Holy James Naismith, what the heck was that?
In the land where basketball’s inventor was born, the Warriors got spanked in a game America thought it owned. Final score, Game 1. 2019 NBA Finals: Canada’s Darlings 118, America’s Most Hated Team 109.
I know, I know. All of the Toronto Raptors — except, oddly, Chris Boucher, who actually is Canadian — are either from the USA or Africa or Europe. So the Raptors aren’t exactly a bunch of Maple Leaf-wearing, hockey-loving, moose-hunting Canucks.
But man, did Canada lift the Raptors on Thursday night.
The Warriors looked like they may not have been ready for the avalanche of emotion, love and noise the city of Toronto — and the nation of Canada — poured into the fuel tanks of the Raptors basketball team.
And the Raptors looked, with every Pascal Siakam fast break and every Marc Gasol three, like their feet never touched the ground. From the final note of ‘O Canada’, sung by those gelled-up, blow-dried dudes, ScotiaBank stood on guard for thee, the ‘thee’ being Nick Nurse’s crew of hoopsters.
I tip my Jock Blog cap. You know my Jock Blog cap. It’s the one that features an image of Abraham Lincoln wearing wraparound shades.
So what are the Warriors to do amid this Great White North of Sound?
My advice: Stay calm, dudes.
Weather the Canadian snowstorm of emotion. Remember that it’s the first to four wins, not one. And that Kevin Durant’s return is on the horizon, perhaps as soon as Game 3, according to Yahoo! Sports.
The guess here is that it will be difficult for Toronto to sustain that kind of energy and incredible play in back-to-back games. The guess here is that it will be difficult for Siakam, the Cameroonian James Worthy, to replicate his 32-point, 14-of-17 shooting night. The guess here is that Marc Gasol won’t hurt the Dubs with 20 points — after all, he hadn’t scored 20 in a game since Feb. 3.
The Warriors said multiple times after Game 1 that they weren’t truly and totally familiar with the Raptors until Game 1 was over. While a Warriors-hating world saw those words as a cheap excuse for a team that got whipped, the fact of the matter is that Steve Kerr, Ron Adams and Mike Brown now have two full nights to make lineup adjustments (hello, Andrew Bogut?), tighten up defensive schemes (hello, Draymond Green on Siakam) and to not, in the words of Friday’s excellent Murph & Mac guest Hubie Brown, “underestimate” what they are up against.
And that includes factoring in Drake picking hair lint off of Steph Curry. I fully expect Kerr to draw up a defense for that, too.
Point is, credit to the Raptors and Siakam and the crowd and the energy that made the Raptors larger-than-life in Game 1. But now the Warriors have tasted the blood on their tongue. They’ve absorbed Toronto’s best shot — granted, without Kawhi Leonard going off — and lived to tell the tale after.
Every championship journey is different. Some come after 2-1 deficits in Memphis. Some don’t reach fruition after a 3-1 NBA Finals lead. Some come after trailing in the second half of a Game 7 in Houston.
And now, some will require fending off a place called Jurassic Park, filled with purple jerseys and manic chants.
The second leg of the arduous 2019 journey begins Sunday night, and I’d bet on a much more sound and ready Warriors team, ready to take on a nation. Somewhere, James Naismith is happy he invented this fantastic game.