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Five thoughts on last night’s Game 5: Warriors 106, Raptors 105

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Opportunity knocked, but the Raptors couldn’t answer the door, and the NBA Finals are heading back to Oakland.

NBA Finals 2019 Five thoughts Game 5 recap: Golden State Warriors 106, Toronto Raptors 105, Kawhi Leonard Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

I believe you may have heard the phrase “don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion” once or twice in your lifetime, especially regarding the NBA Finals, and it was never more apropos than it was last night. The Toronto Raptors hung around all night, and suddenly seemed poised to deliver the knockout blow. But the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors didn’t go down — they counterattacked and stole Game 5 in Toronto.

The Raptors are still in the driver’s seat with a 3-2 lead, but this game did not leave a good taste in the mouth.

What an Odd, Strange, Awful Feeling

I really don’t know how else to describe this feeling, postgame. For the Raptors to hang around all night when the champs were throwing fireballs, to have a six-point lead, to have the win just sitting there for the taking... and then to see it snatched away. This is just awful.

I mean, it was a great game. Entertaining, exciting. We got to see Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson show us why they’re called “Splash Brothers.” We briefly, tragically, got to experience the terror of the Warriors with Kevin Durant. We got to see Kawhi Leonard, who is a Toronto Raptor, briefly turn into Godzilla and rampage all over the Warriors.

But there was also that awful vibe after Durant’s injury. There were a ton of off-the-ball/loose ball ticky-tack fouls called, which disrupted the flow the game. There was the absolute weirdness of seeing the Raptors shoot so poorly from three-point range, and seeing the Warriors rain fire from there, but it still be such a tight game.

And then, it was all right there: our team was winning with three minutes to go! We could see the victory, taste the champagne on our lips.

But then it was all gone.

Damn.

One of the reasons I write these in the mornings after games is so that I can sleep on my feelings, but I woke up feeling just as awful as I did when I went to sleep. This is gonna hurt for a while.

I’m Gonna be Haunted by Those Timeouts

Add me to the chorus of observers confused by Nick Nurse’s use of timeouts down the stretch of the fourth quarter.

Toronto had the Warriors on the damn ropes, on a 12-2 run, up by six points with three minutes left... and called for time. I really can’t understand that one. The Raptors were rolling, the Warriors were gassed; Curry had just missed a three, well short, right before the TO.

The momentum was all Toronto’s, and they stopped play to give it back.

I also can’t understand not using the last timeout to draw up a play for the final shot. If it were a live ball turnover, I’m totally on board with not calling the TO, but a dead ball in the backcourt? And if Nurse’s reason for using the earlier timeout was “use it or lose it,” what’s his reasoning for hanging on to the last one?

Perhaps he was wary of a five-second count turnover? The Raptors certainly have had their issues there... so maybe that’s justified. But I really can’t understand the first one, and I don’t imagine I ever will.

(For there record — while the first was absolutely a momentum-shifter and the second just questionable — I’m not going the “those timeouts cost Toronto the game” route; if anything did, the Warriors being scorching hot from beyond the arc, and Toronto being ice cold, cost the Raptors the game; or their execution after the timeout did, which we’ll get into. I’m simply saying I don’t understand, and disagree with, the timeout usage.)

Five Empty Trips

After that unnecessary timeout, the Warriors went on their 9-0 run thanks to three threes from the Splash Brothers, but Toronto’s offense in this sequence was terrible.

  • Leonard tried to take Thompson 1:1, which I can forgive somewhat — Kawhi was feeling it a bit, clearly. But he took a contested fadeaway that didn’t have a chance.
  • Then Lowry missed a three.
  • Then Lowry made a horrifically awful pass that went into the backcourt (but would’ve been a shot clock violation anyway)
  • Then Leonard missed a pull-up three pointer with 14 seconds on the shot clock
  • Then — in probably the best offensive sequence — Lowry and Marc Gasol ran a pick-and-roll that got Gasol a shot at the rim, where he couldn’t finish (looked like there was contact)

So: Four chances to extend the lead, one to cut into a three-point deficit, and Toronto came up empty on all of them. Their only bucket in the final three minutes (after that timeout) was a Lowry layup, that DeMarcus Cousins goaltended.

That’s it. That is some damn poor crunch-time execution. I’m not ready to use the word “choke” here, but man... you can’t have five straight empty trips in the final three minutes of a Finals game.

Take this Kyle Lowry Slander, but not that Kyle Lowry Slander

Anyone complaining about Kyle Lowry’s final-second shot attempt — which was a great look at a corner three — is taking away from a sensational athletic play by Draymond Green, who managed to block it with the tips of his fingers.

That’s just a sensational play, and 100% of the credit has to go Draymond.

(God, can you imagine if that got off clean and went in? I think my heart would have literally exploded in my chest.)

(Also, look how miserable Joe Lacob looks in the background of that photo. It annoys me that somewhere in the micro-seconds following this photo, that face undoubtedly turns into a giant smile. Grrr.)

Overall Kyle had a solid game, including making some incredibly tough shots at the rim and smart pick-and-roll plays when his team needed buckets.

But, since I’m the first to defend Lowry, I’ll have to call him out for a couple of things. First, in the second quarter, he made a great play to strip Klay Thompson of the ball, but started breaking the other way — without control of the ball. The Warriors took it back, and Thompson nailed an open three; Kyle was still out at halfcourt, having never gotten himself back into the play.

Second is the aforementioned pass that resulted in a turnover; the pass itself was terrible and off the mark, but even if it were on the mark, the recipient (in this case Marc Gasol) wouldn’t have had time to shoot it before the shot clock expired. Lowry’s got to know that before making that pass.

Finally, his defensive effort on Thompson’s first three-pointer in Golden State’s final run was sub-par; Lowry was helping trap Curry with VanVleet, and when Curry passed it out to Thompson, and Thompson came around a Draymond Green screen... Lowry dropped back into the paint instead of stepping up to help contain Thompson. I suppose he was playing Draymond off the drive, but Green’s screen took Leonard out of the play, making Thompson the bigger threat, and Lowry was stuck in no-man’s land.

I’m nitpicking three plays here, but they all stood out to me — and they were all costly plays.

What’s Next?

The Raptors played their worst game in three weeks and had a chance to win, and the Warriors are still banged up; we can also assume the shooting evens out. So I don’t think we should be too concerned; Toronto is still a heavy favourite, being up 3-2. We took their best shot and were still in a great position to win that game, and we’re still in great position to win the series.

On the other hand, the Raptors had a championship within their grasp and couldn’t seal the deal. Those chances are incredibly rare. And incredibly difficult to regain — just ask the 2013 Spurs.

Also, I don’t want to discount the overarching narrative of the Warriors winning a series from down 3-1. Wouldn’t that be about the greatest redemption story ever? After being the only team to ever lose a Finals up 3-1, who then bring in Kevin Durant as a result, forming an unbeatable superteam, then to lose Durant but come back from a 3-1 deficit?

And for Raptors narratives, I mean, we all thought all those horrifying, gut-punch defeats were in the past — but what if the universe has one more for us? Would it ever get any worse than having missed this opportunity tonight, then losing the 3-1 lead?

I’m confident Kawhi Leonard isn’t going to let that happen. But if the basketball gods decide they want to weave that story over our “24 seasons in the making” story, and perhaps those “fans” who cheered when KD went down pissed them off just enough. Don’t discount the basketball gods, man. Never discount them.

********

I’m still feeling sick to my stomach after that loss, but you know what? Like I said above, we have Kawhi.

The championship may have slipped through Toronto’s fingers last night, but have you seen Kawhi’s hands? He’s not gonna let it get away again.