Minutes away from clinching the first title in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors were so close they could practically taste it.
Kawhi Leonard was in the zone, Scotiabank Arena was rocking and fans from B.C. to Nova Scotia were ready to party in celebration of a true Canadian champion.
The Golden State Warriors responded with inspired play and somehow found a way to pull it out, leaving the Raptors and their fans stunned. Suddenly it's tight with the series heading back to Oracle Arena for what's sure to be a frenzied Game 6 atmosphere.
MORE: Odds, predictions for Game 6
And yet, despite the mounting pressure, here are five reasons the Raptors should still be feeling good about their championship dreams.
Dominance at Oracle
Conventional wisdom says the Raptors face a Herculean task in trying to finish the job on the road in the final game ever at Oracle Arena, the same place the Warriors have built up a reputation for soul-crushing wins over the past five seasons.
Except that there's nothing conventional about this Toronto team and its ability to thrive away from home.
No teams over the last five years has been able to win three times in one year at Oracle Arena. Several teams have been able to snag two wins but none have won three times...
... except for the Raptors.
MORE: How the Warriors sent the series back to Oracle
They really haven't been close either, as Toronto has won those three meetings at Oracle this season by an average of 15.7 points per game.
The Raptors have consistently been the better team, winning 10 of the 12 quarters, including all three of the fourth quarters.
History is on Toronto's side
The Raptors are the 35th team in NBA Finals history to take a 3-1 lead. Sure, the Warriors won Game 5, but they still have to do it two more times.
There's a reason that only one team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-1 lead in the Finals and it's because it's really, really, REALLY hard.
Prior to the Cavaliers stunning the Warriors in 2016, it had been 50 years since another team down 3-1 even managed to force a Game 7. The Lakers in 1966 and the Knicks in 1951 are the only other teams to push it to the limit after falling down 3-1.
Everyone else either bowed out in five or six games.
|Won in 5||18|
|Won in 6||13|
|Won in 7||2|
|Lost in 7||1|
Here's where you say: "Yeah, but the Warriors aren't your typical team down 3-1." While it's true that this Warriors team certainly has a different kind of battle-tested championship DNA that sets them apart, they aren't exactly humming on all cylinders either. Let's also not pretend that every other team to trail 3-1 is some sort of paper tiger.
- The 2013-14 Heat were a two-time defending champion with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They lost in 5.
- The 2003-04 Lakers had Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. They lost in 5.
- The 1972-73 Lakers were a 60-win defending champ with Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich. They lost in 5.
- The 1997-98 Jazz were a 62-win team making its second straight Finals appearance that gutted out Game 5 on the road. They lost at home in 6.
- The 1986-87 Celtics were making their fourth straight Finals and had a 3-time MVP still in his prime. They lost in 6.
Anybody could make excuses for all of those teams which had extenuating circumstances, just as this Warriors teams does. That none were able to come back, let alone force a Game 7, shows just how hard it is to dig out of a 3-1 hole at this stage in the game.
They still have Kawhi
When Kawhi Leonard uncorked 10 straight points to take the lead towards the end of Game 5, it looked like a certiable GOAT moment that would forever be etched into the annals of Finals lore. It was on par with the greatest moments from Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson.
It's not hyperbole to say that stretch would have been one of the most dominant punctuation marks in NBA Finals history.
Even though the Raptors lost that game, guess what?
They still have Kawhi Leonard.
With apologies to Stephen Curry or even at times Klay Thompson, it's Leonard that is the player in this series most capable of completely taking over a game for an extended stretch.
MORE: Grading every key player's performance in Game 5
The somewhat scary part for Golden State? He didn't even play that well in Game 5.
If you take out that two-minute stretch in which he buried all four of his shots, Leonard had 16 points on 5-20 shooting, including 0-5 from beyond the arc. The bet here is that Leonard shows up with a far more complete effort in Game 6, which is more than enough to get the job done in the Lion's den.
How does Golden State move on with no KD?
What makes this different now is that there's no more doubt about whether or not Kevin Durant will eventually return. This is no longer a matter of treading water until he returns. The Warriors now have to pick up the pieces and win two straight with no hope of a Durant reinforcement.
How they do it looms large.
MORE: Warriors team president delivers emotional update on Durant
As they did in Game 2, the Warriors received an unexpectedly huge lift from DeMarcus Cousins, who was so ineffective in Games 3 and 4 that it looked like he might not play at all in Game 5 until the ill-fated injury to Durant. When Durant went down, Cousins subbed in for the first time and immediately ripped off seven straight points. He finished with 14 points on 6-8 shooting in just under 20 minutes and also had a big-time defensive play in the final two minutes to alter a shot by Kyle Lowry.
Can the Warriors bank on that version of Boogie? Or the one that picked up an offensive foul with 15 seconds left, a play that had the Raptors won would have gone down as one of the worst fouls in Finals history?
MORE: NBA players react to KD's injury
They also got timely contributions from Quinn Cook, who had largely disappeared over the last several games. He made a huge 3-pointer right in front of Drake and then picked up an assist on a crafty baseline drive. Can the Warriors bank on that version of Cook in Game 6? Or will the version that went 0-5 in Game 4 show up?
The biggest reason, of course, for winning sans KD was the timely shot making of the Splash Brothers. Yes, they are arguably the two best shooters in NBA history. They also combined to shoot 12-27 from downtown with the majority of them tough shots on the move with at least one defender nearby. Can the Warriors bank on the Splash Brothers going off yet again with the added defensive attention?
Lots of things went right for the Warriors to steal Game 5 after Durant went down. Whether those are replicable moving forward as a reliable recipe for winning without Durant remains to be seen.
Wild card: Pascal Siakam
With 9:02 left in the fourth quarter, Kawhi Leonard subbed in for Pascal Siakam.
That marked the end of Siakam's night, who did not return to the game.
Game 5 surely won't on Siakam's career highlight reel as he mostly struggled, finishing 6-15 from the floor and missing all four of his 3-point attempts, all of which were wide open shots from the corner.
At his best cooking in transition, Spicy P was decisively mild in Game 5 as he scored just two fastbreak points, failing to put pressure on a thin Golden State team to get back on D.
It's reasonable to expect a better performance from Siakam in Game 6 after he scored 18 and 19 points, respectively, in the last two games at Oracle. If that version of Siakam shows up on Friday, there's a good chance the Raptors walk out of Oracle Arena with the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
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