All eyes are on the Warriors now. Even diehard fans, ultra-confident of victory heading into Game One of the Finals, find themselves shaken by the ensuing turn of events to wonder how — or even if — the defending champions can recover. And it isn’t because the status of top two-way stalwart Kevin Durant remains iffy moving forward; they are, after all, still loaded and experienced enough to overcome hurdles en route to their expected finish. Rather, it’s due to their inability to be themselves in the face of solid coverage from the long, wiry, crafty, and mostly interchangeable Raptors.
Indeed, the Warriors failed to show the explosiveness that marked their Durant-less stands against the Rockets and Blazers. For all their vaunted range and pace-and-space predilections, they could do no better than can 34 field goals in Game One. In part, it stemmed from their carelessness with the ball. In larger measure, it was an offshoot of the stifling, stymying defense they were subjected to by a concerted opposition unafraid of the moment. They were supposed to run roughshod over neophytes unfamiliar with the mounting pressure increasing closeness to the Larry O’Brien Trophy brings. Instead, they were undone by both chutzpah and underachievement.
For the Warriors, the good news is that the best-of-seven affair requires them to claim just one match at the ScotiaBank Arena. And should they take Game Two today, they will have successfully wrested homecourt advantage prior to hosting the Raptors at Oracle Arena in the next two Finals outings. That said, the task appears much easier than it sounds, especially since they were outclassed from opening tip to final buzzer in the opener. Theirs was a wire-to-wire setback that exposed their deficiencies against determined competition.
The Warriors believe Durant will be ready to play sometime in the middle of the series. They also know it shouldn’t — and won’t — matter in the grand scheme of things. If they’re truly worth their salt, they should be able to advance without him. And if they’re not, his return may well be too late. The Raptors are for real, and they’re hard-pressed to keep pace, pronto. They have to be at their best from here on, because nothing less will do.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.