Raptors demolish mighty Warriors in Game 4 and are within one win of being champions
When the Toronto Raptors emerged from the visitors' locker room at halftime of Game 4 of the NBA Finals trailing the Golden State Warriors by only four points -- despite being badly outplayed in the opening 24 minutes -- they knew they had a chance.
By the time the third was over, Kawhi Leonard had scored 17 of his 36 points in the quarter, blowing the game open almost single-handedly as the Raptors claimed a 105-92 victory over the Warriors.
Toronto now has a commanding 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series, and it can claim its first championship with a win back at Scotiabank Arena in Game 5 on Monday night.
Time and again during these playoffs, Leonard has delivered for Toronto. His efforts in Game 4 in the Eastern Conference semifinals in Philadelphia allowed the Raptors to survive that game, before his incredible series-ending buzzer-beater in Game 7 allowed them to advance.
Leonard switching onto Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals swung that series in Toronto's direction, as the Raptors swept the final four games to advance to their first NBA Finals.
But his performance Friday night -- those 36 points on 11-for-22 shooting, including 5-for-9 from 3-point range, to go with 12 rebounds, two assists, four steals, a block and no turnovers in 40 minutes -- might have been his very best yet.
The Warriors, desperate to prevent this from being the final game at Oracle Arena, came out playing suffocating defense in the first quarter, and they quickly jumped out to a 23-12 lead.
But while his teammates combined to go 1-for-13 in the opening 12 minutes, scoring a total of three points, Leonard went 5-for-8 and scored 14 by himself, allowing the Raptors to end the quarter, somehow, trailing only 23-17.
Kawhi Leonard, right, took it to Stephen Curry and his Golden State teammates Friday night, scoring 36 points to carry Toronto to a 105-92 win and a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals.
At times in the fourth quarter, the Warriors made mini-runs to begin to cut the deficit. But at every turn, the Raptors did what they have done so many other times during these playoffs: respond to a big play by an opponent with one of their own.
By the time it was over, so many guys had stepped up. Serge Ibaka had 20 points off the bench, going 9-for-12 from the field. Pascal Siakam recovered from an ugly first half by scoring 13 points in the second and finishing with 19 in the game.
Nothing, though, could match what Leonard did. And, thanks to his latest sublime showing, and yet another piece of evidence in an ever-growing number of them declaring that he has become, in fact, the best player in the world, Toronto has moved to within one win of a championship few could see coming.