TORONTO — Ever since Kawhi Leonard's two free throws in the dying seconds clinched Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, and a delighted Kyle Lowry celebrated with childlike exuberance in the background, the Toronto Raptors have been navigating uncharted territory.
They're playing basketball in June for the first time ever. They'll play their first NBA Finals road game Wednesday when they visit Golden State's Oracle Arena, the series tied at one win apiece.
Pressure? You bet.
But if there's one thing the Raptors have grown accustomed to on this historic playoff run, it's bouncing back from adversity.
The Raptors lost their first game of the playoffs to Orlando but roared back to win four straight. They trailed Philadelphia 2-1 but bounced back to clinch the series in seven games. They were down 2-0 to Milwaukee but became one of six teams in NBA history to win a conference finals after losing their first two games.
If fans are sweating Toronto's 109-104 loss on Sunday, the Raptors aren't.
"You guys didn't think this was going to be a sweep?" Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said after the loss. "I don't know what you guys thought this series was going to look like, but we went into it expecting a dog fight. And, yes, we won Game 1. I think everybody else outside of our locker room was a lot more excited than we were. We understand what this team brings and what type of effort it's going to take to beat these guys."
The Raptors coughed up homecourt advantage on Sunday. Against a team that's making its fifth straight Finals appearance, the margin of error is sliver-thin. It could play out to be an opportunity lost.
The game turned on its heels during six lethal minutes to begin the second half. The two-time defending champion Warriors were at their very best, sprinting out to an 18-0 run that Toronto couldn't answer. And now the Warriors are back home where they haven't lost since April.
"The Finals is not going to be easy," said Leonard, the MVP of the 2014 Finals with San Antonio. "The only thing that matters is the four. Four wins."
The Raptors flew west to the Bay Area on Monday morning. A film session was certainly on their schedule for their afternoon.
After that, coach Nick Nurse said he'd have a better idea how his team let the game slip away in that deadly third quarter stretch.
"I'm going to have to re-watch that," Nurse said after Sunday's loss. "I'm probably not going to enjoy that very much, but I'm going to have to check it out."
The Warriors' offence was humming Sunday, with 34 assists on 38 made baskets — an 89.5 per cent assist that that is the highest in the Finals in almost 60 years. Their 20-0 run that straddled the second and third quarters was the longest in Finals history.
The Raptors' offence was sludge in comparison, with just 17 assists on 35 made baskets.
"(The Warriors) were obviously a little more aggressive and up in us a little bit," Nurse said. "I think were just a little too impatient, and just didn't hold enough composure to a) get to a strong shot, or b) move it to the next one."
One of the worst culprits with lack of composure was Lowry, who was a game-worst minus-17 in 28 minutes. He ran into foul trouble in the first half, and fouled out with 3:52 to play.
"You've got to play physical basketball, but you've got to be able to adjust and all those kinds of things and try to stay out of it, and you've got to avoid the silly (fouls) too," Nurse said.
On the plus side, the Raptors managed to pull within two points with 27 seconds left, and held the Warriors scoreless over the final five-and-a-half minutes until Andre Iguodala's wide-open game-clinching three-pointer with seven seconds left.
The Raptors have won a road game in all three playoff series so far, and will be looking to steal at least one at Golden State to restore homecourt advantage.
"Obviously on somebody else's home floor, they got the sixth man with the crowd, but just have to buy into ourselves, and come out hard, strong, no mistake, no turnovers," Leonard said.
Warriors injuries could give Toronto some breathing room. They've playing without Kevin Durant, Kevon Looney left Sunday's game with a chest contusion, while Klay Thompson suffered what he called a mild hamstring strain.
The Raptors have their own injury woes. Lowry was favouring his sprained left thumb late after he was sent sprawling late in Sunday's game. But OG Anunoby, who has yet to play in the post-season after an emergency appendectomy, is inching closer to getting on the floor. He dressed on Sunday, although Nurse said he lost significant weight in his time off.
Game 3 is Wednesday, while Game 4 is Friday. The series returns to Toronto for Game 5.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press