OAKLAND — Oracle Arena, so good to the Warriors in the early years of NBA domination, was of no help, and neither was the fans’ roar, which fell to a whimper as the inevitable became obvious.
The back-to-back defending champions were going to lose consecutive NBA Finals games in their house, and Game 4 on Friday night wasn’t even close, a 105-92 loss to the Raptors, who upon sensing weakness in the third quarter went into total annihilation mode.
The Warriors needed a victory to even the best-of-seven series at two apiece, and they were outscored 63-46 in the second half. Worse, they were the vastly inferior team the entire while.
“They deserved it,” said Warriors co-owner Peter Guber, adding a shrug of acceptance.
This is not how the Warriors want to say farewell to Oracle, but if they can’t muster a miracle — such as an active and effective Kevin Durant — on Monday night in Toronto to force a Game 6 next Thursday in Oakland, it’s all they have.
“We need to have KD if we’re going to beat these guys,” one Warriors executive conceded.
With playoff veterans making up half their roster, the Warriors understood the gravity of Game 4. Playing ferocious defense, they owned the first quarter, leading by as much as 11. Klay Thompson, who missed Game 3 with a strained hamstring, was back and stroking shots. The sellout crowd was at full throat.
The Warriors brought back such heroes of yore as Rick Barry, Jamaal Wilkes and Al Attles, whose health problems have prevented him from attending games this season. Hoping to jolt Draymond Green, they also summoned Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. The Warriors were serious about tying this series and putting the pressure squarely upon the Raptors.
The frenzied energy didn’t last. Their compromised roster, with Durant out and at least three other rotation players — Kevon Looney, Andre Iguodala and Thompson — playing through pain, didn’t hold up against a healthy and deep Toronto team.
“We played pretty well for 26 minutes, and then they took control of the game,” Steph Curry said. “It's one of those nights where you play with a lot of energy and you start to build momentum, and then the wheels fall off a little bit.”
No. Not a little bit. Any wheels that didn’t fall off the Warriors were stripped from them by Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard, who scored 17 points in the third and got 20 more from his teammates, while the Warriors totaled 21.
The third quarter, so often the Warriors’ heat zone, was a disaster, turning their four-point halftime lead into a 12-point deficit and filling Oracle with dread.
That high-velocity first quarter, which had the room rocking, was ancient history.
“It sucks really bad,” said Green, who finished one assist short of a triple-double. “You just try and do whatever you can to change it. Get a stop, get a bucket, get some momentum. Every time we did, they answered.”
That has been the tendency of these Raptors. They’re not the Raptors of old, who “wouldn’t even be here,” according to one Warrior. This team leans on the experience and cold-blooded consistency of Leonard, and he has delivered. His second half -- 22 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists -- is a wonderful complete game by most standards.
When Leonard, who finished with 36 points, wasn’t scorching the nets, backup center Serge Ibaka, with 20 points in 22 minutes, was dunking and roaring and posing.
Falling behind by 16 in the fourth quarter and getting no closer than eight, the Warriors never came close to putting together the kind of run that might shake the Raptors.
“It's not a good feeling right now, but we’ve been on both sides of it,” Curry said. “And for us, it's an opportunity to flip this whole series on its head. And you’ve got to do it one game at a time. It sounds cliché, but for us, that's literally the only way we're going to get back in this series is give everything we got for 48 minutes, everybody that sets foot on that floor in Game 5.
“In our locker room, we're talking about believing. Everybody out there believes that we can get this done. We got to — we can draw on those experiences that we had back in the day and see what happens.”
The Warriors now have a single goal, to bring the series back to Oracle.
The truth, however, is that the Oracle mystique, so real in the first two seasons under coach Steve Kerr, has been gone since 2017. It has not been there in these playoffs, and it was not there in Games 3 and 4 of The Finals.
Romanticizing Oracle won’t make it magical, and the current roster will have to overachieve to get back in the series. The reasons the Warriors are one loss from the offseason are real, and only one of them is the absence of Durant. The others are the team from Canada.