By Rory Carroll
OAKLAND, California (Reuters) – The Toronto Raptors produced a strong third quarter to defeat the Golden State Warriors 105-92 in Oakland on Friday to take a 3-1 lead in the Finals and move one win away from the franchise’s first NBA championship.
The first half belonged to the Warriors but the tide turned in the third quarter when the visitors outscored the two-time defending champions 37-21 behind five-for-seven shooting and two momentum-swinging three pointers from Kawhi Leonard.
“Kawhi’s two big threes to start the half really I thought changed the whole feel for everybody,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Leonard, who finished the game with 36 points and 12 rebounds.
“I just thought everybody was like, ‘okay, we know we are here, let’s go’. And we just kind of kept going from those two threes.”
The Warriors did themselves no favours on Friday, turning the ball over 19 times, missing seven free throws and making less than 30 percent of their three-point attempts.
After a spectacular 47 points in Game Three, Warriors guard Stephen Curry struggled on Friday, shooting just nine of 22 from the field and making two of his nine three-point attempts.
The only team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Finals was the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, who beat the Warriors in 2016.
The Warriors did, however, overcome a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, an experience the team hopes to use moving forward.
“You just try to win one game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters about Game Five, which will be played on Monday in Toronto.
“That’s what we did a few years ago against OKC. Win one game and then move forward,” said Kerr, who has been at the helm of the team as it has won three of the last four NBA championships.
“So that’s our focus now. We’ll fly to Toronto tomorrow and take a look at the film, see what we can do better and try to win a game.
“We have won a lot of games over the years, so we’ll try to win another one.”
The Raptors did suffer some misfortune in the fourth quarter when guard Fred VanVleet was inadvertently elbowed in the face by the Warriors’ Shaun Livingston.
A bloodied VanVleet was taken to the locker room and one of his teeth remained on the floor before it was noticed and swept up.
The loss means the Warriors may have played their final game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, which has served as the team’s home since the 1971-72 season, although Game Six will be back there on June 13 if they win in Toronto on Monday.
The Warriors move to the new Chase Center in San Francisco next season.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)