NBA Finals 2019: A chance to clinch a title slipped away, but Raptors can still prove they have 'heart of a champion'
Toronto wasn't quite sharp enough to deny the Warriors a final game at Oracle Arena
TORONTO -- The Toronto Raptors were a shot away. The ball left Kyle Lowry's fingertips with one second left in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday, and if it went in, they would have won their first NBA title. The ravenous Scotiabank Arena crowd was ready for it. The story would have been something.
There was the resilience angle: They fought back after giving up 34 points in the first quarter and trailing the Golden State Warriors by as many as 14 in the third. Kawhi Leonard went bonkers in the fourth quarter and the Raptors took the lead, only for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to reclaim it with three clutch 3-pointers. Lowry cut the deficit to one by taking DeMarcus Cousins off the dribble, and Toronto forced a turnover to earn a chance to win.
There was also the bigger-picture angle: In their 24th year as a franchise, the Raptors had finally broken through. Fans had been going crazy inside and outside the arena, all over the Greater Toronto Area and across Canada. Leonard had made a legendary shot four weeks earlier, but the Warriors had double-teamed him. Maybe it was time for Lowry, the longest-tenured Raptor, to make his own.
It felt great coming out of his hands, Lowry said. The ball barely left his hands, though, before Draymond Green got a piece of it. It was Toronto's third missed 3-pointer in the last two minutes and nine seconds. The spacing wasn't perfect, and an all-time great defender made a brilliant defensive play. In the Raptors' locker room, they watched it, but their real regrets were about their turnovers, their ball movement and Golden State's 20-for-42 mark from 3-point range.
"We looked at the last clip," Toronto wing Danny Green said. "But it shouldn't come down to the last clip."
The Raptors will have plenty of other clips to watch leading up to Game 6 at Oracle Arena on Thursday. Late in the third quarter, Leonard drove baseline and passed to the opposite corner, where no teammate was standing, and the ball flew out of bounds. Toronto led by three with less than two minutes to go when Lowry and Marc Gasol, two of the league's smartest players, ran a pick-and-pop that ended in a backcourt violation.
In the words of Danny Green, who missed all four of his 3-point attempts in the 106-105 loss, the Raptors didn't take care of business. There was a sense of disappointment in their locker room, along with the air of deep concern for Kevin Durant after his Achilles injury. Toronto could not, however, let that disappointment "drain us or defeat us," Green said.
While the Raptors' execution left a lot to be desired, coach Nick Nurse was pleased that they held the defending champions to 44 points in the second half. He just wished, naturally, that they had been able to make a couple more plays.
"I'm super proud of the guys," Nurse said. "Man, they played their guts out, kept on fighting, and put themselves in position to win it."
It should be clear by now that Golden State is not the type of team that will relent. These are the Finals, and Toronto did not expect any of this to be easy. The Warriors trailed by six with less than three minutes to play and pulled a win out of thin air. In addition to losing Durant after his first 12 minutes of basketball in a month, they lost center Kevon Looney, who reaggravated his injury after 18 minutes. That they saved their season in these circumstances is remarkable, and that they did it with late 3s from the Splash Brothers and a game-winning block by Draymond seemed fitting. "This is who they are," coach Steve Kerr said, praising their poise, competitive desire and championship mettle.
The Raptors cannot match Golden State's years of greatness. They believe, however, that they have those same qualities.
"We're not going to quit," Toronto guard Fred VanVleet said. "We got the heart of a champion. We're built for this moment."
VanVleet did not deny that the loss stung. He just said his team needed to push through, look for areas of improvement and win the next one. In this respect, the Raptors have plenty of experience, even in their short time together. They lost heartbreakers to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks on their way here, and they won two straight in Oakland after losing home-court advantage in Game 2. Should they bounce back from this the same way, they can still write a special story.
"We've done it all playoffs long," Gasol said. "We're going to continue to battle. We're going to continue to fight."
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