The movie playing in Kyle Lowry’s head ends with the ball swinging to him in the corner, his opponents helplessly rushing over to stop him. He sees himself square up, rise, and let fly. Nothing but net. Lowry is buried by his celebrating teammates, his whole career building to this very moment. He’s a champion. He did it. It’s a story for the ages.
Except reality doesn’t go that way. Instead Lowry gets the ball in the corner, down 106-105 to the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, He does indeed rise and let fly, but Draymond Green gets his fingers on the ball, spinning it harmlessly off the side of the backboard and out of bounds. There will be no celebration. The Raptors lose Game 5 by that very same score instead.
This was a weird game, definitely one of the strangest the Raptors have ever been involved in — and that’s really saying something. They played from behind almost the entire way, save for one truly ferocious burst from Kawhi Leonard in the final six minutes to give Toronto a brief lead. Unfortunately for the Raptors it was not enough. Kawhi did secure a six-point lead for the Raptors, but then watched as Golden State, powered by Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, went on a 9-0 run on three straight 3s to fend off the Raptors one more time. We, along with Lowry and the rest of the Raptors, are stuck playing and replaying those final two minutes. The golden opportunity to win the NBA championship right there — and then gone.
And that’s not even the weird part. To discuss that, we turn now to Kevin Durant. After missing nine games with some sort of calf injury, KD tried to turn the tide against the Raptors. For just over a quarter, it looked to be working. The Warriors kept the Raptors on their heels in the first quarter, and their confidence continued to grow into the second. In just shy of 12 minutes, Durant put in 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting from three, until a drive towards the middle saw him come up limping. From there the vibe in the arena turned. First the Toronto fans were cheering, then the Raptors — namely Lowry, Danny Green, and Serge Ibaka — managed to quell that testy mood, turning it into an appreciative “KD” chant. Still, it was not Toronto’s finest moment.
The Raptors suffered as a result. In Durant’s absence, the Warriors gritted their teeth and decided to reassert their dominance over the game. In that first half, Golden State shot a very Golden State-esque 52 percent from three, powered by, who else, Curry and Thompson, with 23 and 12 points, respectively. (They finished at 48 percent from deep for the game, with 20 made threes.) Coupled with Toronto’s suddenly ghastly shooting — from Kawhi on down — and the Raptors were stuck playing catch-up the entire way. During those opening 24 minutes, Marc Gasol was huge for Toronto with 15 points (and the team’s only made 3s), Pascal Siakam had 10 points, and Kawhi, the season-long saviour, had a mere 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting — mortal for him.
The third quarter brought much of the same. Each time the Raptors made a push, the Warriors would hit shots and build the lead back up. Through three quarters, Toronto was up 38-26 on points in the paint; they were our-rebounding the Warriors 34-29; they were even out racing them 8-3 in fast-break points. It was the shooting that just kept them out of it. Toronto was at 41 percent from the field and 21 percent from three after those three quarters. Down six points — and having survived a lead as big as 14 — they still had a chance. But it would take an offensive turnaround Toronto had not yet been able to muster for those 36 minutes.
Still, with Kawhi, we knew something was coming. And arrive it did. With all the air out of the building in the second quarter due to Durant’s injury, and the Toronto crowd getting anxious into the third, Leonard finally turned up. After a quiet (for him) three quarters, came the explosion. There was Kawhi getting the put-back layup, finding Norman Powell (without travelling) for the breakaway dunk, hitting a pair of threes to give Toronto their first lead, and then picking his spots with jumpers for ten straight points. At his apex, Kawhi led the Raptors all the way back, carving out a six-point lead by himself. It really felt like the title was in Toronto’s grasp.
But then, the Raptors called timeout and bang, bang, bang — three straight threes from the Warriors, two from Klay, one from Curry, and the lead was gone. The Raptors were fighting from behind once again. There were more weird calls along the way, strange plays that kept tilting the crowd into and out of the proceedings. DeMarcus Cousins got called for an offensive goaltending call, then a straight-up offensive foul. Lowry couldn’t buy a three — he was 1-of-6 on the night from deep — but he kept getting into the paint anyway. Norm stayed on the court until the end in lieu of Pascal Siakam. The game almost hinged on an over-and-back call with Draymond Green tip-toeing on the line to turn the ball over. Still, it was all for naught.
In the final tally, Kawhi finished 26 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists to lead the Raptors. It was his worst shooting performance in awhile (9-of-24 from the field), but he gave Toronto a glimmer of hope. Lowry finished with 18 points and six assists but his lack of confidence from deep cost him. Gasol’s early burst would gradually peter out, but he still had 17 points and eight rebounds. Siakam was a rough 6-of-15 on the night for just 12 points, and it’s clear the Warriors are fine with giving him all the 3s he’d like. Danny Green turned back into a pumpkin to go 0-for-4 from three. Fred VanVleet hit a pair of massive treys late in the third to pace the Raptors, but his 11 points were not enough. Hell, even Serge Ibaka’s 15 points didn’t help. It’s the first time Toronto has lost in the post-season when he’s cracked double digits in scoring. Just a weird run all around.
Now we get to the real concern for the Raptors. With the Durant question settled once and for all in this series, will the Warriors be galvanized and come out hard in Game 6 looking for vengeance? Or will Toronto remember their fearsome powers in Games 3 and 4 and shut down this team one more time in their own house? It feels like every outcome is in play, including a complete turnaround from the Warriors, or a blowout win for the Raptors to claim their first ever title.
Hey, stranger things have happened.