TORONTO – That blood on Canada’s floor late Thursday night came straight from the mouths of the Warriors.
Those white specks amid the crimson? Not eggshells. Teeth.
In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Warriors were clobbered harder than they’ve ever been in a Finals game under coach Steve Kerr. They’ve lost by wider margins than the 118-109 lashing administered by the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena, but never in such a way that left them with more questions in need of answers.
“We have an opportunity to look at some tape and try to fix some things,” Andre Iguodala said after the loss.
“You need to get to know your opponent, and we’ve hardly played this team,” Kerr said, pointing out that they face Toronto only twice a year.
“We can make adjustments,” Shaun Livingston said. “Our coaching staff, it’s not afraid to think outside the box.”
They’re going to have to do all of that, because Toronto is a different and deeper group than any that has threatened the Warriors during this five-year run.
The Raptors are the best defensive team these Warriors have seen in the postseason. They’re longer and have fewer weaknesses than any of the teams offered up by Cleveland or Houston, steadier than the Oklahoma City crew that took the Warriors to a nerve-rattling seven games in the 2016 Western Conference finals.
Toronto’s offense also puts more pressure on a defense than any of those teams, each of which had at least one player on the floor who was not a legitimate scoring threat beyond the paint. The Raptors have at least eight who are a legitimate threat, including all five starters. Nine different Raptors fired up 3-balls, seven of them draining at least one long ball. All of them looking comfortable and confident in launching from distance.
“We kind of let a few guys get some open looks early, not fully rotating,” Iguodala said.
“Our rotations got to be better,” Draymond Green said. “We got to fly around a little bit more. And we got to stop them from getting out in transition.”
It’s one thing to hear a team express concern about its defensive rotations, another to visualize an easy solution against a team with so many live shooters.
And then there is the third factor and one that maybe the Warriors could not have anticipated: They were outfought, out-thought and overrun by a team that never blinked while fending off every comeback attempt.
“Those guys were playing off their momentum,” Livingston said. “They’d won four in a row. They’re playing with confidence.”
Facing the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, the Raptors lost the first two games and regrouped to win the next four. They won by margins large and small. They followed Kawhi Leonard, the most accomplished playoff veteran on the roster, and they now have the vibe of a team that believes in itself.
A lot like the Warriors of 2015.
The Warriors of now have no reason to believe they can’t recover by Sunday, take Game 2 and return to Oakland with homecourt advantage. It’s absolutely conceivable.
“I’m sure we have the right sense of urgency and we respect their team,” Iguodala said. “Appropriate fear is one of our mottos. We respect that team and they deserve the right to be here. I think we come out of this looking at things we can do differently to put us in a better position to win the games.”
Friday and Saturday will be massive for the Warriors and their search for solutions. They will find some, no doubt, and maybe that will be enough to even the series.
But they ought to recognize they’ve been punched by a beast the likes of which they’ve yet to confront. The Warriors are too seasoned to flinch at the sight their blood or teeth, but they surely know that winning this series is going to take the best they have.