call

Somehow, people still don’t get how great this Raptors team is. Before this series I was getting asked on air over and over how in the world Toronto could hang in this series. Even with the Warriors’ injuries, they would say, the gap is just too large. Seriously, what were people watching when the Raptors were running off four straight against a really, really good Bucks team? When Kawhi and the Raptors’ defense were dominating one of the best players on Earth in Giannis Antetokounmpo? 

In Game 3, with Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Kevon Looney out, the Warriors were STILL FAVORED TO WIN! In Game 4, they were favored again. This is pure ignorance. The Raptors have so clearly been the better team in this series in every single facet, and none of it is a surprise. 

Kawhi has been incredible all playoffs and all season. Same for the defense. Pascal Siakam didn’t just show up out of nowhere — he’s going to win Most Improved Player and will be an All-Star in short order. Fred VanVleet did this last year. Danny Green once held the record for most 3-pointers in an NBA Finals. Serge Ibaka has been really good for a really long time. Marc Gasol is going to the Hall of Fame. Kyle Lowry, after what he’s done in this series, might have a shot to join him. 

The Raptors aren’t good. They’re great. 

Let’s all finally understand this, independent of the Warriors’ injuries. 

3. Warriors’ defense the biggest culprit

Down the stretch of the regular season, Steve Kerr told me that he was “scared to death” last year that the Warriors wouldn’t be able to flip the defensive switch in the playoffs. They did, going from a middling defensive team to No. 1 in the playoffs on their way to the title. I followed that up with: Do you think you guys can do it again this year? Kerr expressed confidence. He said the Warriors had earned the benefit of the doubt. 

These playoffs, the Warriors haven’t earned a thing defensively other than a monster plate of criticism. After giving up 123 points in Game 3, the Warriors, while the point total doesn’t look as bad, were terrible again defensively on Friday night. They got absolutely shredded in pick and roll and off doubles against Kawhi Leonard. They didn’t rotate. They didn’t stop dribble penetration. They helped when they shouldn’t have, and didn’t help when they should have. They looked every bit like a scrambling team trying to outrun its talent deficit, and they didn’t even come close to getting it done. 

The Raptors have gotten pretty much any look they’ve wanted in 14 of the 16 quarters in these Finals. They’ve clearly looked like the better team, at least as currently constructed. The Warriors just aren’t powerful enough without Kevin Durant to play this bad defensively, and now they’re one game from perhaps the end of a dynasty. 

4. Steph Curry stinker

This was not the game for Steph Curry to lay an egg, but he did, and we have to hold him accountable. The final line looks fine: 27 points, six assists and four rebounds, but a good chunk of that was done when it was too late and on a few dumb fouls that gave him some cheap free throws. He shot 2 of 9 from 3 and hesitated in the middle of his shot at least three times. 

Curry was terrible defensively, too. He missed a crucial blockout late on Danny Green that led to another backbreaking offensive rebound and Toronto bucket. He helped on a Kawhi drive when Thompson had him covered, leaving Green wide open in the corner for a practice 3-pointer. Klay showed his frustration. He should have. It was a terrible decision on a pretty terrible night for Curry, who just didn’t come out with the requisite aggression to score the ball. 

Klay Thompson coming back was not going to be enough for Curry to just go back to running around screens and taking shots here and there. I put some of that on Steve Kerr, who seemingly refuses to put the ball completely in Curry’s hands until he has absolutely no choice. Establishing a rhythm early can render all those traps and blitzes later on a lot less effective once Curry has it going, but they didn’t prioritize Curry’s offense enough in Game 4, and Curry didn’t take it upon himself to be as aggressive as he was in Game 3, and it cost the Warriors — who might not have had a shot anyway against Toronto’s incredible defense, but Curry was their BEST shot, and they didn’t lean heavily enough on him. 

5. Give Nick Nurse huge credit

This man is coaching his tail off. From switching Kawhi onto Giannis in the conference finals and completely reversing that series, to throwing a box and one at Curry in Game 2 and nearly pulling that game out because of it, to the way he handled Kawhi’s workload all year to have him in position to be this effective this late in the season, to his confidence to keep going to Fred VanVleet when he was shooting bricks all over … everything he’s done has come up roses. 

One important thing not a lot of people are talking about: Toronto’s pace. Before the series there was this thought that the Raptors would slow the pace as a means of controlling the Warriors’ tempo. But instead it’s been the Raptors running Golden State into the ground. Nurse knew Curry was gassed after what he had to do in Game 3 with only one day off in between. He knew DeMarcus Cousins couldn’t keep any kind of pace. He knew Thompson was hurt and dragging. And he ran it down their throat. He’s done it all series. People say coaching doesn’t matter in the NBA, that it’s all about talent. Completely untrue. Nick Nurse is out-coaching Steve Kerr in this series, and it has a lot to do with the Raptors being one win from the first title in franchise history. 

Recap all the news and highlights from Game 4 below:

How to watch Warriors vs. Raptors Game 5

  • Date: Monday, June 10
  • Time: 9 p.m. ET
  • Location: Scotiabank Arena — Toronto, Ontario, Canada 
  • TV channel: ABC
  • Streaming: WatchESPN
  • Live stats: GameTracker
  • Odds: Raptors -3.5 (Over/Under 212)

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