TORONTO — One of the most frantic moments of Game 5 of the NBA Finals came during a video review on Monday night. The clock stopped at Scotiabank Arena with 1:58 left in the fourth quarter when DeMarcus Cousins was called for goaltending. With the Warriors down three, Steph Curry put up a 25-footer at the top of the arc that didn’t fall. Cousins slammed it home, but officials thought the ball was above the rim and, even after a review that seemed to indicate otherwise, the call stood as goaltending.
During the break in the action, with fans in Toronto buzzing despite all the nothing happening, the floor of Scotiabank Arena was a flurry of activity. Dozens of people clad in matching light blue shirts appeared from nowhere to ring the court and keep watch. And fans who may have wanted to sneak away for a bathroom break during the stoppage knew better. Before the game, along with a red WE THE NORTH shirt, every fan in the lower part of the arena had a small placard on their seats.
“At the 2:00 mark of the 4th quarter onward, fans will not be permitted floor access,” the card read.
The reasons for this are obvious: If the Raptors won, there would be a trophy presentation to set up for and extra security and all kinds of things that had to happen, and quick. Unlike other regular and postseason games, the NBA controls the venue for NBA Finals games and manages everything happening inside. There are special rules for postgame should there be a trophy presentation, and a Raptors win in Toronto would have been special. Thousands of people were waiting outside in the rain hoping to celebrate. Thousands more were inside hoping they had a ticket to see history.
Everyone in Toronto was ready for a celebration that never came on Monday night, because the Golden State Warriors still had Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
That the Warriors were able to overcome all that came on Monday is a testament to just how transcendent this dynasty has been. They survived two gut-wrenching knockdowns in what was an emotional Game 5 that will forever alter the course of NBA history. They had an answer for Kevin Durant’s devastating Achilles injury in the second quarter that would have tanked other teams. Despite watching a teammate’s career altered forever by planting one right foot, they were poised to bring the series back to Oakland one last time with a narrow fourth quarter lead in the final minutes.
Kawhi Leonard saw the chance for a championship moment, finally putting the Raptors over the hump and in a position to win it all. Leonard entered the game for the final time with 9:02 left and the Raptors trailing 90-84. Threes from Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka bookended a Curry trey before Leonard hit a bucket of his own. The pace was frenetic, but Leonard looked in control. And he was — the game was his, and he was willing the Raptors to glory. With five minutes left in the fourth, it truly felt like it was going to happen.
Leonard grabbed a rebound after an Andre Iguodala miss. With 5:13 to play, he sank a 25-foot pull-up jumper that began the seismological test of Scotiabank Arena. The bucket gave Toronto a 96-95 lead — their first since late in the first quarter. Twenty-seven seconds later, Leonard hit a shot to push the lead to three. Draymond Green responded, but on the following possession, a Leonard triple made it 101-97.
Golden State didn’t have an answer on the ensuing possession, and the next time down the floor, Kawhi called for the ball and went to work again. Stopping short for a jumper in the lane, the King in the North made it 103-97.
The volume in the building continued to get louder with every shot. Here was Leonard, once again, bringing the Raptors to a place that they’d never been. Elevating, again and again and again. It was the makings of a championship crescendo, one that cements Leonard forever in the hearts and minds of Toronto sports fans who have fallen hard for hoops and seen the fortunes of a franchise reach heights it had never seen before.
Outside, Jurassic Park was in the process of becoming unglued. There was never any doubt that, upon the clock hitting 0:00, they’d storm en masse into the streets of Toronto, which were lined with armed police officers that looked prepared for a full-scale riot. One fan was eager to “burn this motherf*cker down,” sight lines were impaired by cell phones looking to capture history. The cynicism that consumes Toronto sports fans was gone. All that stood between the Raptors and a ring were three minutes that served as more of a formality than anything.
And then the champs returned fire, with Curry and Thompson taking control and erasing the six-point deficit in less time than it would take to assemble a stage on the floor to give out some trophies.
“This is who they are,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of The Splash Brothers after their late comeback in Game 5. “They have accomplished so much over the years, and that doesn’t just happen and it doesn’t just happen with talent. 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.”
Watching this Warriors team pounce on a single Raptors mistake and turn it into a victory was stunning. It’s something we’ve seen from this franchise again and again, but to see it completely erase another legendary individual effort, this time from Leonard, is our latest reminder of what they’ve become over the last five years. It’s not anything new, but it’s the kind of thing that can be taken for granted, as their penchant for doing the unbelievable in the biggest moments has become the team’s default setting.
“We made a lot of different statements over the course of these five years,” Curry said after Game 5. “I don’t feel like we need to prove anything anymore. It’s just about can we get the job done or not.”
Curry and the Warriors certainly can get it done, and they showed they can even overcome a counterpunch that might take down any other team in the NBA. Surviving two more games of that without Durant seems steep right now, but until the shots stop falling for Curry and Thompson, it’s still hard to be skeptical about a three-peat. They’ll host a Game 6 in their building on Thursday, and if all goes right, the two-time defending champions will get one last stand in Toronto on Sunday.
Predicting what will happen is a fool’s errand with how this series has gone. What we do know, though, was that Golden State just mercilessly ripped a championship away from the Raptors on their home floor. And there wasn’t much in the way of answers for how it all fell apart in Game 5. Most of the concern in postgame was about Durant, after all, and rightly so.
Still, Green just got a few fingers on Lowry’s final shot because, according to him, “that’s what great defenders do.” The Warriors hit 20 threes, which is “too many,” with three of them in the final 2:32 that erased what was going to be the party to end all parties in downtown Toronto.
The important thing is what happens next, with the Warriors reeling from Durant’s injury and the Raptors reeling from coming so close to winning it all. It was right there, the party plans were unfolding and then Klay and Steph and Draymond made it their latest NBA Finals masterpiece. Coming back from that will be no easy task for Toronto, and as the Warriors keep forcing Toronto into the end game mistakes that have doomed many pre-Kawhi teams in the past, the feeling of getting close and letting it slip from the grasp of the entire nation of Canada only grows. A Warriors team fighting for survival is a relatively new angle to the NBA Finals, but they passed the first test on Monday night.
“We’re going to have to will ourselves for another 48 minutes to stay alive,” Curry said. “And whatever it’s going to take from every single guy in our jersey.”
Bill DiFilippo contributed to this report.