Stephen Curry sat on the court near the free-throw line in front of the Golden State Warriors basket where he’d just missed a floater.
The rest of the players raced in the other direction with just over seven minutes remaining in the game, but Curry just watched them with his legs folded over each other. Exhaustion was starting to overcome him. Play stopped for a foul and Curry resisted its pull. He pushed himself off the ground. He jogged back to the team he’d tried so hard to carry through the most adverse NBA Finals game they’d ever been through together.
It’s usually the Warriors’ opponent that finds itself in this situation in the Finals, with one superstar tasked with so much more than he realistically can accomplish. This time Curry was that star and the Toronto Raptors took full advantage.
The Raptors beat the Warriors 123-109 on Wednesday night despite 47 points, seven assists and eight rebounds from Curry.
Toronto, meanwhile, received a balanced effort. Kawhi Leonard scored 30 points and Kyle Lowry had 23. Every Raptors starter scored in double figures. Danny Green’s 18 points included six three-point baskets.
With the win, the Raptors regained home-court advantage and lead the series 2-1.
“We haven’t really had a good team shooting night, and I knew eventually at some point we were due for one,” Green said. “So luckily we got one tonight.”
The Warriors waited to reveal just how shorthanded they would be. Klay Thompson sat out because of a hamstring injury, though they left him active and sitting on the bench. Kevin Durant has yet to play in a Finals game and the Warriors will be without young center Kevon Looney for the remainder of the Finals.
Durant and Thompson will be reevaluated before Friday’s Game 4.
If Curry felt the pressure of what the Warriors would need from him, he didn’t show it before the game, playfully shadowboxing while chewing gum as the public-address announcer introduced him.
The Warriors played as if they were gasping for air. They didn’t space the court as they normally do, but they hardly had any shooters who needed that. Curry scored 12 of the team’s first 14 points and not until Andrew Bogut scored with 4 minutes 14 seconds left in the first quarter did another Warrior contribute a field goal.
Curry scored or assisted on all but one Warriors field goal in the first quarter.
“Steph was incredible,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “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.”
Curry had 25 points in the first half.
“We didn’t do anything really early in the game other than just try to play him,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “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, I mean, I don’t really — all that matters is — my dad used to tell me the stats don’t matter, just the final score.”
For a while the game hovered inside a bubble in which the Warriors couldn’t quite catch the Raptors, but neither could the Raptors pull away.
They had chances aplenty.
For 3:10 in the second quarter, nobody scored. There were 11 missed shots and six turnovers between the teams during that span until Warriors forward Draymond Green scored with an assist from Curry.
It took the Raptors another minute and a half to end their own drought, as they failed to capitalize on a Warriors scoring slump, a rare occurrence under normal circumstances.
The traditional third-quarter onslaught by the Warriors came later than usual, but each time the Warriors threatened to close the gap, the Raptors countered. Toronto’s lead got as high as 17 points as they beat back each Golden State wave.
Curry refused to allow the game to slip too far away. When he could muster the energy to do so, he’d harass Raptors players into turnovers or silly decisions. He dove for a loose ball with 2:38 left in the game, forcing a jump ball.
“Just competitiveness and trying to play until the buzzer,” Curry said.
“It’s the Finals, whatever you try to do to win the game. Nothing special, to be honest, it’s just trying to make the right play, give everything you got, sacrifice your body when you have the opportunity.”
It wasn’t enough to turn back the Raptors on Wednesday night, but the Warriors took heart in their effort, and in the prospect of having a more complete roster when the series reconvenes Friday.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli