The Toronto Raptors knew it wasn’t going to be easy — the close-out game of any series is always the toughest to win.
Monday’s Game 5 against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, a game the Raptors hoped would be their last of this season, turned out to be a back-and-forth slugfest that came down to the final shot.
With the clock ticking down and the Warriors up 106-105, the Raptors had the ball with a chance to clinch the NBA championship. The capacity crowd at Scotiabank Arena was standing and roaring — Toronto’s Kyle Lowry took a shot that was partially blocked by Golden State’s Draymond Green.
Victory for the defending champions. Heartbreak for the Raptors and their fans, who will have to wait until Game 6 on Thursday in Oakland, Calif., for another shot at their first title.
WATCH | Warriors outlast Raptors in Game 5 win:
“I’ve seen it over and over again. It’s not really surprising, this is who they are,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of his team. “There has to be more that goes into it and it’s that fight, that competitive desire that I talked about and that ability to stay poised under pressure. It was brilliant to watch.”
The Raptors rallied down the stretch after trailing for most of the game, taking a six-point lead after eight straight points from Kawhi Leonard late in the fourth quarter. But that’s when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson took their play to a different level, both knocking down threes in pressure situations.
The Warriors blasted off their bench as the buzzer sounded — a team left for dead suddenly full of life and now carrying all the momentum in a series that does not lack plot twists or drama.
The dynasty is still intact and the Golden State Warriors are still very much alive.
Despite the loss, Raptors coach Nick Nurse credited his team for never quitting.
“I’m super proud of the guys,” he said. “They played their guts out, kept on fighting, and put themselves in position to win it.”
Back to Oakland
Now the series shifts back to Oracle Arena in Oakland for what will be the last game ever in the oldest venue in the league — Toronto went into the hallowed arena and took both games from a team that isn’t used to losing at home during this time of year.
Two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant made his much-anticipated return to the Warriors lineup on Monday and was sensational early in the game. He looked strong and healthy as he roamed the court and knocked down a series of three-balls.
But with just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter, Durant crumpled to the floor clutching the leg that had kept him off the court since May 8. He’d missed all that time with a calf injury. He’s done for good now with what the team said is an injury to his Achilles.
WATCH | Kevin Durant suffers Achilles injury:
He stayed down on the court as Raptors fans cheered. The fans then realized how injured Durant was and stopped cheering and started chanting “KD” over and over.
Durant was helped off the court by teammates, not putting any weight on his foot. He left the arena on crutches in the second half.
“I just told the team I didn’t know what to say because on the one hand I’m so proud of them, just the amazing heart and grit that they showed, and on the other I’m just devastated for Kevin. So it’s a bizarre feeling that we all have right now,” Kerr said.
“An incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time.”
Prior to the game, Kerr talked about his past experience being up 3-1 and being down 3-1 in a series and said all his team needed was a spark.
“Win one game and then the tone of the series changes,” Kerr said.
WATCH | Kerr at a loss for words after emotional win:
The tone has certainly changed.
The series started with commentators and pundits calling for the Warriors to win easily. Then the Raptors found themselves on cruise control with all the pressure in the world pinned on the shoulders of the champs.
But 48 minutes of basketball in Game 5 and all that pressure has now swung back in Toronto’s direction.
“I expect this one to be a long series,” Nurse said. “I’m not sitting here trying to think we should be this, be that, but if you would have probably told me at the start of this thing if we could fast forward to a 3-2 lead, you want to take it? I would probably say yes.”
The Raptors have been unflappable in the face of adversity throughout these playoffs.
WATCH | Nurse expects long series:
There was that home-opening playoff loss nearly two months ago to Orlando — a last-second three-ball by the Magic to win the game, 104-101. It sent Raptors fans heading to the exits, thinking “here we go again.” Lowry finished the game without scoring. Fans were all over him for his performance.
But Lowry and the Raptors responded by winning the next four games and the series.
And then the team found themselves down 2-1 to the Philadelphia 76ers. A 21-point loss had people and pundits once again questioning the resolve of a team that had nothing but an abysmal history of playoff disappointment to point to.
The Raptors won the next three of four games, including the unforgettable Game 7 and Kawhi Leonard’s bounce-around-the-rim winner that sent the team into the Eastern Conference final.
Surely though, the Raptors’ playoff run would come to an end against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks, after all, finished the regular season with the best record in the NBA. And in the first two games, that narrative was playing out perfectly as Toronto lost the first two games on the road.
Despite the disappoinment of losing Game 5, <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Raptors?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Raptors</a> fans say they’re still feeling confident the team can win the NBA Championship. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAFinals?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#NBAFinals</a> <a href=”https://t.co/39xC0KwZcJ”>pic.twitter.com/39xC0KwZcJ</a>
Then, in what was the turning point of all of this, the Raptors won a Game 3 thriller in an exhausting double-overtime showdown that ignited a team and a fan base. Leonard played a career-high 52 minutes, clearly hobbling, and yet still poured in 36 points.
“That’s probably a moment of where I thought the team had something inside them to keep on going,” Nurse said of that win.
The Raptors didn’t lose another game in the series — they beat the best team in the NBA four straight times to advance to the team’s first-ever NBA Finals.
But this is something entirely different. They’re trying to take down the champs. And it’ll take everything they’ve got.