Warriors Under Review: Steph Curry takes time summing up loss to Raptors

Warriors Under Review: Steph Curry takes time summing up loss to Raptors

OAKLAND – There is no airbrushing this one, no pointing toward an All-Star limping off and no specific element taking a one-night vacation.

The Warriors were exfoliated Wednesday night by the Toronto Raptors in a top-to-bottom, wall-to-wall destruction the Warriors have to believe can’t be repeated under postseason conditions.

Here are the positives and negatives from a 113-93 home loss that was not as close as the score indicates:

POSITIVE

There was no denial

Coach Steve Kerr after practice Thursday acknowledged the beat down, as did Stephen Curry, whom I asked if there was anything about the game that he liked. He paused. Narrowed his eyes. Tilted his head. And about 12 seconds later, he replied.

“Not really,” he said, earning laughter as well as points for thoughtful honesty.

NEGATIVE

The offense was locked up

Toronto brought such defensive aggression that even when the Warriors got open looks – and there were plenty – they were still shook by the moments of suffocation and couldn’t convert. They never got comfortable and ended up losing the game in the first half, when they shot 38.6 percent overall and 17.6 percent from deep.

The Warriors at their best are a symphony of movements, with the ball finding the most open player. The Raptors took some of that away and all too often the Warriors let them do it.

NEGATIVE

The defense took too many naps

If the first quarter is a tale of lazy defense, fixes usually come in the second or, at the latest, the third. Not this time. The number of easy backdoor cuts and leak-outs leading to Toronto baskets or forcing fouls was astounding. It went on for most of the night.

The Raptors got comfortable with the idea they could score. And they did.

This was as much about effort as execution. Toronto’s desire to score was stronger than the Warriors’ desire to defend, resulting in a how-to lesson in entering the home of a champion without your best player and taking what you want.

NEGATIVE

Livingston sustains an injury

Shaun Livingston opened the fourth quarter feeling pretty good. He left with 8:36 remaining he was in considerable discomfort. He was diagnosed with a pelvic contusion that will keep him out Friday in Sacramento and perhaps beyond.

Though this is significant at any time, it’s doubly so with Andre Iguodala out of the lineup. He and Livingston are at times interchangeable, so it’s a notable massive loss if both are out at the same time.

POSITIVE

Durant provides a reminder

The faintest shadow of hope for a comeback came in the third quarter, when the Warriors played decent defense and Kevin Durant took over the offense. He scored 13 points, on 6-of-10 shooting, accounting for half the team’s scoring in the quarter.

He finished with a game-high 30 points on 13-of-22 shooting (2-of-4 from deep).

On such nights as this, when Klay Thompson (7-of-17, 0-of-5 from deep) is missing open shots and teams are swarming and trapping Curry (3-of-12, 2-of-8), the value of Durant comes into clear focus. He becomes a necessity. 

Steph Curry goes cold, gets locked up by Raptors' aggressive game plan

Steph Curry goes cold, gets locked up by Raptors' aggressive game plan

OAKLAND – Knocked down by the Raptors last month in Toronto and again Wednesday night in Oakland, the Warriors would like nothing more than to come back for a third chance soon as possible.

That can’t happen before May 30, when Game 1 of the NBA Finals is scheduled.

“I know if that were to happen,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after his team was blown out of Oracle Arena, 113-93, “we would be ready to play.”

Meanwhile, they have to recover and study and analyze the events of Wednesday night. There were several troubling signals, including low defensive intensity and mental errors at both ends, though none was more evident and enlightening than the defense the Raptors threw at Stephen Curry.

After watching Curry dribble, shoot and splash his way through defenses this season, it was striking to see him running into roadblocks and thickets of arms and hands, led by a rugged and redoubtable defender named Fred VanVleet.

Curry entered the game averaging 30.1 points per game, shooting 51.3 percent overall, and 50 percent from beyond the arc. He totaled 10 points, a season-low in games for which he was healthy throughout, on 3-of-12 shooting, 2-of-8 from deep.

“We just tried to make them uncomfortable, make them make plays they’re not used to making,” Van Vleet said. "Every team has their main guys, multiple playmakers, and we try to take it out of the playmakers’ hands and make others make all the plays. That was our game plan going in. We did a great job executing it."

VanVleet, who usually comes off the bench in the role of sixth man, started at point guard due to lineup change necessitated when Kawhi Leonard was ruled out before tipoff. Curry normally gets to cook Kyle Lowry, an All-Star offensive force but a mediocre defender vastly inferior to VanVleet in both pluck and technique.

With VanVleet in junkyard-dog mentality, Curry seemed to spend the evening searching for enough room to move, much less fire an uncontested shot.

“I didn’t really have rhythm,” Curry conceded, “for whatever reason.”

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Though VanVleet was the primary defender, he had help. Even when Curry was coming off screens, there wasn’t much room. He had a couple open looks, but any good defender knows any shooter harassed all night tends to miss even when we he gets some space.

“There are only two ways to guard Stephen,” said Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin, who conducted the postgame news conference because head coach Nick Nurse left immediately for a family matter. “The No. 1 way is to pray that he misses. No. 2 is to get a body on him and do not give him any open looks.”

Curry’s previous success against the Raptors – he was averaging 29.8 points against them for his career, his highest average against any opponent – has been largely a matter of taking advantage of Lowry, with VanVleet getting some spot duty.

The Raptors, however, may have found something with VanVleet in the starting lineup. One game does not a Steph Stopper make, but he clearly is an upgrade over the usual Raptors defenders.

This variation of man-to-man defense is especially effective given the frequent and assertive help from Toronto’s assembly line of lengthy wings.

Asked whether Curry’s poor performance was a result of Raptors defense or simply an off night, Kerr pointed to both.

“It’s always a combination,” Kerr said. “I’m sure we’ll look at the tape and we’ll see some shots that Steph would normally hit and we’ll also see excellent defense. Fred VanVleet picked him up full court and did a good job of getting into him.

“But it’s always a combination.”

[RELATED: Warriors' blowout loss to Raptors deserves long look in the mirror]

The combination worked exceptionally well for the Raptors. They gave Curry something to think about. They gave the Warriors something to think about.

They may have given a few other NBA teams something to consider.

A lot went wrong for the Warriors in this game, particularly their defensive lethargy. But if they see the Raptors again in May, VanVleet will have a nice audition video for the role of defending Curry.

Which doesn’t mean the Raptors would get the same results.

Warriors takeaways: What we learned from Dubs' 20-point loss to Raptors

Warriors takeaways: What we learned from Dubs' 20-point loss to Raptors

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND – The Warriors took a flurry of big Canadian boots to the backside Wednesday night, coming away with a 113-93 loss to the Raptors at Oracle Arena.

The Warriors (19-10) were thrashed most every way possible by Toronto (23-7), a team playing its second game in 27 hours and doing it without MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard.

Kevin Durant scored 30 points (a team high), while Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 24 on 10-of-29 shooting from the field.

The Warriors were 0-2 against Toronto this season, only the second time since Steve Kerr became coach in 2014 that they’ve been swept in a season series.

Here are three takeaways from a game in which the Warriors were competitive for all of about five minutes:

Who were these guys?

While the Warriors were resting Tuesday in the Bay Area in anticipation of this game, the Raptors were blowing out the Clippers in Los Angeles. That’s not how it looked once the ball was tipped.

Toronto went on a 15-2 run to go up 22-9 with 5:42 left in the first quarter. The Warriors got no closer than six the rest of the way.

When they weren’t a step slow on defense, they were flat-footed as Raptors raced around and beyond them. The Warriors, who played at such a searing pace in beating Minnesota two nights earlier, often operated at a slug’s pace.

That’s not who they’ve been, it’s not who they are and it’s not who they can afford to be if they are to defeat the team with the best record in the NBA.

They did a terrific job on Curry

Curry has a splendid history against the Raptors, averaging 29.8 points and 8.1 assists, better than against any other team in the league. On this night, he barely had room to breathe.

With Leonard out with a bruised hip, the Raptors altered their lineup. They moved shooting guard Danny Green to small forward, point guard Kyle Lowry to shooting guard and inserted sixth man Fred VanVleet at point guard.

VanVleet clearly had one defensive goal, to make Curry miserable. The Wichita State product clung to Curry like a rubber magnet. Curry finished with 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-8 from beyond the arc.

Curry generally tees off against Lowry, a mediocre defender. Though VanVleet got plenty of help, he also is a much more determined defender and it showed.

Durant’s value was visible

This was one of those nights that illustrate why the Warriors need Durant. The offense was being suffocated and nobody on the team overcomes that better.

It was not enough. Not even close.

Every Warriors run, and all of them were brief, were the result of Durant’s offensive work. His 30 points came on 13-of-22 shooting, including 2-of-4 from deep.

The Raptors had an answer most every other member of the Warriors. They had none for Durant, who also led the team with seven rebounds.

The biggest stain on his game was turnovers. He was a responsible for five of the 19 committed by the Warriors.