Barber: Warriors waste Stephen Curry’s 47 points in 123-109 loss to Raptors

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OAKLAND — What would it look like if Stephen Curry were set free on offense? What would it look like if the two-time MVP didn’t share the court with other All-Stars, if he were given free rein to dribble and drive and shoot to his heart’s content?

It would probably look a lot like the Warriors’ 123-109 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday.

Against the Raptors, Curry discovered what it’s like to be Mitch Richmond with the 1980s Kings or Paul Pierce with the pre-Big Three Celtics or LeBron James with the modern-day Lakers. Curry poured in 47 points, eighth most ever in an NBA Finals game, and second most by a losing player in the Finals (behind only LeBron James’ 51 against the Warriors a year earlier).

It was a hollow achievement, because the Warriors wasted Curry’s brilliance and now trail Toronto 2-1.

You figured scoring would be a problem for the Warriors in this one. Kevin Durant was averaging 34.2 points in the postseason, best in the NBA, when he pulled his calf muscle on May 8. He hasn’t played since. Center Kevon Looney, who usually chips in with 5 to 10 points, is out with an injury to his sternum. And Klay Thompson, the Warriors’ third scoring option, except when he ignites and becomes the first option, also was unavailable Wednesday.

Speculation ran rampant all day that Thompson, who strained his hamstring in Game 2 on Sunday, would play in Game 3. But he didn’t take the court for pregame warmups, and never got out of his warmup suit during the contest. This competitive series figures to go deep, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr simply couldn’t risk Thompson making his injury worse.

So even before Game 3 tipped off, this was shaping up to be a performance of Curry and the Interchangeables. And as we were about to find out, the Warriors would be even more one-dimensional than expected.

Just look at the Raptors for contrast. Every single one of their starters scored at least 17 points, and Fred VanVleet scored 11 off the bench. That’s six players in double figures. Danny Green, whose disappearance against Milwaukee was a source of much consternation for Toronto, nailed six 3-pointers and helped swing the game. Point guard Kyle Lowry, who averaged 10 points in the first two games, scored 23 and hit five treys.

When the points are distributed like that, it makes a team hard to defend. And sure enough, Toronto wound up shooting 52.4% from the field, and a scorching 44.7% from the 3-point line.

The Warriors displayed no such egalitarianism. They got that 47-point barrage from Curry, and Draymond Green chipped in with 17, and it was slim pickings after that. Andre Iguodala was third on the team with 11 points.

The Warriors needed more than that with Durant and Thompson out. They needed a big game out of center DeMarcus Cousins. He had sparked a lot of optimism with a strong performance in Game 2, when he racked up 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 27 minutes. If Cousins could dial it up another notch, it might fill some of the vacuum. He couldn’t. He scored four points on 1-of-7 shooting and was given fewer minutes than Andrew Bogut.

The Warriors needed Quinn Cook to stay hot; he had nailed three 3-pointers in the previous game. But Cook struggled to find his touch in this one, missing both of his 3-point attempts and finishing with nine points. At one point in the fourth quarter, he had two shots blocked on consecutive possessions.

The Warriors needed some of those sweet mid-range jumpers from veteran Shaun Livingston. They were nowhere to be found. Livingston started but scored just four points.

Curry seemed to sense his responsibilities from the outset. He scored 12 of Golden State’s first 14 points, over the initial 7 minutes of the game. Afterward, I asked Curry if he felt more urgency on the offensive end with Thompson an official no-go.

“For sure,” he said. “Yeah.” He nodded, and the knowing smile that crept over his face implied that he could have said so much more.

Curry had 17 points in the first quarter, and 15 more in the third. And he collected them in creative and improbable ways. Like the stepback, banked 30-footer in the second quarter that precipitated a little celebratory gallop. Like the falling corner 3 that brought the Warriors within eight points at 6:42 of the third quarter. Like drawing Serge Ibaka into a three-shot foul a minute and a half into the fourth quarter, allowing the Warriors to creep within 96-89.

“Steph was incredible,” Kerr said afterward. “The stuff he does is, he does things that honestly I don’t think anybody has ever done before. The way he plays the game, the way he shoots it and the combination of his ball handling and shooting skills, it’s incredible to watch. He was amazing.”

But it wasn’t enough. Whenever Curry worked a piece of magic, someone on the Raptors would answer. It was Curry vs. Kawhi Leonard, and Curry vs. Lowry, and Curry vs. Pascal Siakam and Curry vs. Marc Gasol.

“Every time we made a run or got the crowd into it, they either made a tough three, or there was a tough foul called and they slowed the tempo down or something went their way,” Curry said.

And even Stephen Curry can’t beat an entire team.

It wasn’t like the Raptors were conceding points to Curry, either. They bodied him all night. He wound up on the floor a lot, and more than once ran to the defensive end shaking his wrist or rubbing his fingers after hard contact. He sweated for everything he got.

“Listen, we were trying to play as straight up as we could,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “We wanted to get back to doing what we normally do. We didn’t do anything really early in the game other than just try to play him. He had a ton in the first half. We tried to up our presence on him a little bit with some double teams, but it doesn’t really matter, right?”

Nurse added, “My dad used to tell me the stats don’t matter, just the final score.”

Curry played a game for the ages, statistically and otherwise. But the final score had the Warriors praying Durant and Thompson would be back for Game 4 on Friday.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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