The Golden State Warriors are on the verge of elimination after losing Game 4 of the finals.
The Golden State Warriors may never play another game at Oracle Arena, the concrete relic they call home, but that is suddenly a secondary concern at best for the N.B.A.’s reigning but reeling champions.
The Toronto Raptors moved to the brink of their first N.B.A. championship Friday night by outlasting the favored Warriors, 105-92, in a Game 4 slog. Fueled by a Golden State-style haymaker in the third quarter, Toronto seized a three games-to-one series lead to take back to Canada for Monday night’s Game 5.
The Warriors and their fans, who have reveled in three N.B.A. titles in the past four seasons, understood what was at stake on this night perhaps better than anyone else. A three games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven finals has led to 33 titles in 34 prior finals series. The only exception: Golden State’s loss against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
The Warriors will now need their own Cleveland-style comeback to ensure that their dynasty of the past half-decade — as the first N.B.A. team to make five successive trips to the finals since the Boston Celtics in the 1960s — does not end in defeat. They could also clearly use Kevin Durant, who was expected to have returned by now from a strained right calf.
Golden State welcomed Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney back from injury in this Game 4, before a noisy and nervy sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle, but the hosts could not muster a response to Toronto’s 37-21 edge in the third quarter.
Kawhi Leonard scored 17 of his 36 points in the period, and Serge Ibaka finished with a crucial 20 points off the bench. The Raptors stretched the lead to as many as 16 points in the final period and have won 13 of the 16 quarters in the series.
The Warriors remain hopeful that Durant — who last played May 8 — can follow the lead of Thompson and Looney and finally make a comeback in Game 5 after missing the past nine games. But that is no lock. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr acknowledged in his pregame news conference that Durant’s comeback may have to wait until next Thursday’s Game 6 back at Oracle — provided Golden State can get there.
Team officials entered the championship series loosely targeting Game 5 for Durant’s return, according to two people briefed on the situation who were not authorized to discuss it publicly. That has quickly become Golden State’s best-case scenario.
The Warriors had to settle for Thompson (hamstring) rebounding from his one-game absence and Looney (chest) rejoining the rotation after Kerr initially described the reserve center as out for the rest of the series after his Game 2 injury.
But it was not enough against the gritty Raptors, who, remember, are not without their own injuries. Leonard’s movement has looked labored at various points since the Eastern Conference finals against Milwaukee. Kyle Lowry is playing through the constant pain of an injured left thumb, and Fred VanVleet needed seven stitches in Friday’s fourth quarter after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face from Golden State’s Shaun Livingston.
“I would say the cards are stacked against us in terms of injuries and things like that,” Curry said after Toronto’s Game 3 victory on the Warriors’ floor. “But it’s a sob story nobody really wants to hear.”
After two wins on the road, the latest featuring a third-quarter rush straight out of Golden State’s playbook, Toronto has firmly established itself as the talk of the league.
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