TORONTO — The Golden State Warriors were dangling over the precipice, juggling mounting injury issues and struggling to get much of anything from Stephen Curry.
There were red flags everywhere for the defending champs early in Sunday's Game 2 of the NBA Finals: Curry missed his first six shots, center DeMarcus Cousins committed two early fouls after making a surprise start, forward Andre Iguodala was forced from the game after a nasty collision, and backup center Kevon Looney suffered a chest contusion that ended his night early. The Toronto Raptors were in total control and appeared to be on the verge of taking a 2-0 series lead, a deficit the Warriors have never faced during coach Steve Kerr's five-year tenure.
But just as the Warriors pulled together in the minutes after losing Kevin Durant to a leg injury in the playoffs' second round, they delivered another classic response by reeling off a crowd-silencing, 18-0 run to open the third quarter. By night's end, Golden State had claimed a 109-104 victory to seize home-court advantage and tally a road win in its 23rd consecutive playoff series. An Iguodala dagger of a 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left thwarted one final desperate push by Toronto.
"(He's) got a lot of experience, he's done everything in his career, he's been in the Olympics, he's won three rings, he's been an All-Star, he knows how to play," Kerr said of Iguodala, who scored all eight of his points after halftime. "One of the smartest players I've ever been around. I think he sensed that we needed his production in that second half and he came alive."
Game 3 is Wednesday in Oakland, California.
If not for Klay Thompson, who suffered a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter and did not return, Golden State may not have been in position to rally from a 12-point second-quarter deficit. The five-time All-Star shooting guard scored a team-high 25 points, including 18 in the first half as the Warriors' attack wheezed around him. Thompson then ramped up the defensive intensity on Kawhi Leonard in the third quarter as the Warriors held the Raptors without a field goal for 6:43.
"We should have been down by a lot more than five points (at halftime)," the Warriors' Draymond Green said. "We know we can cover that in 10 seconds, so our mindset was great coming out of the half."
While the Raptors have endured scoring droughts in the playoffs, their second-half lull stunned a Scotiabank Arena crowd that smelled blood in the early going. Toronto was outscored 34-21 in the third quarter, shooting 7 for 22 from the field and 2 for 9 from 3-point range. Three of the team's Game 1 heroes regressed significantly: Pascal Siakam finished with 12 points on 18 shots, and Marc Gasol and Danny Green combined for 14 points.
"Taking care of the ball and scoring it (is really important) because, if you don't, they're coming at you really fast the other way," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "I'm going to have to rewatch that (third-quarter run). I'm probably not going to enjoy that very much."
Leonard led all scorers with 34 points, but he couldn't stop the drubbing in the third quarter or dig Toronto out of a 13-point hole in the fourth quarter. Although they generated numerous open looks, the Raptors hit 6 of 22 3-point attempts in the second half and couldn't find alternate sources of offense.
Golden State's comeback should go down as another signature triumph for Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, who collectively cranked up the defensive energy and ball movement. Despite his slow start, Curry finished with 23 points while forcing several turnovers. Green just missed a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, tossing picture-perfect lobs and captaining the Warriors' defense.
"We understand what we each bring to the table and how different we all are but how much we all love winning," Curry said of Thompson and Green, with whom he has won three titles. "I can look to my right and my left and see those two guys and know that they believe we can win whatever game. We're going to have that edge. We have built that over time together as a core and a unit. We have to rely on that in this series, for sure."
Kerr was also rewarded for his decision to start Cousins, who logged eight underwhelming minutes in Game 1. While Cousins continued to look a step slow as he returns to form from a leg injury, he scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 27 minutes - critical contributions with Looney and Thompson unable to play down the stretch.
"He was great," Kerr said, referring to Cousins. "We came in thinking maybe he can play 20 minutes. We needed everything he gave out there. His rebounding, toughness, physical presence, getting the ball in the paint - we needed all of that."
Golden State improved to 6-1 since losing Durant and perhaps reduced any urgency to rush him into this series. That decision can wait, though, as the Warriors savor Sunday's series-altering win.