OAKLAND: Kawhi Leonard scored 36 points and the Toronto Raptors moved to the brink of their first NBA title Friday by beating defending champion Golden State 105-92 in the NBA Finals.
Serge Ibaka netted 20 points off the bench and Pascal Siakam added 19 for the Raptors, who grabbed a commanding 3-1 edge in the best-of-seven series, which could end with game five Monday in Toronto.
The Raptors are one victory shy of the first crown in their 24-season history while the Warriors seek their third consecutive title and fourth in five seasons.
“Just (got to) be patient, come in focused and ready to play defense and make some shots,” Leonard said. “As long as we win, I’m satisfied.”
Only once in 34 chances in NBA Finals history has a team rallied from 3-1 down to win the title, that being in 2016 when LeBron James led Cleveland back to defeat the Warriors.
Leonard, who grabbed 12 rebounds in the game, scored 17 points in the third quarter when Toronto seized command, while Ibaka and Siakam’s second-half surge helped ensure Golden State did not overtake them late.
The Warriors welcomed back guard Klay Thompson, averaging 19.5 points a game, who missed game three with a left hamstring strain, and reserve forward Kevon Looney, who had been declared done for the series due to a chest injury.
But the Warriors remained without playoff scoring leader Kevin Durant, out the past month with a right calf injury, and lacking him they were no match for the fast-moving Raptors.
Leonard opened the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers, giving the Raptors their first lead at 48-46.
Toronto closed the third quarter with a 20-6 run to seize a 79-67 lead entering the fourth quarter, Leonard scoring 11 and Ibaka adding seven in the pivotal span.
Fred VanVleet opened fourth quarter with a 3-pointer for Toronto but was taken to the locker room moments later for seven stitches after a bloody gash was opened under his right eye when he was struck by the left elbow of Golden State’s Shaun Livingston under the basket.
The Warriors got within 97-89 on a Curry 3-pointer with 2:56 remaining but came no closer.
It could have been the final game at 53-year-old Oracle Arena for the Warriors, who move into a new arena next season in San Francisco. The arena has been the club’s home since 1971.
Defensive work dominated early, both teams struggling to make shots and combining for 13 first-half turnovers.
Leonard scored 14 points in the first quarter but the rest of the Raptors shot 1-for-13 and the Warriors, led by six points from Looney, jumped ahead 23-12 before Leonard scored five points in a 7-0 Toronto run.
Thompson caught fire in the second quarter, going 4-of-5 from the floor as Golden State led 46-42 at half-time.