The Toronto Raptors fell one excruciating basket short on Monday of claiming their first NBA championship in club history. Now they must wait a few more agonizing days to try again.
Canadians have waited 24 years to watch the Raptors win an NBA title. With their team on the cusp Monday night, they sat ready to celebrate, but it didn’t happen. Instead the Golden State Warriors delivered them a heartbreaking 106-105 Game 5 loss to inch closer in the series, 3-2.
Six different Raptors scored in double digits in the loss, led by 26 from Kawhi Leonard. Kyle Lowry scored 18, and had the winning shot on his fingertips in the closing seconds, but it was tipped by Golden State’s Draymond Green.
“It felt great out of my hands, but that’s what great defenders do,” said a low-key Lowry after the game.
Marc Gasol added 17 for Toronto, Serge Ibaka had 15, Pascal Siakam 12 and Fred Van Vleet 11.
The Raps must now fly to California and face the Warriors inside Oracle Arena in what will be their last home game before the Dubs move to a new stadium.
Stephen Curry had 31 points and Klay Thompson had 26 to lead the Warriors on a bittersweet night. They extended the series, but they lost their all-star teammate Kevin Durant, whose long-awaited comeback ended with him being assisted off the floor with a devastating injury. Now ‘play for KD’ becomes Golden State’s rallying cry.
“I can tell you this, he wants us to compete at the highest level, and we'll think of him every time we step on the hardwood,” said Thompson.
Outside Scotiabank Arena, tens of thousands of fans in rain ponchos packed Jurassic Park along with Toronto’s surrounding downtown streets to revel in the night together, withstanding unrelenting showers. The fans were desperate to watch the Raps deny the reigning champs their three-peat, and hoist the trophy at home.
Inside, the American anthem was performed by R&B artist Monica. The singing of O Canada was left to the fans – 20,000 strong – with celebrities such as Jose Bautista, Eugenie Bouchard, Wayne Gretzky and Drake among them.
With the Warriors teetering on the brink of elimination, superstar Kevin Durant made his long-awaited series debut. The lanky, two-time NBA Finals MVP was returning from a calf injury he suffered on May 8 during Golden State’s second-round series with the Houston Rockets.
Despite his month-long layoff, Durant started hot, hitting a trio of crisp first-quarter three-pointers. On defence, he was tormenting several Raptors. VanVleet pushed back at Durant’s physicality – despite being some nine inches shorter than the Warriors star – and the two went nose to chest in a feisty argument as the first quarter was closing.
The Warriors hit seven three balls in the first quarter, while the Raps made just one. Behind Durant’s 11 and Curry’s 14, the Warriors took a 34-28 lead into the second quarter.
About three minutes into the second quarter, Durant tried to drive on Ibaka and pulled up. He collapsed, wincing and clutching his calf. Many Raps fans initially cheered his misfortune, before Ibaka and Lowry waved their arms, imploring them to stop. The cheers quickly morphed to chants of “KD” as the limping Warrior was helped to the locker room with 11 points, and his team leading 39-35.
“I don't think the fans knew the significance of the injury. They kind of just seen he went down,” said Lowry. “In this league we're all brothers. At the end of the day, we're all brothers and it's a small brotherhood and you never want to see a competitor like him go down.”
In a very emotional news conference after the game, Warriors General Manager Bob Meyer would reveal that Durant suffered an Achilles injury, but said it’s unclear if or how it may may be related to the calf injury. He will undergo an MRI on Tuesday.
DeMarcus Cousins entered the game, and punched in nine fast points for the Warriors, helping Curry and Thompson to a bulky 13-point Golden State lead. It brought to mind the words of outspoken Warrior Draymond Green after the champs lost Game 4 loss: “I’ve been on the wrong side of 3-1 before, so why not make our own history?”
But the Raps would not sit in that deep hole for long. They rallied back to within three behind scoring from Gasol, Leonard and Siakam. Remaining that close was tight with Curry rolling, and they trailed 62-56 by half-time.
VanVleet opened the second half with the starters for the third straight game. He was sporting the signs of his fearless Game 4 play – seven stitches just under a bruised eye and a new mouth guard to protect his recently repaired teeth. He hit three from beyond the arc to energize his squad, and stuck to Curry like glue.
Lowry, the longest-tenured Raptor and its floor leader, contributed six points in the quarter, while the Warriors limited Leonard to just one on 0-of-3 shooting. The champs held a paper thin 84-78 lead going into the fourth.
The long-time Raps point guard kept scoring and creating. He dribbled in and dished off to Ibaka for a monster dunk that pulled Toronto to within three. Every bucket from there got ear-splitting applause from the red-shirted, glow-bracelet wearing crowd – from a Leonard put-back to a wide-open Norman Powell dunk.
They finally pulled into the lead with five minutes left as Leonard scored four straight buckets.
The Warriors kept clawing, and the game was tight to the finish as Curry and Thompson hit big threes to keep it close, then pull ahead by three. Lowry had a layup to pull within a point.
In the dying seconds, the Raps were down by one but had a winning shot attempt. Leonard had the ball, and was double-teamed. So he moved it to VanVleet, then on to Lowry who attempted a 22-foot corner three. Golden State’s Green got a piece of the ball as it traveled through the air. It fell very short.
“I mean two guys came up on me, I don't know if I could have got a shot off. It's hard,” said Leonard. “If you got two guys on top of you, you have to try to find the right play. We ended up getting a shot in the corner, but it just didn't go off quick enough.”
Golden State hit 20 threes in the game to Toronto’s eight.
“They got off way too many threes,” said Lowry. “For guys like them, they’re going to make – you give them that many threes, they’re going to make some.”
The arena went from gleefully loud to quiet anguish in a matter of seconds. The confetti and champagne would have to wait.
“Our goal was to get them back on a plane,” said Thompson. “We owe our fans one more game at Oracle.”
Game 6 is Thursday and a possible Game 7 would be Sunday back in Toronto.