For all the history, mystique and victories of Oracle Arena and the Golden State Warriors, it was the Toronto Raptors who found magic on Friday night in Oakland, Calif.
After scoring only 42 points in the first half, the Raptors surged in the last two quarters against the back-to-back defending champion Warriors, pouring in 37 points in the third quarter and adding 26 more in the fourth to cruise to a 105-92 victory for Game 4.
The Raptors are now just one win away from capturing the NBA championship; they lead the series 3-1.
“They’re going to be going crazy in Toronto,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse after the win.
But fans were already going crazy inside Oracle Arena after the game.
Hundreds took over a corner of Oracle and relished in the victory — they chanted and cheered over and over again. They broke out in O Canada. People hugged. Some cried. Security guards just let them revel in the moment.
RAPTORS FANS <br><br>O CANADA RINGING THROUGH ORACLE ARENA. <a href=”https://twitter.com/cbcsports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@cbcsports</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/CBCToronto?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CBCToronto</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/CBCNews?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CBCNews</a> <a href=”https://t.co/KLOmcRIulu”>pic.twitter.com/KLOmcRIulu</a>
Warriors fans watched on from across the arena, shocked at what was happening inside a place where they’re not used to losing.
“It’s really amazing. It’s Canada’s team, and Canadians from all over the country are traveling down,” Nurse said.
Perhaps what’s most amazing about what happened over the past three days in Oakland is the Raptors won both games on the road where teams usually don’t win at this time of year. The Warriors hadn’t lost at home in the NBA Finals since June 19, 2016. They’ve now lost two back-to-back and may not return for another.
But for all the Raptors fans’ celebration in the stands, the players remain focused on the task ahead.
“We haven’t done anything,” Kyle Lowry said.
“We won three games. It’s the first of four. We understand that. They’re the defending champs, and they’re not going to go out easy. They’re going to come and fight and prepare to play the next game, and that’s how we’re preparing ourselves, that we have to — we got to prepare ourselves to play the next game. We haven’t done anything yet.”
Wild 3rd quarter
After a sloppy first quarter that saw both teams miss too many shots and commit too many turnovers, halftime adjustments were going to be pivotal.
The Raptors came out of the locker room like a team on a mission. In Game 2, their third quarter led to disaster — the Warriors went on an 18-0 to start the frame and it led them to victory. In Game 3, a 36-point third quarter led the Raptors to victory.
And once again in Game 4, the third quarter was all the difference.
Kawhi Leonard took control, scoring 17 points in the third frame.
“I tried to stay as aggressive as possible, get to my spots, be confident, shoot the basketball,” Leonard said.
In what could be the last game ever at Oracle Arena — Raptors fans rejoice. <br><br>They’ve taken over the place. <br><br>And the Raptors are heading home with a chance to win the title. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeTheNorth?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#WeTheNorth</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/CBCToronto?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CBCToronto</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/cbcsports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@cbcsports</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/CBCNews?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CBCNews</a> <a href=”https://t.co/aXo2eXghiG”>pic.twitter.com/aXo2eXghiG</a>
Sometimes the play became unhinged. Players were diving and shoving and scraping on the court. It was the most physical, intense and feisty game of the series — both teams knew what was at stake.
The frantic third quarter saw eight lead changes — back and forth the teams went, exchanging baskets like two heavy-weight boxers exchanging glancing blows.
Lowry landed hard on his ankle and lay on the court for a minute. The Warriors’ Draymond Green took a technical foul late in the third, after losing it on the referee. Fred VanVleet was cut and bloodied in the final frame, chipping a tooth after taking an elbow from Shaun Livingston.
The Raptors outscored the Warriors 37-21 in the quarter.
The Warriors looked ragged and rattled as the Raptors continued to pour it on. The 342nd consecutive sold-out crowd inside Oracle Arena was stunned by what was unfolding.
But as dejected as the defending champions are, Golden State star Steph Curry isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.
“It’s not over. It’s not a good feeling right now, but we have been on both sides of it. And for us it’s an opportunity for us to just flip this whole series on its head, and you got to do it one game at a time,” he said.
Of course, the Warriors came back from down 3-1 in the Western Conference final against Oklahoma City in 2016 before famously blowing the same lead to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
Kawhi shines again
With the game hanging in the balance, Kawhi Leonard was sensational — the dominating player the fans expect, but hadn’t recently seen. On Friday night, when the Raptors needed him, the 2014 Finals MVP shined.
He finished the game leading all players with 36 points and 12 rebounds. He was calm and composed when it felt as though the game might have gotten away from the Raptors.
RAPTORS WIN! RAPTORS WIN! <br><br>ONE WIN AWAY FROM A TITLE! <br><br>The Toronto Raptors take both games from the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena and head back to Canada with a chance to win a first-ever NBA Championship. <br><br>Monday. Game 5. In Toronto. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeTheNorth?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#WeTheNorth</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAFinals?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#NBAFinals</a> <a href=”https://t.co/RDbCthgwx1″>pic.twitter.com/RDbCthgwx1</a>
“We were confident. We’re on the road, down four at half, we wanted to come in and have a good third quarter coming out the first five minutes, stay aggressive on both ends of the floor, keep our energy up. And that’s all we did,” Leonard said.
It sets the stage for what could be a historic Monday night in Toronto — Game 5 back in Canada with a title within the Raptors’ grasp.
“They’re going to be excited. I mean, they’re already excited just as us just being here for the first time. I know they’re going to be super excited,” Leonard said.