The Toronto Raptors entered Monday’s Game 5 with the chance to close out the Golden State Warriors and secure the first NBA title in franchise history. After 48 wild minutes that included the return, and exit, of Kevin Durant, the Warriors were able to stave off elimination, securing a 106-105 victory to force Game 6 in Oakland.
At the outset, optimism reigned for the Warriors, with Durant in the middle of it all. The former MVP announced his presence with authority, converting his first two shots to push Golden State to an early advantage.
Durant’s energy (and shot-making) was infectious, with the visitors opening the evening 5-of-5 from three with the ball zooming around the floor in distinct Warriors fashion.
The Raptors would not cede control, however, using a 9-0 run to stem the tide and take their first lead at 21-19.
While the early moments were fast-paced and action-packed, things gave way to a jumbled, referee-driven mess for a stretch at the end of the first quarter. That allowed something of a “reset,” with the Warriors taking a 34-28 lead after 12 minutes of action. Stephen Curry and Durant combined for 25 points in the opening period, with Golden State burying 7-of-10 from three-point distance.
Unfortunately, things then took an ominous turn early in the second quarter, with Durant suffering a recurrence of the injury that kept him off the floor for more than a month.
The Warriors led by five points when Durant exited and, despite the clear significance of his absence, Golden State was able to respond with a big-time push from an unlikely source. That impetus came from DeMarcus Cousins, who entered for his first minutes of the game and provided a personal 7-0 run to push Golden State to a double-figure lead.
Not to be outdone, Raptors center Marc Gasol banged home a three shortly after, prompting a Warriors timeout with the margin back to 54-48.
Toronto kept chipping away, cutting the edge to only a single point, but the Warriors scored five points in the final 40 seconds to maintain a 62-56 edge at the break. All told, that was a winning scenario for Golden State, particularly with Durant’s injury, but the Warriors still needed 24 additional minutes of magic without the benefit of their ace in the hole.
Coming out of the locker room, it was an exchange of flurries on both sides. The Warriors opened with five straight points to extend their lead to double-figures, but the Raptors immediately responded in kind with seven consecutive points of their own. On cue, Golden State then rattled off 10 straight to take their largest lead of the evening at 77-63.
In continuing the prolonged theme of the period, the Raptors then used a pair of threes from Fred VanVleet to engineer yet another 10-0 run to climb back within four.
The fireworks slowed from there but, on the whole, the two teams played dead even in the third quarter. Considering some of the haymakers thrown by the Warriors, that likely felt satisfying for the Raptors, with the home team trailing by only six points with 12 minutes remaining and the opposition short-handed.
In the closing period, the Raptors drew first blood. Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka combined for 11 points in the first four minutes and, when Ibaka finished at the eight-minute mark, Toronto trimmed the margin to 92-89.
After a stoppage, Kawhi Leonard scored to bring the Raptors within one but, on the other end, Draymond Green knocked down a three-pointer in pivotal (and relatively unexpected) fashion. That provided only a short cushion, though, as Norman Powell finished a dunk to push the score to 95-93 with 5:34 to go.
Then, Leonard continued to perform at a high level, scoring the first five points out of a timeout to give Toronto the lead and following that up with five more (in succession) to put the Raptors ahead by a 103-97 margin.
That spurt of ten points in less than two minutes looked to be potentially game-sealing but, in short, the Warriors had other ideas. Klay Thompson converted a badly needed three-pointer to bring Golden State within 103-100 and, for a brief moment, it looked as if a put-back dunk from Cousins would cut the margin to one. However, an official review went against the Warriors, leaving the score at 103-100.
Not to be deterred, Curry and Thompson connected on three-pointers on back-to-back trips and, in the blink of an eye, the Warriors turned a six-point deficit into a three-point lead with 58 seconds remaining.
There were plenty of wild moments to come from there, as the Warriors nearly gave up the ground they were able to accumulate. Green committed a backcourt violation, Cousins committed a defensive goaltending and a potentially costly moving screen and the Raptors had a shot in the air to win the game and, by extension, the NBA title. In the end, however, Kyle Lowry’s attempt went begging to keep the series alive.
With 57 points combined from Curry and Thompson — including the two biggest shots of the evening — as the impetus, the Warriors were able to keep their dream of a three-peat alive. It has to be noted that Golden State faces a significant climb, particularly without Durant projected to return, but the champions are still fighting and the Raptors now must stave off further haymakers as Game 6 approaches on Thursday in Oakland.