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Toronto Temperature: Serge Ibaka provides a spark off the bench

The Raptors had a 2-1 week, winning a pair of games at Oracle and losing Game 5 at home in the NBA Finals. Let’s take the temperature.

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Toronto Raptors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The long series envisioned by many is starting to take shape. After Game 5 slipped away on the final possessions Monday night, the Raptors are back in Oakland for Game 6.

The story is just about the same, minus Kevin Durant, who left Game 5 in the first quarter with a reported achilles injury. The Raptors have two more cracks at the championship, but the Warriors have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who have been formidable, scoring a combined 57 points on 19-of-44 shooting in Game 5.

As we an anticipate Game 6, let’s take a look at the highs and lows from the past week. Let’s take a Toronto Temperature.

Who’s Hot

Kawhi Leonard’s 12-2 Run

Cut to 5:41 remaining in the fourth quarter. Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena. Kawhi Leonard gets a loose ball and is pushing up the court. He slows up above the arc, considers a pass to Kyle Lowry, but finds Norman Powell storming in for the dunk. 95-93 Warriors. Timeout Golden State.

On the Raptors’ next trip down, after a Warriors miss, Leonard collects the rebound and pushes in transition. Andre Iguodala, picking up Leonard, drifts too low. Pull-up three for Leonard. 96-95 Raptors.

After another defensive stop, the Raptors went to Leonard again, squared up against Iguodala. They cleared out the whole right side. Blow-by for Leonard. He slowed up in the paint and kissed his shot off the glass. 98-95 Raptors.

The next trip down, now 98-97, after a Draymond Green lefty hook, the Raptors got Leonard the ball once again, earning a DeMarcus Cousins switch in the pick-and-roll. Leonard surveyed, patiently dribbling, and pulled up from deep at least two feet behind the line. The crowd erupted. 101-97 Raptors. Eight straight points for Leonard.

To cap off the run, Leonard isolated against Klay Thompson on the next trip down. Another blow-by. He drove right, slowing up just inside the free throw line. Bucket. 103-97 Raptors. Concluding a 12-2 run. An incredible display from Leonard.

Serge Ibaka Off The Bench

Serge Ibaka has been terrific coming off the bench in the past three games for the Raptors. In Game 3, he blocked six shots and looked like the most athletic player on the court. In Game 4, he was the Raptors second leading scorer with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting. In Game 5, he brought the energy once again, scoring 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting with six rebounds.

His activity level has propped up the units without Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. The VanVleet-Powell-Green-Siakam-Ibaka lineup that Nick Nurse likes to use to start the second quarter has played to a +7 in 16 minutes so far this series. The offense for that unit features a lot of Fred VanVleet pick-and-roll with Serge Ibaka hanging around the glass but hey, you can’t argue with effectiveness.

The most impressive play for Ibaka this series came in Game 4. He had the ball at the top of the key, considering a dribble handoff with Danny Green. Serge decided, though, with 17 seconds left on the shot clock, that he was better off putting the moves on DeMarcus Cousins. He crossed him over, put the ball behind his back, and rose up for the 20-footer. It was equal parts amusing and shocking. But he made it, and the Raptors ended up needing his offense. Looking ahead to Game 6, Ibaka represents a good option for Nick Nurse if the Raptors need an offensive spark.

Kyle Lowry, Driving

When DeMarcus Cousins is in the game, it’s go-time for Kyle Lowry. To start Game 4, Lowry got deep in the paint out of the pick-and-roll and from isolation. When Cousins drops back, Lowry probes more than usual. It seems like Lowry is making an effort to drive more as the series has gone along. Consider his drives, per NBA stats, in each game this series:

  • 9 drives in Game 1;
  • 7 drives in Game 2;
  • 13 drives in Game 3;
  • 17 drives in Game 4;
  • 20 drives in Game 5.

Lowry has kept his foot on the gas. Twenty drives in a single game is no small thing. Only two players averaged 20 or more drives per game this postseason. James Harden, who averaged 23.5 drives per game, and Russell Westbrook, who averaged 21 drives per game. For the Raptors, having the best passer on your team in the paint more often — even if he is only six feet tall — is always a good thing.

Who’s Not

Kevin Durant’s Injury

The Kevin Durant injury hangs over Game 5. It is the type of injury so devastating in basketball, with someone returning from a previous injury. It brings with it all the finger pointing, frustration, and examination in order to reach some sort of level ground. But with Durant, and the timing of his injury, and the facts surrounding his return, no level ground has been reached.

There will be a time for investigation, to hear from the Warriors’ medical staff, to hear from Durant, to see where the decision to let him play arose, but that will come later.

Considering Durant’s career arc, without knowing the full details of his injury (we know it is an achilles injury but we don’t know the severity), it is a tough pill to swallow. Durant is 30-years old and holds a $31.5 million player option with the Warriors next season. He is one of the best 20 players of all time. The opportunities ahead of him, to self-determine his next team and contract, to train this summer, and to be ready for opening day next season, look less fruitful than they did just last week.

The NBA Finals, while grand and exciting, are not immune to dark moments. A player’s health and well-being stand in front of basketball, which is easy to forget sometimes.

Nick Nurse’s Game Management

Did Nick Nurse calling a timeout with 3:05 remaining in the fourth quarter and his team on a 12-2 run cost the Raptors the game? No. The Raptors should still be expected to execute offensively and defensively. It doesn’t take anything away from that.

But it did quiet the crowd. When the Raptors called the timeout walking up the floor, the sound in the arena was the sound of a city feeling a championship in reach. It felt like nothing could stop that wave of emotion. But as it turns out, maybe a timeout and commercial break could.

Nick Nurse told reporters after the game that he wanted to give his players a breather and that he risked losing the timeout if he didn’t use it then (Nurse had four timeouts at his disposal. You are only allowed two after the three-minute mark). But timeouts work both ways. Both teams can benefit. So while the Raptors were certainly tired (a 12-2 run will do that to you), the Warriors were likely feeling the same way.

So that moment, to call a timeout with 3:05 remaining, feels like one Nurse would want back. After all, there is no better antidote for tired players than championship fever.

Pascal Siakam’s Corner Attack

Pascal Siakam always seems to find himself in the corner with the Warriors daring him to shoot. That is by design. The Warriors need to help off someone to prevent Kawhi Leonard from getting easy looks, and Siakam has been ice cold from deep recently. In three games this week, Siakam went 0-of-9 from deep. He doesn’t seem comfortable with that shot right now.

When he chooses to explore inside the arc, the results have been mixed. It’s hard to attack a defense waiting for you at the rim. Consider the screen-grab from Game 4:

Here, Siakam received a feed from Kyle Lowry, immediately getting his feet set for the jump shot. He didn’t shoot, though. There was a moment of indecision. What was the best play? Maybe to find a cutter or drive to the rim. Meh. The Warriors were so locked in off the ball that any improvisation seemed risky. With nine seconds left on the shot clock, the best option, it would seem, was for Siakam to take the jump shot.

But in reality, Siakam drove right. He dribbled into the body of Iguodala and spun over his right shoulder into Draymond Green. Turnover. Looking ahead to Game 6, it will be important to establish Siakam early. He has been effective operating in the post when he can feel someone on his back. If the Raptors run a few plays for him, the bet is he will have the necessary rhythm later in the game to be impactful attacking from the corner. Game 6 awaits.