The Warriors survived wave after wave of the Raptors offensive surges and extended the Finals one more game. Unfortunately, they lost Kevin Durant again.
Toronto was all business after closing out their Game 4 win, hoping to raise the first title in franchise history in front of their home faithful. But it’s not Golden State’s first rodeo. This group is tried and tested.
The Warriors opened by going small, immediately opting for their vaunted Lineup of Death and bombed 3s. Kevin Durant returned with no minutes restriction, playing for the first time since May 8 and buried his first three shots from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, he reaggravated the injury with just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter. Durant left the arena in the second half sporting a walking boot and crutches with a scheduled MRI tomorrow. After the game, Warriors president Bob Myers announced that it was an Achilles’ injury.
DeMarcus Cousins came on for the injured Durant and immediately injected life onto the court. Cousins impacted every aspect of the game and bullied his way to nine points in six minutes in the second quarter. Sports are so often a war of attrition. Kevon Looney soldiered admirably through grimaces before reaggravating his chest injury as well. Quinn Cook and Jordan Bell were thrust into fourth quarter minutes in an elimination game for Golden State. With fewer offensive threats, Nick Nurse broke out an outrageous triangle-and-2 defensive scheme.
The Warriors staved off multiple runs and every punch the Raptors threw at them…until they couldn’t. Kawhi Leonard switched on kill mode, scored 10 straight and Toronto took its first lead of the game with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Behind a delirious crowd and swelling momentum, it looked over.
But Golden State dug even deeper, leaning on all their championship prowess. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson swung the lead back in their favor with two huge 3s in the waning moments. It was enough for the Warriors to hold on by the skin of their teeth.
Curry summated it perfectly in his post-game interview with Doris Burke: “It wasn’t pretty in the second half, but we just made enough plays.”
Always stick to your guns. Golden State made it through the Game 5 wilderness by trusting their bread and butter: shooting 3s better than everyone else. They shot almost 48 percent on 20-of-42 attempts. They had sloppy moments and careless turnovers, but their all-time backcourt came alive with the Warriors season on life support and bailed them out in the end. Now, they go back to Oakland and give Oracle Arena its swan song.
If you have the chance to get a top-five player, take it. Regardless of whether or not Toronto wins, Masai Ujiri pushed his chips to the middle and it paid off. The Raptors learned from their shortcomings of years’ past and remade their playoff psyche. Leonard continued his playoff devastation tour, averaging over 30 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block in the Finals.
While it’s no guarantee Leonard stays north of the border, Ujiri took a calculated risk in improving his team and it worked. As good as past iterations of the Raptors were they had a defined ceiling.
We’re all winners. If you’re an outsider, this has been an incredible series that will result in one of two awesome scenarios:
A) The Raptors win their first championship since entering the league as an expansion team in 1995. Leonard takes home Finals MVP and joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to win the award with two different teams. Leonard also proves to be a robot sent back in time to destroy two NBA kingdoms.
Kyle Lowry gets to shake off the unjust ‘Playoff Lowry’ appellation and, somewhat incredibly, wins a title before his point guard contemporaries Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Mike Conley.
B) In an act of poetic justice, the Warriors make a 3-1 comeback to bookend what could sneakily be the end of their reign. Their dynasty gets bumped to another level as their stars ascend to another plane and we all get to say we witnessed something great.
And really, isn’t that what we’re all looking for?