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Toronto Raptors Stun NBA World, Take Commanding 3-1 Series Lead

Just your typical business trip.

As the Toronto Raptors quietly walked back down the tunnel to their locker room at The Oracle, it would be impossible to guess that they just won the biggest game in their franchise’s history. Stoic and stone-faced, the Raptors have just put themselves in a position no other Raptors team has ever been in.

The Raptors are one game away from achieving greatness.

The Raptors are one game away from championship glory.

No one believed that the Raptors could pull this one out. A second straight win in the NBA’s house of horrors, with Klay Thompson back in the fold, with the versatile Kevon Looney back in the fold, against a desperate Golden State Warriors team. These are the two-time reigning champions after all.

Yet, the Toronto Raptors. These gutsy, resilient, and janky Toronto Raptors left the Warriors and their fans stunned.

Kawhi Leonard has been great this entire season, but he has yet to have had one of those super-natural type, staple postseason games that we have come to expect from him in these Finals. If the Raptors were to steal another game on the road and put a stranglehold on the series, this was the moment built for The Klaw.

And The Klaw came through.

Putting together his most remarkable Finals game yet, Leonard made every big shot, made every big play on defense, and unlike the past three games, protected the ball (zero turnovers for the game), and made instinctive and quick decisions whenever the double-team came. The Raptors very clearly made it a priority to find a way to get Leonard freed up of the constant suffocating pressure that he has been receiving in this series from the Warriors. In Game 4, it all came together, as Leonard delivered with 36 points on 50-percent shooting, setting the tone right out of the half with two big three-pointers and a great drive-and-dish.

“Kawhi’s two big threes to start the half really changed the whole feel of everybody,” Raptors Coach Nick Nurse said. “Everybody was like, ‘Okay, man, we know we are here, let’s go,’ and we just kind of kept going from those two threes.”

Leonard scored 17 of his 36 points in the third quarter, a quarter that the Warriors historically have dominated unlike any team the NBA has ever seen. On Friday night, the Warriors quarter belonged to Leonard.

“I don’t play hero basketball,” Leonard told ABC’s Doris Burke following the 105-92 win. “I’m just playing to win.”

Moreover, it also belonged to Serge Ibaka.

In what was a quiet offensive night from Marc Gasol and Danny Green, it was Ibaka who stepped up, helping Leonard take over the basketball game in the second half. Putting up 20 points on 75-percent shooting, include massive make from long range, Ibaka patrolled the paint, and handed the Warriors gut punch after gut punch for the remainder of the night.

“Once gets into a series, which he did in Game 3 with blocked shots and rebounding, he seems to stay in the series,” commented Nurse on Ibaka’s Game 4 performance. “He was great tonight. Once he starts blocking a couple shots, the offence comes, the rebounding comes, (there’s a) put-back here and there and even his jump shot seems to come.”

It was a game that started off quiet for both teams.

The Raptors were unable to get anything going offensively, coming up short on wide open shots, yet their defense allowed them to stay within striking defense. The Warriors inability to take control of the basketball game in the first half turned out to be the champions’ true downfall. Thompson moved around well right out of the gate, but was the only Warriors to hit a three-pointer in the first half. He would end the game with 28 points on 11-for-18 shooting, while his Splash Brother, Steph Curry had as quiet of a 27-point performance as ever can be.

“I thought we played really tough tonight,” Nick Nurse said. “We were taking a lot of punches early and we just kept standing in there and playing. Then we were kind of able to exert our will in the second half.”

The Raptors stood their ground, and it paid dividends in a glorious second half, in which the Raptors outscored the Warriors by a score of 63-46. This was the Raptors greatest defensive stand to date. Once again, they were able to take DeMarcus Cousins out of the game completely. Draymond Green was a non-factor and outside of an effective Looney, the Warriors supporting cast was shut down and no where to be seen.

“We have got to lick our wounds tonight. It’s a tough loss,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re not thinking about winning three games. We’re thinking about winning one game, and that’s the task. I know we’re capable.”

Of course, while it is easy to point out Leonard’s and Ibaka’s play, a Raptors win would not be complete without highlighting Toronto’s point guard duo. Fred VanVleet, who left the game late after taking a hard elbow to the face, costing him a tooth and forcing him to receive seven stitches, was spectacular. Once again, he made every big shot and was phenomenal in defending and locking up Curry. Despite scoring 27 points for the game, Curry was never able to settle into any sort of offensive flow and only knocked down two of his nine three-point attempts.

Last but not least, Kyle Lowry.

The leader of the pack. The calming presence behind the scenes.

Whenever the Raptors needed a big play to turn something out of nothing offensively, there was Lowry to deliver the key assist to salvage what looked like a lost Raptors possession. He played as hard as anyone on the court and while the shot was not falling for Lowry like it did in Game 3, this was as gutsy a performance as ever for the Raptors floor general.

As the series now shifts to a Game 5 in the Scotiabank arena, the Larry O’Brien trophy will be in the house. It’s unknown whether or not Kevin Durant will be available and at this point, it seems rather unlikely. Nevertheless, the Warriors are a team that will not fold and the Raptors understand that they have one thing left to do.

On Monday night, it’s time to let it rip one more time.

Nobody thought the Raptors would ever be in this position. It’s closing time.

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