TORONTO, Canada (AFP) – Powered by 32 points from Cameroonian forward Pascal Siakam, the upstart Toronto Raptors defeated the defending champion Golden State Warriors 118-109 in Thursday’s opening game of the NBA Finals.
Speedy Siakam made 14-of-17 shots from the floor in the biggest scoring playoff game of his career while Kawhi Leonard added 23 points and both players pulled down eight rebounds and passed out five assists.
”For me it was just running and whatever basket I can get at the rim,” Siakam said. ”Getting some easy buckets in transition, something I haven’t really been able to do all playoffs.”
Siakam scored the most points in an NBA Finals debut since injured Golden State star Kevin Durant in 2012, and he was the most accurate-shooting 30-point scorer in the finals since Shaquille O’Neal in 2004.
”Siakam was brilliant. He was hitting shots from everywhere,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. ”Their defense was great and it wasn’t our best night. We just got outplayed.”
Spanish center Marc Gasol added 20 points and Kyle Lowry had nine assists for the Raptors, who seized the lead in the best-of-seven championship series that resumes Sunday in Toronto.
”We’re playing an amazing team,” Siakam said. ”They’re the champions and we’ve just got to be ready. We won game one. We were very aggressive on defense and tried to make it tough for players to find open shots.
”But they’re going to come out and make adjustments and we’ve got to be ready for that.”
The Warriors seek their third title in a row and fourth in five seasons while the Raptors are in the first NBA Finals in their 24-season history.
Stephen Curry scored a game-high 34 points for Golden State but the Warriors could not solve Toronto’s swarming and aggressive defensive work.
”They played a great game. They deserved to win and we’ve got to play better if we’re going to beat them,” Kerr said.
”Our transition defense was just awful and that’s the number one priority when you play Toronto. We gave up 24 fast-break points, we turned it over 17 times. So that’s the game, really.”
It’s Golden State’s first loss in a playoff series opener after 12 consecutive game-one wins.
”I know we’ll respond like the champions we are,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. ”We got some tape now and we’ll go to the drawing board and we’ll come back and be much better on Sunday.”
Danny Green’s right corner 3-pointer lifted the Raptors to their largest first-half lead at 59-49 to end the second quarter.
The Raptors, 11-1 in this year’s playoffs when leading at half-time, closed the first half on a 12-4 run.
Golden State trimmed Toronto’s edge to four points on Kevon Looney’s dunk late in the third quarter but Patrick McCaw’s 3-pointer boosted Toronto’s lead to 88-81 after three quarters.
”We can do a much better job defensively than we did tonight in stretches,” Gasol said. ”The second half we improved our rebounding and we didn’t allow as many second-chance points, so overall happy.”
Siakam scored 14 points in the third quarter, going 6-of-6 from the floor after 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first half.
”Siakam obviously had a game of his playoff life, running the floor,” Thompson said. ”So we’ll have to get back on defense next game and really limit their transition points, make them beat us in the half court.”
In the fourth quarter, the Warriors closed within 90-87 but came no closer, the Raptors holding the Warriors to 43.6 percent shooting (34-of-78) and just 12-of-31 from 3-point range.
”We made a good effort in the second half, got back in the game,” Kerr said. ”Our guys did some good things but made too many mistakes to actually go ahead and win.”
Curry, whose two free throws to open the scoring produced Golden State’s largest lead, became the first player in NBA Finals history to sink 100 career 3-pointers.
The milestone shot from beyond the arc came 6:44 into the first quarter, his second of three 3-pointers in the first half.
Spectators erupted with nearly every Raptors basket, providing an electric atmosphere for Siakam’s heroics.
”It’s amazing, best fans in the NBA,” Siakam said.
Raptors rap-star superfan Drake sat courtside wearing an old Toronto jersey of Dell Curry, Stephen’s dad who once played for the Raptors, and an elastic band covering his left-arm tattoos of Stephen Curry and Durant.
Golden State welcomed back center DeMarcus Cousins, who suffered a torn left quad muscle last month in only the second playoff game of his nine-year career. Cousins scored three points in eight minutes.