Warriors take — and make — their best shots to edge Raptors and extend series

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Warriors take — and make — their best shots to edge Raptors and extend series | The Star
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The Toronto Raptors are still in the driver’s seat. They’re still in charge. They blew Game 5 of the NBA Finals by missing so many shots that even they couldn’t recover, yes. Last year, after his Cavaliers had somehow escaped a knife-in-its-teeth Indiana team in a Game 7, Kevin Love turned to a Cleveland reporter and winked. “Don’t let us get Game 1,” he said. LeBron and company came to Toronto, stole their first chance, and the Raptors never recovered.

Monday night wasn’t that, but it may have been giving oxygen to a flame. The Raptors could have won the franchise’s first NBA championship in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, at home, and missed. Kawhi Leonard had put Toronto up six with 3:28 left with a commanding stretch of basketball, four straight makes, and it looked like the Raptors were there. Kawhi had done it all playoffs long; it seemed to be happening again.

But the Warriors are champions, and they escaped. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson bombed threes to tie it, then took a three-point lead with 56.6 seconds left. You don’t take a title from legends easily. Toronto stayed close on a night their three-pointers were casting off sparks, and on a night where Golden State hit 20 three-pointers of their own. Toronto had the ball down one with 15.7 second left, but the possession was a disaster. They couldn’t close.

Golden State lost Kevin Durant, and that may extinguish a surprising amount of hope. But the Warriors won Game 5 by a score of 106-105, and are still alive. Toronto is the better team, and has two more chances to finish this. But they failed, this time. They wanted everything, and this time, they couldn’t get it.

“I said it in the locker room (after Game 2), trying to kind of not make it feel so bad that we just lost a home game in the Finals. I was like, all we got to do is go get one, that’s maybe not as insurmountable challenge to go out there and get one,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “And Kawhi said, expletive that, let’s go get them both.”

Kawhi is the Zen killer, and he guarded Durant to start. With Durant back from his strained right calf, Golden State came out blazing. Durant for three, Curry, Klay. They only have three real shooters, and they were emptying clips. The Warriors hit their first five threes, and Durant had two of them. Golden State with two MVPs on the floor is a terror, and while Durant wasn’t doing much more than shooting drills, he was Kevin Durant.

When Fred VanVleet drove at him late in the first, Durant could stay with him, until the second drive, and then the two of them talked smack, with Fred looking up at the seven-footer with stitches under his eye and a missing tooth. VanVleet had his people watching back in Rockford, Ill., but that was a Canadian Heritage Moment.

But with 9:46 left in the second quarter, Durant tried to cross over Serge Ibaka and pulled up, then sat down. Durant held his lower calf and Achilles; he was done. The crowd’s initial cheers as Durant tumbled — you never cheer injuries, ever, and it was a shameful moment — turned to respectful applause, and even some “K-D!” chants; Durant was helped off. He came back to this series when he didn’t have to, when he wasn’t ready, with free agency looming, and scored 11 points in 12 minutes. Credit to him.

Kawhi gave Toronto a 103-97 lead on a night where he shot 9-for-24 for 26 points. But the Warriors are great: Klay three, Curry three, Klay three. It was all they needed. The Raptors gave Golden State just enough room to get out of town and back home. Curry and Klay were back to being their only real shooters, but it almost felt like the Raptors, VanVleet aside, had none. It’s hard, putting down a dynasty. It might get harder still.

This Raptors team has, by definition, met every challenge. They won in Philadelphia in Game 4 in that madhouse area with their season on the line, and Kawhi rose above everyone. They won Game 7 against Philadelphia because even before The Shot, before the four-bounce legend of physics and touch that won the series, Kawhi rose above everyone again.

They survived double overtime in Game 3 against Milwaukee, and drilled the Warriors in Game 4 in this series when they already had the advantage, and instead of exhaling rose up again into what appeared to be something like a final form. Asked if they had played their best basketball of the year in the third quarter of Game 4, one Raptors staffer said, until the next one. That doesn’t work if you can’t shoot, though.

Durant came back after an absence of a little more than a month, after being cleared to practise on Sunday afternoon. He had barely done anything in terms of scrimmaging, at least as it pertained to public knowledge. It was clearly too soon. The Warriors were just 6-4 in the 10 playoff games before Durant strained his calf in Game 5 against the Houston Rockets; now Durant has to be done for the series and the season, and it will be up to who is left. You wouldn’t think Toronto will shoot this badly again. They are still in charge.

But now they are down to two more chances against a team with Curry and Klay, and the first will be the last ever game at the riotously loud Oracle Arena, where the Raptors haven’t lost in three tries this year. Toronto can beat this team. Toronto might. A title remains in view, and it will only take one great game from a team that has it in them. Golden State might not have much left.

But the Raptors have given the flames oxygen now. We will see if they snuff it out, or it spreads.

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When Fred VanVleet drove at him late in the first, Durant could stay with him, until the second drive, and then the two of them talked smack, with Fred looking up at the seven-footer with stitches under his eye and a missing tooth. VanVleet had his people watching back in Rockford, Ill., but that was a Canadian Heritage Moment.

But with 9:46 left in the second quarter, Durant tried to cross over Serge Ibaka and pulled up, then sat down. Durant held his lower calf and Achilles; he was done. The crowd’s initial cheers as Durant tumbled — you never cheer injuries, ever, and it was a shameful moment — turned to respectful applause, and even some “K-D!” chants; Durant was helped off. He came back to this series when he didn’t have to, when he wasn’t ready, with free agency looming, and scored 11 points in 12 minutes. Credit to him.

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Kawhi gave Toronto a 103-97 lead on a night where he shot 9-for-24 for 26 points. But the Warriors are great: Klay three, Curry three, Klay three. It was all they needed. The Raptors gave Golden State just enough room to get out of town and back home. Curry and Klay were back to being their only real shooters, but it almost felt like the Raptors, VanVleet aside, had none. It’s hard, putting down a dynasty. It might get harder still.

This Raptors team has, by definition, met every challenge. They won in Philadelphia in Game 4 in that madhouse area with their season on the line, and Kawhi rose above everyone. They won Game 7 against Philadelphia because even before The Shot, before the four-bounce legend of physics and touch that won the series, Kawhi rose above everyone again.

They survived double overtime in Game 3 against Milwaukee, and drilled the Warriors in Game 4 in this series when they already had the advantage, and instead of exhaling rose up again into what appeared to be something like a final form. Asked if they had played their best basketball of the year in the third quarter of Game 4, one Raptors staffer said, until the next one. That doesn’t work if you can’t shoot, though.

Durant came back after an absence of a little more than a month, after being cleared to practise on Sunday afternoon. He had barely done anything in terms of scrimmaging, at least as it pertained to public knowledge. It was clearly too soon. The Warriors were just 6-4 in the 10 playoff games before Durant strained his calf in Game 5 against the Houston Rockets; now Durant has to be done for the series and the season, and it will be up to who is left. You wouldn’t think Toronto will shoot this badly again. They are still in charge.

But now they are down to two more chances against a team with Curry and Klay, and the first will be the last ever game at the riotously loud Oracle Arena, where the Raptors haven’t lost in three tries this year. Toronto can beat this team. Toronto might. A title remains in view, and it will only take one great game from a team that has it in them. Golden State might not have much left.

But the Raptors have given the flames oxygen now. We will see if they snuff it out, or it spreads.

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