Championship-clinching games can creep up on you, can’t they? The Raptors 106-105 loss to the Warriors in Game 5 never seemed all that real. It went right by me. Both the short amount of time leading up to the game as well as the game itself contributed to that feeling. In Game 5, we saw Kevin Durant play 12 minutes and make three three-pointers before leaving with an Achilles injury. We saw Kawhi Leonard go on an unthinkable ten-point scoring spree during fourth quarter. We even saw a potential championship-winning shot from Kyle Lowry hit the side of the backboard as time expired (though it was tipped by Draymond Green). Crazy stuff.
But we truck on with another championship-clinching game for Raptors tonight in Oakland: Game 6. The Warriors have been inconsistent at home these playoffs, going 6-4 at Oracle, losing two games each to the Clippers and Raptors. The Oracle flamethrower third quarters that fans have grown accustom to (for example, they outscored Portland 39-to-24 at Oracle in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals) haven’t been there versus the Raptors.
That’s not to say they aren’t capable. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are coming off big performances in Game 5. They combined for 57 points on 44 shots, to go along with 14 rebounds, 11 assists, and two killer threes (one each) in the last three minutes of the ball game. Down Kevon Looney and Durant in the second half, that is a big time performance.
It’s Game 6. The Warriors are trying to protect home court and force a Game 7. The Raptors can see the finish line. Here are your details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 9:00 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Golden State – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins
Toronto – none
Golden State – Kevin Durant (achilles – out), Kevon Looney (collarbone – questionable)
Kawhi Bounce Back
Kawhi Leonard had an up-and-down Game 5 by his own standards, finishing with 26 points (his lowest point total since Game 1) and five turnovers. The rest of his game was really strong. He finished with 12 rebounds and six assists. But the Raptors, with Pascal Siakam and Danny Green struggling, need to get more going on offense.
The Raptors scored 0.88 PPP in the half court in Game 5, per Cleaning the Glass, via Blake Murphy. That type of effectiveness does not usually lend itself to victory. The Raptors had a poor shooting night from deep, but the 13 turnovers — a lot of them sloppy —contributed to the team’s effectiveness in the halfcourt.
Kawhi had a few turnovers in the halfcourt that you wouldn’t expect. In the first quarter, he drove into a double-team with no place to go, as Andre Iguodala took the ball from him. Later, in the third quarter, Leonard threw a pass to the Warriors bench, with Jordan Bell standing up in a white practise shirt. For someone as sure-handed as Leonard, it was unexpected.
Heading into Game 6, with Kevin Durant not playing, Leonard is the most physically talented scorer left in the series. The Raptors would love a big game from him on the road. How he attacks double-teams, how he distributes to his teammates, and how many times he gets to the free throw line all play into it. We shall see.
One More Win
The Raptors have two more cracks at a championship. That’s pretty good. Golden State gave their best shot in Game 5, with Kevin Durant and Kevon Looney playing despite injury, as well as receiving superb performances from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Game 6 looks a little different. Kevin Durant is out with a torn Achilles. Kevon Looney is questionable. The roar of Oracle Arena will be there. But the Raptors are ready for it. At this point in the series, they have to feel like they are the better team. They have won 14 of 20 possible quarters and executed under duress on the road in Games 3 and 4.
All they need is one win. The X’s and O’s, while still important, seem to take a backseat to individual performances as each game becomes more important than the last. Consider Kawhi Leonard’s epic 12-2 run in Game 5 as an example. That was pure desire. He didn’t need much of a screen or any action for that matter. The majority of his points came from pull-up threes or isolation. Those types of plays aren’t choreographed. That’s all Kawhi.
The Raptors will need more unexpected individual performances tonight. We know Kawhi Leonard can do it. We’ve seen Pascal Siakam do it. Even Norman Powell can do it, surprising people with a big game. Tip-off awaits.
I’m curious to see what lineups Nick Nurse runs out tonight. Will Patrick McCaw play? How does Norman Powell figure into the rotation? Can Pascal Siakam find a groove after he was benched the final nine minutes of Game 5?
Those are the players Nurse is still uncertain about as far as role (maybe plus Danny Green). If Siakam isn’t making his three-pointers (he is 0-of-9 the past three games), it becomes harder to leave him on the court, despite his immense defensive value. The Warriors are aggressive helping off non-shooters, which impacts Kawhi Leonard’s ability to get clean looks at the rim.
The case for Powell to receive more minutes, like he did down the stretch of Game 5, is his above-average ability to attack closeouts from the baseline. For starters, he can shoot from deep. He shot 43.1 percent on 138 catch-and-shoot threes during the regular season. And if defenders start closing out hard on his shots, he can take it to the rim, where he is athletic and powerful on the straight-line drive. We are used to Game 5 Norman Powell, but perhaps tonight a new Game 6 version emerges.