TORONTO — The Golden State Warriors were playing their fifth game in eight days, their third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set.
All those fatigue-inducing circumstances looked pretty irrelevant for much of Saturday night, as the defending champions built a 27-point lead halftime lead over the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre.
“We played a phenomenal first half, probably the best offensive half of basketball I can ever remember,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
But then, in the second half — and especially the fourth quarter — the Raptors charged back, erasing that lead and bringing a once-dormant crowd to a fever pitch during the final seconds.
And the Warriors during that span? They looked flat and somewhat out of sorts — especially when Stephen Curry, who returned from a one-game absence because of a sprained right ankle, missed a pair of free throws in the final minutes.
“It happens,” Kerr said about Curry’s missed free throws. “It happens to everybody. My jaw didn’t drop. It was surprising.”
“I don’t know what it is,” Curry said. “I shot on these hoops growing up when my pops played here, so I should know [the rims] very well.”
However, the Warriors were saved by a late Kevin Durant jumper with 21.8 seconds left, helping them seal a 127-125 win over the Raptors, who were coming off a 133-99 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.
Curry finished with 24 points, but he’s not yet 100 percent. “It’s sore, but it felt good enough to play, and as long as I don’t have any more incidents, I can continue to play and continue to heal … I don’t feel limited out there, but you can just feel it.”
Curry finished with 24 points, Durant scored 25 and Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 26.
“No sour taste at all,” Thompson said of how they won. “Obviously, we wanted to extend that, keep that lead, but they’re a good team, and it’s hard to win on the road in the NBA. It doesn’t matter who you play, and they have a great home crowd. A win is a win, especially on a back-to-back.”
DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 42 points on 17-of-31 shooting from the field. Saturday marked the first time this season the Raptors lost when DeRozan scored 30 or more points; they had been 11-0 in such games.
“We just played extremely hard, and we didn’t think too much,” DeRozan said. “We just went out there and played hard.”
While temperatures were frigid outside, the NBA-best Warriors started off white-hot. They scored 43 first-quarter points, their most in an opening frame this season. They scored 81 first-half points, their season high for any half.
And things really got out of hand when the Warriors used a 16-2 second-quarter run to take a 59-37 lead.
But the Raptors didn’t lay down, especially behind DeRozan, who notched his 92nd career 30-point game, passing Vince Carter for the most in Raptors history. Toronto went on a 23-6 fourth-quarter run to shrink Golden State’s lead to 116-115 with 3:54 left to play. But the Warriors got key field goals from Curry, Thompson and Durant to prevent a blown lead.
“They played great. I give them credit,” Kerr said. “… You knew we weren’t going to do that the whole game, and you knew were playing a really good team on their home floor and they were going to respond.”
As the Raptors try to fight back against the Warriors, Steph Curry responds to a Toronto fourth-quarter triple with one of his own.
Had the Warriors lost, it would have been quite an upset. Entering Saturday, NBA teams were 988-8 when leading by 25 or more points at halftime in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
All game long, hip-hop recording artist and Toronto native Drake was talking trash to Warriors players from his courtside seat. In the first half, Durant missed a wide-open transition dunk that clanked off the back of the rim and sailed out of bounds.
Durant jogged back on defense laughing. Drake was seen saying, “That was trash.”
Kevin Durant downplays Drake’s attendance to be the catalyst of the close battle between the Warriors and the Raptors.
“I hated missing that one because I had to ignore him because I had heard him talking some trash to me on the sideline,” Durant said with a chuckle. “But I made up for it on the next play.”
Durant was asked if Drake’s presence adds to the intensity level of the game.
“Don’t give Drake that much credit,” he replied with a smile. “Do not give him that much credit. He’s not the reason why it was fun out there tonight, but he does bring a different element to the game, someone who is so close to the organization and to the city. Everyone realizes it when you play here in Toronto. It was a fun game.”
Drake recently got the jersey numbers of Curry and Durant tattooed on his left arm. Durant wasn’t in the mood to discuss someone else’s ink.
“Like I told [Chris Haynes], man, I’m not talking about no other man’s tattoos.”
The Warriors earned their 12th straight road win, improving their road record to 19-3 this season. They now sit at 35-9 overall and will head to Cleveland next to face the Cavaliers on Monday, the third game of Golden State’s five-game road trip.