After an extremely emotional and dramatic Game 5 in Toronto, the NBA Finals shifts to Oakland tonight for Game 6, the last ever game at Oracle Arena.
The Toronto Raptors came within a Draymond Green fingernail from a potential buzzer-beating championship win courtesy of Kyle Lowry on Monday night, but the series now takes on a whole new feel with the Raps tasked with winning a title on the road in front of what is sure to be an unbelievably raucous crowd — or risk bringing the series back to T.O. for a do-or-die Game 7.
So, yeah, the stakes are pretty high.
As we’ve done throughout the playoffs, let’s take a look at what the out-of-market media are saying about the Raptors ahead of a critical Game 6 tonight:
It wasn’t long ago that the Raptors’ season was on the brink, writes Zach Lowe, who looks back to the Conference Finals series against the 76ers as a turning point for Toronto that underscored this Finals series:
…In the locker room before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Philadelphia, with the Raptors trailing the 76ers two games to one, Nick Nurse, Toronto’s coach, readied his players for a film session meant to both point out their failings in a very personal way and inspire them.
He cued up clips of each rotation player — Nurse can’t remember the exact number; he thinks it was his top eight — failing to match the physicality of a huge 76ers team that had bullied them in a 116-95 Game 3 romp.
“They were what I called out-of-character plays,” Nurse told ESPN.com. “And I put them back-to-back with in-character plays. It was something where maybe Kyle [Lowry] was on his guy, and that guy broke out and Kyle didn’t even move and let him score. And the next clip was Kyle flying over and taking a charge. Or Pascal [Siakam] getting shoved out of the way by Ben Simmons, and Simmons laying it in. And then Pascal blocking him out, taking the ball and going the other way.”
Nurse didn’t yell or raise his voice, players and coaches recall. He played that card in a film session after the Orlando Magic upset the Raptors in Game 1 of their first-round series. Nurse plays those cards sparingly.
…The regrouping started at practice the day after Game 3. On a whiteboard inside the arena locker room, Nurse wrote a half-dozen tactical changes the Raptors needed to make on both offense and defense. They changed their pick-and-roll coverage against the Jimmy Butler/Joel Embiid two-man game and adjusted to take away Embiid’s hard rolls to the basket, Nurse said. He also wrote out a third column on the board: effort.
Will the Raptors’ lament dropping a title-clinching opportunity in Game 5 at home now that they head onto the road to face a Warriors team that could have momentum on their side? Stephen A. Smith seems to think so:
Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney takes a look at the affect Leonard has had on the “haunted” franchise they call the Raptors:
The Toronto Raptors live with ghosts. When Kawhi Leonard bounced home a jumper at the Game 7 buzzer to beat the Sixers in the second round, it evoked a similar shot that Vince Carter had taken—and missed—in the same situation back in 2001. When Toronto dropped the first game of its opening playoff series this year at home to Orlando, the loss fit into a strange, time-honored tradition. The Raptors had played in 16 playoff series and found a way to lose Game 1 on 14 occasions. To everything Toronto does, there is a disappointment in eerie parallel.
Without that history, Leonard may never have been a Raptor. Teams at peace don’t trade the most beloved player in franchise history—least of all for an impending free agent.
…This is the gift of Kawhi. A run like this—three series wins and a 3–2 Finals lead—not only changes the way a team is seen, but the way its players see themselves. Toronto now operates with an appreciable calm. Where another defense might fret, the Raptors keep steadfast in their rotations. When the moment grows heavy, this group continues to run its offense in pursuit of the best possible option. All of this is very much in character for a team that takes its cues from Leonard.
USA Today — Steph Curry addresses ‘stupid’ fan behavior, cursing and heckling directed at his family
It wasn’t exactly a model night for Raptors fans on Monday night, and Steph Curry talked about being on the wrong end of heckles and heat:
…Video posted online shows Curry’s parents, Dell and Sonya, being heckled and cursed outside the Golden State Warriors’ team hotel in Toronto on Monday, the day of Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
This comes four days after a Raptors fan was arrested for making vulgar comments about Curry’s wife, Ayesha, during a TV interview in Canada.
“I think in terms of being in the Finals five years in a row and being on this stage, it’s hard to avoid those interactions with fans that want to kind of impose their — or make their imprint on the series somehow, in some way, especially with social media these days,’’ Curry said Wednesday.
“I think it’s kind of stupid, to be honest, in terms of people camping outside our hotel just to yell expletives at either us or our family members or whatever the case is.
“But we handle all that stuff with class and try to ignore it the best we can. And if they get something out of it, so be it. But it doesn’t affect us at all in terms of what we’re trying to do and how we carry ourselves as a team as players and as people that represent us and our families as well.”
…Curry was quick to credit Raptors players Danny Green and Kyle Lowry with getting the crowd to calm down and ran after Durant as he was helped to the locker room as the fans shouted “KD! KD!”.
“Very confused around that reaction,” Curry said. “It’s not my experience with the people of this city … I just hope that ugliness doesn’t show itself again as we go forward in this series.”
Nurse’s timeout late in the fourth quarter has come under scrutiny, with many claiming it killed Toronto’s momentum. Charles Barkley pours a heap of cold water on that notion:
With a championship in sight, little else matters, but the questions surrounding Kawhi Leonard’s future won’t subside. One former Raptor — who opted to leave in free agency — thinks it’s a no-brainer that, win or lose, Leonard should stay put after this season:
Tim Bontemps examines how the Raptors are expressing enthusiasm over experiencing the Finals stage once more — at an Oracle Arena that will shut down for good after the buzzer sounds — rather than focusing on a Game 5 loss.
Up by six points with three minutes to go against the Golden State Warriors, and then having multiple chances to tie or win the game in the final minute, the Raptors came within a couple Draymond Green fingertips of a shot to win a championship at the buzzer of Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena.
But rather than being upset about the opportunity it let slip away, Toronto is instead excited to have two more cracks at winning this series — beginning with Game 6 on Thursday night here at Oracle Arena.
…Oracle will undoubtedly be rocking Thursday night, as the Warriors try to keep their season — and their chances for a three-peat — alive with a win in what will be the final game the arena ever hosts. Next season, Golden State will be moving across the Bay and into the palace that will be the Chase Center in San Francisco.
Still, Toronto became the first team since the Seattle SuperSonics in 1995 to win three games here in a single season (regular and postseason) by sweeping Games 3 and 4, and will have a chance to go a perfect 4-0 in at Oracle this season with another victory Thursday.
All Toronto is focused on, however, is getting the final win it needs to secure the franchise’s first NBA title, and the city’s first championship since the Toronto Blue Jays won a second consecutive World Series 26 years ago.