Article by: Harrison Weaver
Let us look at this article as a bit of a “Special Edition”. So much happened Monday night during the span of the game, that I feel like it is my duty to give you guys not just one scoop, but the whole gallon of action that took place. Where do we even begin basketball fans? I am writing this on Tuesday morning, the morning after the Raptors Game 5 loss to Golden State. To be honest, with 3:28 remaining in the 4th quarter, I was fully expecting to write a celebratory article about how the Raptors finally won an NBA championship for Canada, how Kawhi Leonard played like a machine, whether or not the Warriors dynasty is over, and unfortunately some stuff about Kevin Durant’s injury. However, the Raptors were unable to close out the game. Instead, I will now be writing about the critical flaws behind the Raptors late-game blunder, a Warriors team that now has a mixture of hope and momentum, and still, unfortunately, Kevin Durant’s right leg. A lot happened on Monday night, but at the very least, we get one more game of basketball for this season. We get at least two more days of being able to debate strategies and possible outcomes. I have so many mixed emotions following Game 5, but knowing that there is more basketball to discuss gets me excited. So without further ado, let us get into it.
Step by Step: How the Raptors Lost Game 5
1. The Nick Nurse Time-Out with 3:05 remaining:
Anybody who watches basketball was left scratching their head after this one. This is a situation where you would have seen Steve Kerr call a timeout to try to kill the Raptors momentum and give the Splash Brothers a breather. Instead, Nick Nurse did that to his own team. The Raptors were in the midst of a 12-2 run, 10 of those points scored by Kawhi. Golden State was reeling and Toronto had one hand on the trophy. All they had to do was protect the lead and hold on to the momentum. That is when Nick Nurse did Golden State a favor and hit the reset button and effectively ended the run his team was on. After that timeout, the Raptors would only score 2 more points in the entire game. When you have a superstar like Kawhi Leonard taking over down the stretch of a game, you absolutely do not take a timeout in the midst of his scoring streak. You keep it rolling, you keep your foot on the gas, and you finish the game out. Nurse held the door open for Golden State, and they gratefully accepted it. It did not make any sense as I was watching this game, and it certainly does not make sense now. Nick Nurse’s response was that he was trying to give the Raptors a quick rest. Although in a close-out game, at home, with your foot on the throat of the back to back defending champions, you have to finish them without giving them any gasp of momentum. The Warriors are too dangerous tone given that opportunity, and they proved it.
2. Kyle Lowry Missed Opportunities:
Kyle Lowry had not one, not two, but three offensive opportunities to make plays to close out Golden State. How many did he cash in on? None of them. On the Raptors next possession following Klay Thompson’s ice cold three to make the score 103-100, Kyle Lowry got a wide open three pointer from the wing, and could not sink it. This, as a result, would have neutralized the Thompson three, and put the pressure back on Golden State being back down by 6. Then, on their next possession after getting a stop on defense, Kyle Lowry got the ball in the waning seconds of the shot clock as he attempted to drive and create a look for himself or for a kick-out beyond the arc. Instead, he threw it away into the backcourt resulting in a turnover. Very next Golden State possession, Steph Curry hits the game-tying three. Scotiabank Arena is now very tense. Klay Thompson went on to hit another three to put Golden State up 3, and Kyle Lowry then did come through on a driving layup (called goaltending) to cut the lead to one.
After a DeMarcus Cousins illegal screen, the Raptors got the ball back with 15.7 seconds remaining to either tie or win the game. Kawhi Leonard had the ball at the top of the arc and start driving, immediately drawing a double team. He flipped it over to Fred VanVleet, who then found Kyle Lowry in the corner with a little over a second remaining. With Draymond Green closing in quickly, Lowry fired up the game-winning three. Time in the game then stopped. Every basketball fan in the world held their breath, either ready to explode or slump in their chair. It was a tough shot with Draymond closing in hot, but it is the kind of shot that the special players make. The kind of shot that exempts players from mistakes they made earlier in their careers. The result left me confused for a split second. As it did for everyone else in the world watching. Everyone was expecting the shot to either splash through the net, or to bounce of the rim. This shot did neither, as it actually hit off the side of the backboard and never had a chance. It was later confirmed that Draymond Green slightly tipped Lowry’s shot, which is why it was so off-target. Either way, with these three opportunities, Kyle Lowry had a chance to leave his poor playoff past behind him and bring the Larry O’Brien trophy to Toronto in Game 5, but failed to do his part.
3. Kawhi Leonard Trying to Do Too Much:
Kawhi Leonard had scored 10 straight points for Toronto so I can see why he’d pull a heat-check shot or be a little more confident on a contested shot. That’s a big part of what superstars get paid to do, is to hit those big, gutsy shots that other players can’t make. But I didn’t like the situational shot decisions that Kawhi made. Right out of the timeout with 3:05 remaining, Kawhi had the ball trying to create a play in the paint. Instead, he got stuck and the edge of the key and heaved up a heavily contested fade-away shot that caught nothing but air. The Warriors would then tie the game a few possessions later. Then, with 1:10 remaining, tie game, Kawhi pulled up for a contested three pointer over Klay Thompson and missed. Once again, I like the guts he displays to pull up for a dagger like that. Although with 14 seconds left on the shot clock, I would have liked to have seen Leonard try to make a play or run an offensive set versus settling for that shot which he could have easily gotten at the end of the shot clock instead. It is very tough to argue because if he makes that shot, he is hailed as a hero. Now with the miss, you have to point and say that he could have created a better shot, and it was a bad time for Toronto to not get a bucket.
The Final Play
Okay, so for anybody who is going to attack Kawhi Leonard for not taking the final shot, I would like to hear you tell me he was going to get even a decent shot on that possession. Let us break that final sequence down. Kawhi received the ball on the logo from Fred VanVleet with about 9 seconds left on the game clock. With 6 seconds left, Kawhi starts to drive to the right on Klay Thompson. Andre Iguodala immediately rotated off of Kyle Lowry who was tied up in the paint with Boogie Cousins, to come double-team Kawhi and seal off his driving lane. So immediately, Kawhi was double-teamed by the Warriors two best perimeter defenders. He had nowhere to go except backwards, which you cannot do with 4.5 seconds on the clock, so the next option is to find the open man.
Danny Green was guarded in the right corner, so Fred VanVleet swept up from the left wing to give Leonard a place to go with the ball. Upon receiving the pass, VanVleet had 3.5 seconds left. That means he has 2 options. Either look to score or pass, and that decision has to be made immediately. Given he caught the ball near the logo with Shaun Livingston defending him, he could not shoot. Instead, he found Kyle Lowry open in the left corner while the nearest defender, Draymond Green, was fronting Marc Gasol on the left side of the post, a few feet away from Lowry. Kyle Lowry caught the ball with about 1.7 seconds left and tried to get a clean shot off before Draymond Green could close out. That did not pan out. However, let us look at the other four options.
Kevin Durant’s Injury
This was really sad to see. Any true fan of the game knows how much of a competitor Kevin Durant is and how much he contributes to team success. After suffering a calf injury against the Rockets, Kevin Durant had been sidelined since Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Many were debating whether he would even play in the NBA Finals at all. As the pressure mounted for KD to return to bail the Warriors out from the 3-1 hole, he was finally cleared to play in Game 5. In his 12 minutes of playing time, Kevin Durant contributed 11 points on 3-3 shooting from three point range, giving the Warriors a major boost to start the game. With the Warriors up 39-34 with 9:52 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Kevin Durant had the ball on the wing, trying to make a move on Serge Ibaka. He immediately dropped the ball and turned it over, and came out hopping on his left foot and dropped to the ground. He had to be helped back to the locker room due to not being able to put any weight on his right foot.
Players on both sides, fans, and even Drake shared a few supportive words with Durant as he was being helped back to the locker room. After the game, Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers revealed to the media that the Warriors have a deep belief that Kevin Durant has suffered a torn Achilles, and that it will be confirmed by his MRI later. For those of you who may be concerned about Kevin Durant’s future, rest assured, he will still get a max contract this offseason, whether it is with the Nets, Knicks, Warriors, or somebody else. Will he ever return to his form he was in prior to his injury? We unfortunately won't know for a while. Achilles injuries are known for having a permanent impact on athletes, as we see with KD’s teammate DeMarcus Cousins who suffered the same injury last season. Time will tell how KD is doing with rehab, and we will see what kind of basketball form he is in next season whenever he suits up for his future team. All of the thoughts and wishes of the NBA community are with Kevin Durant and hopefully we get to watch him back in MVP form next year.
To The Fans Who Cheered after KD’s Injury
I am going to keep this section short and sweet because this kind of behavior is unacceptable in any sport. We all love the teams that we support. The fans get passionate, and any kind of edge a team can get to secure a victory is very exciting, EXCEPT for an opponent’s injury. As much as we love to see athletes make superhuman plays, as much as we engage in fantasy sports and add them to our teams to help us win. All of that fun stuff; they are human beings, who do indeed, have lives outside of the sports that they play. They are not just lifeless pieces of entertainment we watch in stadiums and on television. So cheering for a player's injury does not have a place in sports, and the Warriors players who angrily spoke up about some Toronto fans cheering after Kevin Durant’s injury are exactly right. Many of these athletes are incredible people who give so much back to the community; they provide us with so many great memories and so much entertainment. As sports fans, it is so important to respect these people, because they give so much to us as well. Let us keep the world of sports clean, respectful, safe, and welcoming for everyone, including the fans, the athletes, the staff, ownership, everyone.
Alright, so with everything that just happened, it is easy to forget that there is still more basketball to be played. Game 6 will be at Oracle on Thursday at 9PM EST. The Raptors lead 3-2, and the Warriors will be protecting their three-peat hopes in Oakland, minus Kevin Durant. Toronto will be trying to bounce back and avoid a Game 7. All they need to do is win one of the next two games, and they will be world champions for the first time in franchise history. With the combination of having to play a game in Oracle, which is known for being incredibly hard to win at, and the Warriors carrying some confidence and momentum from Game 5, the Raptors will have their hands full. However, winning in Golden State has not been an issue for the Raptors. Following the Game 2 loss at home, Coach Nick Nurse said, “All we got to do is go get one…go out there and get one.” What was his star player Kawhi Leonard’s response? “F—k that. Let’s go get them both.” What did the Raptors do? They went to Oracle and won both. The Raptors have not backed down to the legend of the Splash Brothers; in fact, they have been in their grill the whole series.
With Kevin Durant back for a short time in Game 5, Steph and Klay had a lot more room to move freely, get open, and get in rhythm. That was demonstrated in their first half three point shooting percentage, as the Warriors got off to an 11-21 (52%) start thanks to KD, Steph, and Klay. I do not expect to see that in Game 6, and here's the reason why. The Raptors are now fully preparing for a Kevin Durant-less Warriors team knowing that he will not be back. That means the Raptors will be able to concentrate all of their efforts on making life hard on Steph and Klay, meaning they will be able to throw bodies at them on the perimeter without concern of having a third lethal shooter to worry about. We saw it in Games 1-5, without Durant, the Warriors have been inefficient on offense. Give the credit to Toronto’s defense for that. The length of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Pascal Siakam has made closing the gap on shooters a lot easier. Fred VanVleet has been superb when guarding Steph. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka have been tremendous at holding down the fort inside and protecting the paint. It has led to the Warriors posting very low numbers for their standards. Allow me to break it down for you.
A new favorite advanced statistic of NBA analysts, players, and coaches is something called ‘Effective Field Goal Percentage’ (eFG). To explain it simply, it is a measure of how many points you make per shot, versus normal field goal percentage, which is just a measure of how many shots you make. In case you are curious, the formula for eFG is
(Field Goals Made + (0.5 * 3 Pointers Made)) / (Field Goals Attempted).
It is a more accurate measure of how an offense is flowing, and I am going to use it to demonstrate why Golden State is in trouble. During the 2018 NBA Finals against the Cavaliers, the Warriors were scoring an average of 116 PPG with an average eFG of 58.8%. With Kevin Durant and the Dubs fully healthy, they were completely unstoppable on their way to another NBA title. In this year’s finals, in Game 5 with Kevin Durant back, the Warriors posted a 58.5% eFG and stole the win, posting their highest eFG of the 2019 NBA Finals so far. However, in Games 1-4 without Durant, Golden State has been stymied to an average of 50.5% eFG. 8 whole percentage points lower than in 2018 and 2.7% lower than the Raptors 53.2%. On top of that, the Dubs are only averaging 105 points per game, 11 points lower than in 2018 and 6 points less than the Raptors average of 111 PPG. Without Durant in the lineup, the Warriors have been posting the lowest numbers throughout the entire course of their 5 year dynasty run.
For the Warriors to force a Game 7, they will need big performances from two or three of their supporting cast members. That means Quinn Cook, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney, Shaun Livingston, Alfonzo McKinnie, or Andre Iguodala need to contribute a couple of threes of some big minutes. We know Steph and Klay are going to get their 25+ points, but they will need help. Given Draymond Green is not a primary scoring threat, the points and spacing that Kevin Durant provides will need to be replaced by an even bench contribution. This will require a lot of energy from Steph and Klay to run them both around to get open and to be able to create openings for role players. Tired legs mean less lift on jump shots, which leads to more inaccuracy and a lower shooting percentage. That is what I expect to see without Kevin Durant in the lineup. Without him, the Dubs offense becomes human again. Then we arrive at the real issue.
For how much energy the Warriors stars will have to expend on offense trying to free them from the lengthy athletic Raptors defense, they will have to spend just as much trying to stop them on the other end. I have seen the Warriors look completely gassed throughout the course of the past couple of games. Whether it is during timeouts, dead ball situations, walking back to the locker room, they look spent. The Raptors are physical on offense. Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka love to drive and crash on the paint. Each one of them is a perimeter threat as well, which means the Warriors need to take the effort to get out on them, and either D them up in the paint or hustle on their rotations. Tired legs can mean lazy defense on closeouts and getting back on defense, and I think it will open things up for the Raptors in Game 6. Look for Toronto to get some nice looks from the three point line, which I believe could lead to their whole offense getting into rhythm and being difficult for Golden State to keep up with.
My Final Verdict
We have a new NBA Champion as of Thursday night. I think with this golden opportunity to now face Golden State, knowing that Kevin Durant will not be in the lineup, the Raptors will jump on it and get back to playing excellent defense. The Warriors, like I said before, have looked exhausted at different points in this series. The home crowd at Oracle is definitely a huge boost. Especially given that it will be the last Golden State Warriors basketball game ever played there, the atmosphere will be electric. However, I think the cool, calm, and collected leadership of Kawhi Leonard will be exactly what it takes for the Raptors to go in and steal their third game of the Finals at Oracle. The Raptors are so deep, can match up so many different ways, and are playing their best basketball of the season. I like the Raptors to win it in Game 6.
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