TORONTO – On the precipice of history with a chance to close out the NBA Finals on their own court, the Raptors were unable to seal the deal, falling to the Warriors by a final score of 106-105 to send the series back to Oakland for Game 6 on Thursday night.
The Raptors struggled throughout Game 5 from the outside, hitting just 8-of-32 (25.0 percent) on 3-point attempts, but they took over in the fourth quarter, with Kawhi Leonard at one point going on his own personal 10-0 run. Up by six points with less than three minutes to go in the game, though, the Raptors failed to close it out, thanks in part to a 9-0 run by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
With seconds ticking down on Toronto’s final possession, Kyle Lowry’s buzzer-beater was blocked by Draymond Green, who sent the ball out of bounds to the utter dismay of the hometown crowd.
No one said it would be easy.
The Warriors were a desperate team on the brink of elimination, and they played that way from the outset. They pulled out all the stops Monday night, starting Kevin Durant despite the fact he had not played since suffering a right calf strain during Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. Durant was brilliant, scoring 11 points in 12 minutes before leaving the court – and the arena – with what appeared to be an Achilles tendon injury.
And yet, with the threat of Durant gone, Toronto still couldn’t put the final nail in the coffin.
Facing adversity and being involved in a 3-1 series is nothing new to Golden State. In 2016, the Warriors came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Thunder in the Western Conference finals, only to blow a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals that same year. Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked prior to the game about what stood out with those series.
“Same thing that stands out in every series that I’ve ever been involved in, player, coach, GM – one game turns a series,” Kerr said. “It changes the momentum. It changes the feel. And so the whole focus is just win a game. So you don’t need to look beyond tonight. You just need to go out and play well and win a game and then go from there.”
Golden State now has that one win under its belt. The big question is how Toronto reacts.
The Raptors have proven themselves to be the dominant team all series and have gone about their business with the focus and determination of a group that is used to playing on the NBA’s biggest stage. They still have two more chances to bring Toronto its first NBA title, but they are going to have to respond like champions against the defending champions.
“We don’t really have much of a choice,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said when asked how confident he was in his team’s ability to respond in Game 6. “And, I think that our team has reacted well all year long great to bad losses, and I would say it takes a lot to beat this team, and that took a hell of a lot of blows and a heck of a lot of balls bouncing the wrong way in the last couple of minutes for us to come out on the wrong side of it tonight.”
Toronto is confident it can win the series, but that doesn’t mean the team is looking too far ahead. Lowry said at no point with the Raptors up by six points did it creep into his mind that they were going to finish it off.
“No, we stayed in the moment,” Lowry said. “They came back and made three straight threes. Played some good defense down the stretch. We just missed some shots, and they did what they were supposed to do.”
Regardless of what angle you look at it, the Raptors let this one get away. When asked about the tone in the locker room after battling back from down by 14 points to being just one shot away from a championship, veteran center Marc Gasol said it was nothing new.
“We’ve done it all playoffs long,” Gasol said. “We’re going to continue to battle. We’re going to continue to fight, no matter the score.”
The Raptors will once again have a chance to close it out at Oracle Arena. They are saying all the right things, but only their performance in Game 6 will reveal the impact of a lost opportunity.
“Each game in these playoffs feels like a must-win, a critical game,” Nurse said, “and that’s how we’re approaching it.”
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