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What’s It Going To Take For You To Believe In The Raptors?

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Much to the surprise of the casual basketball-watching world, we’re three games into the NBA Finals and the Warriors are … DOWN 2-1. (Who could have seen a competitive series like this coming? 🤔) But in all seriousness, this was also a game the Raptors absolutely needed to win if they wanted a chance to win the series, right? With not only Kevin Durant but also Klay Thompson scratched from the lineup, they were never going to get a better shot at a depleted version of the Warriors than this.

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): Don’t forget Kevon Looney, Neil. But for sure, this was a must-win for Toronto.

chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): Yeah, there was definitely a must-win feel to this game. To their credit, the Raptors were really solid from start to finish. Steph Curry ate them for lunch, with 47 points, but he also pretty much had to do that, since no one else on his team could create any offense. I was really impressed by Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and Danny Green.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): It was a VERY high-leverage game for a Game 3 because it really cuts both ways: Toronto needed the win, but also, with the loss, Golden State is in quite a bit of trouble now.

Having to win three out of four against a team that’s pretty thoroughly outplayed you so far is not terribly easy, even if you wave a wand and everyone is magically healthy.

tchow: Well, the FiveThirtyEight model still gives the Warriors 33 percent chance of winning the title. And 30-something-percent-chance things happen quite often, or so I’ve been told.

neil: Ooooh, Tony.

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): If Toronto can’t beat a lineup that includes Quinn Cook, Jonas Jerebko and Andrew Bogut, that’s a problem.

neil: Right, the Warriors would be more panicked if they had rolled out Klay and KD and still lost. At least now they can still tell themselves that the “injured guys returning” trump card exists.

natesilver: Handicappers still have the Warriors as ever-so-slight favorites, though pretty close to 50/50. So our model is still a little out of line with the consensus.

tchow: Handicappers are really not appreciating what Toronto has done this series.

sara.ziegler: No one believes in the Raptors!

neil: (Still.)

sara.ziegler: (Except us, obviously.)

natesilver: Yeah, it’s a bit nuts. Like, this could easily be a 3-0 series. Toronto clearly played better in the two wins, and Game 2 could have gone differently if they’d hit more shots.

chris.herring: I do think there’s something to be said for how much the matchups differ with GSW’s main guys healthy.

neil: For sure.

natesilver: To me, the Warriors with KD and Klay back (but without Looney, although he has a shot to return) feel like about a 50/50 proposition to win three out of four games (one of which would probably have to be a Game 7 on the road).

chris.herring: With a healthy Durant, Kawhi Leonard presumably has far less energy for offense — regardless of whether Durant is rusty. Wednesday was Golden State’s worst-case scenario, basically.

natesilver: Yeah, Golden State’s problem has really been on defense so far.

chris.herring: Yes, 100 percent.

I used to think the worst-case was, “What if Durant throws off their rhythm?” But it’s clear that just having him there, rhythm or not, would help them a great deal. Even more so with Klay being back, too.

neil: The Warriors put Draymond Green on Kawhi, and it didn’t really work. Leonard scored 15 on Green with 5-of-8 shooting. But they needed Andre Iguodala on Pascal Siakam for a good chunk of the game (which worked well in Game 2). Klay being out really messed with their ability to match up defensively.

chris.herring: Their defense was horrendous at times on Wednesday. DeMarcus Cousins was really problematic defensively and just looked a mess.

natesilver: But, also, Toronto is goooooooooood, we certainly don’t know that KD is healthy, and even if GSW is slightly better at full strength, Toronto has a game in hand.

And in some ways, our model is being generous to the Warriors. Like, it’s treating Cousins as fully effective, which he obviously isn’t.

neil: Yes, the Warriors really needed Cousins to provide extra scoring punch. But he struggled a lot — he only scored 4 points on 1-for-7 shooting. Steph scored 47 points, but the rest of the team only scored 62 total. Only three Warriors scored in double figures. Even Curry can’t do it alone.

sara.ziegler: ^^^ that point share is just amazing

neil: Curry also led the Warriors in assists AND rebounds!

natesilver: In my series preview, I talked about how Klay and KD aren’t super compatible with one another. But being without BOTH is really tough. The Warriors constructed a team around not really needing a lot of usage or shot creation because you have so much of it with those three guys. But it means some of the lineups you put out there when two of them are hurt are pretty terrible.

chris.herring: I saw a pretty wild stat: A handful of guys1 have scored 43 percent or more of their team’s points in a finals game the past 10 years. Every single one of those showings was in a losing effort.

natesilver: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Warriors could really use like a … Michael Beasley type to score points off the bench.

sara.ziegler: 😲

chris.herring: I can’t believe you’re saying that, either! He would make the defensive issues worse! But I totally know what you mean, and there’s probably some merit to that

Nick Young served that purpose once upon a time, though they used him as more of an off-ball sort of guy. The truth is, Klay’s absence hurts them there, too, because they always use him with the second unit.

natesilver: I’m just saying that a guy who can rule the garbage-time minutes is worth something.

chris.herring: Absolutely.

natesilver: Especially if the Raptors were tending to sub out Kawhi at the same time the Warriors had some of their weaker lineups on the floor, which IIRC was mostly true on Wednesday.

chris.herring: The truth is, there wasn’t enough shooting. And not enough shot creation, as Nate is saying. They Warriors made a grand total of two shots off the dribble that weren’t from Steph himself, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. That’s just not enough.

neil: Toronto was better (+8) with Kawhi off the court than on (+6), which speaks to those sub patterns, Nate. I’d think that can’t be true if you’re going to beat Toronto.

natesilver: I almost wonder if that was a mistake on Nick Nurse’s part — having Leonard out there during those non-Curry lineups. The Warriors’ lineups without Steph were so bad — basically a lottery/G League team — that maybe you want to maximize those opportunities.

sara.ziegler: No Golden State player had a positive plus-minus on Wednesday, but the bench actually had higher numbers than any of the starters — even Curry.

chris.herring: I was pretty surprised by just how bad Cousins looked. Especially after a really, really good Game 2 from him.

neil: Yeah, after that double-double, I think people were ready to declare, “He’s back!”

tchow: I think everyone was expecting a repeat of his Game 2 performance or something better.

chris.herring: But he also wasn’t being relied on to play like a star for most of Game 2. Without Klay, the role became bigger. And he just didn’t look himself.

natesilver: I’ll make the obligatory video game analogy, but with Cousins, it’s a bit like if you took the same shell of a player and tuned all his attributes down by 10 points. He looks sorta like himself, but just a much worse version of himself.

chris.herring: A MUCH worse version. Sliders all the way down.

A couple of really costly plays, including one where he fell down, appeared to want a foul call, and as he sat on the ground, Kawhi hit a backbreaking three in transition.

natesilver: And again, I wonder if our model is not being too optimistic about how well, say, KD will play upon his return.

He’s not even really practicing yet. You’d have to imagine that if it were the regular season, they’d take another week to figure it out before even considering giving him playing time in a game.

neil: I wonder how much of the “Warriors are hopeful KD might return for Game 4” talk is situational. They wouldn’t be saying that if they were up 2-1.

sara.ziegler: I’ll believe he’s healthy when I see him on the court.

natesilver: Mayyyyybe it’s a good sign for KD’s return that the Warriors didn’t feel the need to rush Klay out there on Wednesday?

Because 2-1 is a pretty devastating disadvantage if you don’t think you’re getting Durant back. With him, not quite as scary.

neil: Did they need Klay dressed and on the bench just to literally meet the minimum requirement for warm bodies necessary for a game?

sara.ziegler: LOL

natesilver: I wonder if there’s a part of the Raptors that almost wants all those guys to get healthy. Because if the Raptors win, the narrative about the series will probably be, “Oh yeah, that was the year everyone got hurt.”

neil: Well, I definitely wanted to talk about that, Nate. Will this series carry questions of whether they really beat THE Warriors?

tchow: I definitely think so. They don’t want any asterisk next to their win if they do win the whole thing.

neil: It’s like the Ship of Theseus. How many All-Stars can the Warriors lose before they’re not really THE Warriors anymore?

natesilver: At some point on Wednesday — I think the Vegas closing line had the Warriors by 4 or something? — people were just believing in the laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld might say.

neil:

tchow: Let’s say the Warriors never come back fully 100 percent at all during these finals and the Raptors win their first ring. I think it’ll be really unfair to diminish what Toronto has done to get that banner to say it’s only because the Warriors aren’t healthy. You play the team in front of you.

natesilver: It was a lot like some of the LeBron James series where the Cavs were depleted (i.e. pretty much all of the Cavs’ finals except 2016) where it’s just like — even if the guy’s the best player in the world, there’s only so much he can do by himself.

tchow: There was a similar narrative when Kawhi got hurt when the Spurs played the Warriors, and I wasn’t a fan of it then either.

natesilver: Michael Jordan isn’t winning the finals if he had Shaun Livingston and injured-ass DeMarcus Cousins in your starting lineup

chris.herring: Steve Kerr is talking right now here at practice. Klay will play tomorrow, barring a setback. He said Durant won’t, though.

natesilver: 😬

chris.herring: Said Durant won’t be scrimmaging today like he initially hoped, and that they’ll play it out over the next couple of days.

natesilver: Gotta go update the model.

tchow: Do you believe him, Chris?

chris.herring: I do believe him.

It still sounds like it’s fair to ask whether Durant will be able to make it back at all.

sara.ziegler: ding ding ding

natesilver: Speaking of LeBron, it feels a little bit like with the Lakers this year how LeBron’s timetable kept slipping back.

chris.herring: I honestly thought Klay would play in Game 3, so I definitely feel like he will for Game 4. But the Durant news is concerning, for sure.

neil: Sounds like Klay honestly thought he would play too.

chris.herring: Klay was going to make an argument to be out there regardless.

sara.ziegler: Klay wanted to play SO BAD.

neil: He probably would have played better than Shaun Livingston anyway.

chris.herring: Kerr took a really good question from The Athletic’s Joe Vardon on Wednesday: If there’s any concern that he could make things worse, will he play tonight? And Kerr essentially said, that’s the whole issue. If he was still at a place where he could potentially injure himself worse, they didn’t want to risk it. Which makes sense, but they are running out of time — concerning the Durant injury, too.

natesilver: I mean … if they throw Durant out there down 3-1 in the series, he has a chance to be a hero, I guess!

tchow: Oh, man, can you imagine if they come back from 3-1 down to win it?

neil: Imagine the memes.

sara.ziegler: Cavs fans would be MAD.

chris.herring: I think maybe Knick fans would be mad if Durant led them back from 3-1.

Kerr is trying to clarify that there wasn’t a setback with Durant, by the way. For whatever it’s worth.

natesilver: I mean, it sounds like there was a setback if he was supposed to scrimmage and then didn’t?

neil: They’re going to be “optimistic” that he’s on a timetable to return by Game 8. Maybe Game 9.

natesilver: Not that I want to put too much weight on this, but KD didn’t look particularly limber in those images of him in the tunnel and what not.

neil: You’ve been spending a lot of time updating our injury spreadsheet, Nate. Were you breaking down that footage like the Zapruder tape?

sara.ziegler: 🤣

tchow: I feel like every NBA fan has become a body language doctor, especially after watching this series.

chris.herring: May be double talk, I guess. Kerr basically said that he hoped KD might be able to scrimmage. But that was merely a hope, not an expectation that he would for sure. I think it’s fair to parse it, though.

natesilver: It’s hard to know what to do with some of this, Neil! Since we literally do have to quantify injuries in our spreadsheet, there’s a fair amount of guesswork involved. And to some extent, sure, I’ll pay attention to fairly subtle signs.

chris.herring: It is interesting that the Warriors may get Looney back at some point. But that and Klay, without Durant, will feel like getting a $10 refund when you’re still owed $20.

natesilver: I guess “KD saves the Warriors” pretty much is the nightmare scenario for the Knicks, though. Although at this point, maybe even if that happens, KD would just be like, “I saved your asses and now you can go eff off anyway because I’m going to New York.”

chris.herring: This whole series has been so weird. I really would like to see both teams at full strength. I’m convinced it would be a great series that way. Maybe it still will be.

neil: Have there been any other finals in recent memory that was so ruled by injury reports? Maybe that Cavs-Warriors series with Love and Kyrie both out?

sara.ziegler: Ban injuries, Chris!

neil: Speaking of NBA2K, gotta toggle the injuries off for your franchise next time, Adam Silver.

natesilver: Let’s remember that the Raptors’ two wins have come by 9 points and 14 points, respectively. Those are pretty solid margins. I know you can’t be quite this linear because of gameflow and all that, but our model figures that a healthy Warriors team is maybe 6-ish points per game better than the version they’ve been putting out there, so maybe Games 1 and 3 are still narrow wins for the Raptors.

neil: And yet, didn’t it feel at times down the stretch of Game 3 that maybe — mayyyyyyybe — the Warriors would make a push?

tchow: Yes! Everytime they cut it to 8 or 9, I was like, “here we go.”

neil: That was the least safe-feeling 10-point lead ever.

natesilver: They were on the verge of being on the verge, but never on the verge.

I think the 14-point scoreline pretty accurately reflected how competitive the game was.

tchow: Credit to Toronto for making shot after shot to not allow the comeback to really have momentum.

natesilver: They did sink a lot of shots, yeah. Except in that stretch in the second quarter. But they don’t squander very many possessions on EITHER end, and that counts for a LOT.

tchow: I can replay four or five possessions in my head right now of a Toronto shot that I was positive was not going to go in and would allow the Warriors to cut it to a two-possession game, but either Lowry with a ridiculous three or Danny Green with a shot-clock-beating three or Fred VanVleet with a rainbow, they all seemed to go in at the right time.

chris.herring: It’s weird. I actually didn’t ever feel like the Warriors were RIGHT there. Partly because you knew they weren’t capable of the same sorts of runs we’ve grown accustomed to without the same sort of firepower on the court.

Steph can’t do all that by himself.

But yeah: The Raptors never let it get any closer than 7 down the stretch. They hit a big shot every time they needed one.

sara.ziegler: Is it all about who you’re rooting for? Cuz I was sure the Warriors were coming back.

neil: (Sara is pro-FiveThirtyEight model pre-series projection, and therefore staunchly pro-Raptors.)

sara.ziegler: (Obviously.)

natesilver: The Warriors’ third-quarter comebacks are also not something magical, though. It’s about having so much weaponry that they’re almost impossible to beat when they’re locked in and maybe the other team is worn down a bit.

But you take away that weaponry, and you can’t have the shock-and-awe type comeback.

chris.herring: Exactly.

sara.ziegler: Nate, IT IS MAGIC.

Stop using your fancy analytics talk.

natesilver: It FEELS like magic in part because KD, Curry and Klay all have such nice shooting form and such uncanny ability to drain shots from anywhere on the floor. So it LOOKS like they aren’t even working for it.

But you take two of those guys off the floor, and even with Curry scoring 47, it’s pretty hard to overcome a 10-ish-point deficit against a good opponent, even at home.

chris.herring: Especially when you’re defending the way they were. The Raptors scored on five possessions in a row between the eight- and five-minute mark in the fourth quarter. That was essentially all she wrote at that point.

neil: It is worth pointing out that they did have two recent All-Stars in that game in Curry and Draymond. (Plus another one in Cousins, which perhaps shouldn’t count.) How many other teams would love “only” that many stars?

natesilver: The thing about Draymond is that he’s maybe one of the 10 best guys in the league to be in your lineup if you already have Curry/KD/Klay. But if you were starting a team from scratch, he might be, like, 40th? Because he doesn’t provide enough scoring punch.

neil: Right, they are the wrong kind of All-Stars.

But it kind of speaks to how insanely stacked the Warriors are at full strength that it feels like they are now, idk, the Atlanta Hawks or something.

tchow: Orlando Magic.

natesilver: FYI, the Warriors’ odds just fell from 33 percent to 29 percent (exactly what Trump’s were on ELECTION DAY!!!!) when I updated the model with Klay being healthy for Game 4 but KD’s timetable being a little pushed back.

chris.herring: Nate is setting himself up for attacks from all sorts of people who don’t understand probability in case the Warriors win.

tchow: That’s what I’m saying!

natesilver: Oh, those will happen anyway, Chris.

tchow: Déjà vu!

chris.herring: 😂


From ABC News:


Check out our latest NBA predictions.

Footnotes

  1. LeBron James three times, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook, along with Curry.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Chris Herring is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

Tony Chow is a video producer for FiveThirtyEight.

Sara Ziegler is the sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

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