Yeah, but what if it went in?
Everything was in place for the perfect ending to this story.
The comeback against the champs. A career-defining signature moment from Kawhi Leonard as he singlehandedly took over. Kyle Lowry, the longest-tenured Raptor and long-time captain, nailing the corner three as the buzzer sounds to signal the franchise’s first championship.
The trophy had been wheeled out of the tunnel and Bill Russell, who hands out the Finals MVP trophy named after him, was waiting in the wings.
What if it went in?
It didn’t. Draymond Green got a piece of Lowry’s could-be-title-winner and back to Oakland we go for Game 6 on Thursday.
But we’re not ready to move on from Game 5 yet. One of the more emotionally charged sporting events in recent memory, Monday’s nail-biter in Toronto certainly delivered on the drama — the biggest of being the Achilles’ injury suffered by Kevin Durant in his return from a calf injury that had sidelined him from the Finals until Monday.
Durant looked in fine form early and the Warriors were putting a scare in Raptors fans, until he left the game in the second quarter, opening the door for a Toronto comeback that eventually became a six-point lead with three minutes left on the heels of a 10-0 run from Leonard.
But Steph Curry and Klay Thompson responded with numerous dagger triples, and the Raptors’ offence collapsed down the stretch. And so the party was put on hold in Toronto and across Canada.
From the Raptors fans who initially cheered when Durant went down (only to be scolded by Lowry and Danny Green) to the many standout moments and weighty decisions made throughout Game 5, let’s take a look at what the out-of-market media are saying about Toronto’s deflating loss:
USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt says that while the Raptors are still in a good position to secure a title following last night’s loss, the pressure is certainly rising fast for Toronto:
…There is no quit in these Raptors, and they just keep playing possession after possession. Leonard had a tough three quarters offensively but had a big outburst with 10 consecutive Raptors points in the fourth quarter. The deficit disappeared, and it was a 103-97 Raptors lead with 3:28 remaining.
Just 208 ticks of the game clock separated the Raptors from the first championship in the franchise’s 24-year history. It seemed so close, and the fans sensed the historic moment.
…Toronto just didn’t execute well enough in the final minutes, going 1-for-6 from the field, while Klay Thompson made two 3-pointers and Steph Curry one.
And then leading up to the final play of the game, Nurse didn’t call timeout and let the Raptors try to run a play for Leonard. He was double-teamed, and the basketball ended up in Kyle Lowry’s hands for a corner 3 that would’ve won the game. Draymond Green got his hand on the ball for a blocked shot.
You can argue Nurse should’ve called a timeout to regroup and design a play. Nurse defended his decision.
…Although the idea of winning all three games against Golden State at Oracle Arena seems preposterous, the Raptors believe they can.
They just can’t let another opportunity escape.
The Ringer’s Dan Devine says the NBA championship is still Toronto’s to lose despite last night’s shocker but it sure isn’t making it easy:
…“Everybody’s good,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before Game 5. “Full of energy, ready to go.”
Everything seems ready to go, at this point. The NBA championship is just sitting there, waiting for the Raptors to win it. But they’re going to have to … you know … actually win it.
The Raptors can’t just wait for the Warriors to cough up the title they’ve held for the past two seasons. They can’t rely on Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson getting tired, or struggling to get open, or missing contested shots. They can’t count on beating Draymond Green to the punch on the game’s defining defensive possession.
Toronto can’t brick 3 after open 3 created by good ball movement ahead of Golden State’s rotations—just 8-for-32 from distance for the Eastern champs, with Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and Danny Green combining to make just one of their 14 triple tries.
The Raptors didn’t lose because of Nurse’s timeout; as Leonard said after the game, “If we would have won the game, we wouldn’t be talking about it.” But Toronto’s breather gave Golden State a chance to collect itself, too, and what followed was the kind of closing kick that evokes high-minded talk of poise, pedigree, and championship mettle.
…The Raptors’ finish, on the other hand, won’t inspire many hosannas. A brutal Lowry pass to no one led to a backcourt violation with 1:34 to go, setting the stage for Steph’s game-tying 3. Toronto’s defense, the best in the playoffs and one of the best this Warriors team has seen in its dynastic run, managed to lose the two best shooters on the planet three times in the guts of the game.
…The Raptors were clearly pretty comfortable at Oracle last week, but closing out a title there might be a slightly different challenge. Lose Game 6, and you’ve now dropped consecutive games, squandered your margin for error, and put yourself in a winner-take-all Game 7 where anything can happen. All series, the Raptors have been maniacally focused on the minute details—playing the next possession, and the next one, and the one after that—and it brought them to the precipice of the greatest moment in franchise history. Their failure to stick to that script in Game 5, though, kept that moment just out of reach; it introduced doubt and created the opportunity for a champion to fight out of its corner.
Should Nick Nurse have called a timeout during Kawhi’s heroic fourth-quarter run? That’s a major question posed in the aftermath of Game 5:
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps takes a look at Nurse’s timeout call and a stunning finish to Game 5:
When Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse called timeout with 3 minutes, 5 seconds remaining and his team leading 103-97, it felt like the beginning of a championship celebration north of the border.
Toronto had just gotten 10 straight points from Kawhi Leonard to explode into the lead after trailing since the first quarter, and appeared well on its way to winning the first title for the city in more than two decades.
But then, in an instant, it wasn’t.
…In a rule that was instituted last season, teams can have only two timeouts inside of the final three minutes in the fourth quarter. Any extra timeouts are lost, causing many coaches to call one in exactly the same spot Nurse did Monday night.
In this case, the Raptors found themselves with all the momentum and closing in on a championship. After it, things fell apart.
“At that time I felt that he probably wanted to get us some rest,” Leonard said. “You never know. I mean, if we would have won the game, we wouldn’t be talking about it.”
The Raptors did not win the game — and in particularly ugly fashion.
Toronto missed five of its final six shots in the last three minutes — including three 3-pointers — and committed one costly turnover that led to Curry’s game-tying 3 with 1:22 remaining. Golden State, meanwhile, got the shots it needed to take the lead, and then a season-saving block by Draymond Green on Kyle Lowry’s potential championship-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
…That finish turned out to be nothing like what anyone expected, however, when Leonard ripped off those 10 straight points to power Toronto in front. Scotiabank Arena — not to mention the tens of thousands of fans outside it, and across the country that had congregated at various “Jurassic Parks” to watch it — erupted, and it felt like the Raptors were destined to get over the finish line and win the title.
The Ringer’s John Gonzalez on the Raptors fans that briefly cheered Durant’s injury:
Loser: Raptors Fans
Raptors fans have mostly been delightful throughout this series. During Game 1 in Toronto, they offered to ply me with endless poutine and Crown Royal. After Game 4 in Oakland, lots of them hung around Oracle Arena long after Warriors fans fled the place and belted out a raucous rendition of “O Canada.” I’ve really enjoyed them — which is why the reaction of some of the Scotiabank crowd to Kevin Durant’s injury in Game 5 was disappointing.
…in the video you can clearly see fans waving goodbye to KD. And whatever the percentage of gleeful jeers happened to be, it was enough to make Klay Thompson grimace in disapproval and Kyle Lowry wave the crowd off and try to quiet them down. That said a lot about what the players on the floor thought of the response.
Again, it wasn’t all Raptors fans or even most Raptors fans, but it was enough Raptors fans to bum me out after they had been such a universally feel-good story this postseason. And while we’re at it, it was a bad night for those “KD wasn’t hurt” takes. When it comes to injuries, let’s all pause and try to act like human beings first.