THRILL RIDE

Raps turn early rout into a real nail­biter be­fore be­ing edged by pow­er­house War­riors

Sunday Sports - - FRONT PAGE - FRANK ZICARELLI fzi­carelli@post­media.com

It could have been the great­est two-game stretch in Rap­tors his­tory, two op­po­nents com­ing to town that have hooked up in the past three NBA ti­tles, two of the most elite teams in bas­ket­ball with some of the great­est names the sport has to of­fer.

What could have been was re­placed by the re­al­ity of a 1-1 record, an im­prob­a­ble rout of the Cavs, who blew out the Rap­tors in last spring’s play­offs and a near-im­prob­a­ble come­back from 27 points against the mighty War­riors.

There are no moral vic­to­ries in the NBA, a point head coach Dwane Casey would ham­mer home in the af­ter­math of Satur­day night’s 127125 loss at the ACC. But this was an ugly night early on, turned com­pet­i­tive in the sec­ond half and then turned on a bad call when Jakob Poeltl was called for a foul on Steph Curry.

In bas­ket­ball par­lance, it’s known as a rep­u­ta­tion foul, but the of­fi­cial should have kept his whis­tle in his mouth.

Poeltl, DeMar DeRozan, who led all scor­ers with 42 points, Fred VanVleet, C.J. Miles and Pas­cal Si­akam played with en­ergy, pas­sion, fight, all the qual­i­ties the Rap­tors did not show in get­ting blown off the court in the open­ing 24 min­utes.

By the break, Golden State led 81-54, the Rap­tors in a com­plete state of shock.

Toronto, which played hard from the open­ing tap to the fi­nal whis­tle Thurs­day against Cleve­land, played scared, in­tim­i­dated by the pres­ence of the War­riors, which wel­comed the re­turn of Curry.

Golden State played the pre­vi­ous night in Mil­wau­kee.

“I’ll take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the way we came out in the first half,’’ said Casey. “Maybe I didn’t give them enough con­fi­dence, but when we came out in the sec­ond half with swag­ger and tough­ness, which you’ve got to have to play against a great team like that, you put your­self in a po­si­tion to win.

“You shouldn’t spot them 27 points. I’m not say­ing you’re go­ing to stop them, but still, you don’t give them the shots they were get­ting, al­most like a layup line. In the sec­ond half, we did a much bet­ter job.”

Serge Ibaka was back from his one-game sus­pen­sion, but he was hardly in­spir­ing.

The player the Rap­tors did miss was Kyle Lowry, who sat out his third straight game with a bruised tail­bone.

Lowry sets the tone, es­pe­cially against an elite team such as Golden State.

The cat­a­lyst on this night was VanVleet, who plays tough. His buzzer-beat­ing three­p­ointer made the fi­nal score look close, and it was, but at the same time it wasn’t given how dom­i­nant the War­riors were in the open­ing half.

“I was proud at the way the guys com­peted in the sec­ond half,’’ said Casey, whose team outscored Golden State, 36-19 in the game’s fi­nal 12 min­utes. “That’s the team we’ll go places with. First half we gave them way too much re­spect.” The Poeltl foul was bru­tal. “That was a back­breaker,’’ said Casey.

Curry, who is among the great­est shoot­ers ever, missed both free throws.

Ear­lier, Miles, who got fouled from dis­tance, missed two of his three at­tempts from the line.

As fee­ble as they were in the first half, the Rap­tors were re­silient and played with force in the sec­ond half.

They way they played the game’s fi­nal 24 min­utes was how they played for the en­tire night when LeBron James and the Cavs came to town Thurs­day.

“I thought our team re­ally, re­ally com­peted at a high level in the sec­ond half,’’ added Casey. “Once they be­lieved: ‘Hey, we can beat this team.’

“In that first half, we gave them way too much re­spect. Don’t get me wrong and no dis­re­spect to Golden State, but we did not com­pete with the con­fi­dence and swag­ger you’ve got to have in the first half.”

Curry, Kevin Du­rant, who made some key late-game bas­kets from the top of the key, and Klay Thomp­son com­bined for 75 points.

VanVleet, Si­akam and Poeltl came of age in the fi­nal pe­riod, 12 min­utes when the Rap­tors left ev­ery­thing, and then some, out on the floor.

Ul­ti­mately, the Rap­tors lost be­cause they lost their way in the open­ing half. They needed Ibaka and Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas to come up big and nei­ther did.

Toronto did come back and had a chance to take the lead in the fourth quar­ter, but a DeRozan at­tempt over Du­rant with the Raps down one in the fi­nal minute rimmed out.

When there’s such a scor­ing threat such as Du­rant to put the ball in his hands, he de­liv­ers.

Once he catches and turns to face the bas­ket, a team’s only chance is for Du­rant to miss. In crunch time, he does not miss and the Rap­tors were left to lament a missed op­por­tu­nity.

ERNEST DOROSZUK/TORONTO SUN

ERNEST DOROSZUK/TORONTO SUN

The en­tire five-man War­riors lineup col­lapses on Rap­tors’ Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas dur­ing last night’s thriller at the ACC.

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