Game 5 was thrilling, shocking, gut-wrenching, and, arguably, one of the best games of the 2019 playoffs. It also should have been the game that sealed the Raptors’ first championship in their 24-year existence. But it wasn’t; that’s because, starting from the top, they blew it. Yes, the Raptors blew it more than the Warriors won it.
Let’s start with their abysmal three-point shooting that set them back from the tipoff. In 48 minutes of basketball, Toronto shot an astoundingly-low 8-32 from beyond the arc. Yes, they generated just 24 points from three while shooting enough bricks to build a mansion for Kevin Durant to rehab in. The shots weren’t falling and they kept shooting. Fadeaways, contested threes, and threes from Steph Curry land. You name it, they shot it — mostly to no avail. For the playoffs, Toronto has shot 34.4 percent, but last night, when it mattered most, they shot just 25 percent from three.
Meanwhile, Golden State, who clung on to win by one point, shot 20-42 (48 percent) from deep, good for 60 points, all of which they desperately needed in order to force a must-win Game 6. Unlike Toronto, Golden State’s most lethal weapon, their three-point shot, was falling from the outset. Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson were lights out. There wasn’t a spot on the court that they couldn’t hit from, and it proved to be deadly for Toronto.
Calling timeout to cool Kawhi
Toronto’s next fatal flaw was inexplicably calling a timeout late in the game. Kawhi Leonard was red-hot, scoring 10-straight points for his team and giving them their first lead in what felt like forever. Overall, the Raptors were on a 12-2 run and had possession after a Steph Curry miss with 3:12 left. They led 103-97, and everyone watching felt like they had finally broken through. They would finally win the championship. Kawhi Leonard was unstoppable and looked like a robot as he drilled shot after shot with mechanical precision.
Then first-year coach Nick Nurse did the unthinkable. He called a timeout, icing his team and it’s dialed-in star. Nurse claimed the move was to allow his team to get some energy for a final push. Plus if he didn’t use the timeout, he would have wasted it. But why mess with momentum? Why take the ball out of Kawhi’s hands and give the Warriors, a team on the ropes, a chance to collect themselves?
Sure enough, Golden State regrouped during the timeout, showing the resolve we’ve come to expect from the defending champions on the verge of losing. Once play resumed, they rattled off nine unanswered points to put them up three, a lead they would not slip away. Nick Nurse received plenty of criticism for his timeout, which is being dubbed the worst timeout since Chris Webber cost Michigan a championship. And that brings us to our next point, how did Toronto allow Golden State to shoot and convert on three consecutive three-pointers?
Not defending the three late in the game
When Nick Nurse called timeout, his team was up six facing a desperate team that was shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc. It is no secret what Golden State specializes in: the three-point shot. They have three of the league’s best shooters on the team in Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry. After Durant’s injury, Klay and Steph picked up the slack and continued to shoot the lights out. Plus Golden State has capable shooters in Quinn Cook, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. So what message should Nurse have imparted to his team?
Do not let Golden State shoot threes! Force them inside the arc! Make them hit twos! Literally, anything but threes, let alone three of them in a row. The team was not prepared for the situation or they were completely unaware of just how lethal Golden State can be from three.
Waiting too long on the last play
After Toronto shockingly blew their late-game lead, they still had a chance. A strange series of events unfolded that can best be described as ugly basketball. There was a Draymond Green backcourt violation that gave the ball back to Toronto. Then there was a DeMarcus Cousins goaltend on a Kyle Lowry shot that brought Toronto’s deficit to one. And then the worst Golden State mistake of the final few minutes: a moving screen brought to you by DeMarcus Cousins. That bonehead play gave the Raptors the ball with 15.7 seconds left. It was like Golden State was trying to give away the title. Thee possessions, three egregious mistakes.
Was it the Raptors time to regain the lead they just lost and win the title? No. Of course the ball was in Kawhi’s hands, and, of course, Golden State was going to do whatever it took to make his potential shot as difficult as possible. Naturally, the Warriors brought the double team, forcing Kawhi to give up the ball. However, time was ticking off the clock, and those 15.7 seconds quickly faded into the three. Kawhi ditched the ball to Fred VanVleet, who was too deep and contested to jack up a three. So he, realizing Golden State was out of position because of the Kawhi double, passed to Lowry who was spotted up in the corner. Lowry rises, shoots, for the championship, and…CLANK. Off the side of the backboard. Draymond Green came out of nowhere and tipped Lowry’s shot off course. Game over.
Can anyone explain why the Raptors took so long to develop a play? Can anyone explain why the Raptors didn’t look to Gasol who had a height mismatch?
Not taking advantage of Gasol’s height
On that last play, Toronto had a distinct height advantage. Their biggest man on the court was Marc Gasol, a 7-foot-1-inch center. What do 7-footers do well? Shoot the basketball from close range. Those shots are high percentage. And Toronto was down only one, meaning a three was unnecessary. In addition, Golden State’s tallest man on the floor was Draymond Green, standing at 6-foot-7. That’s a 6-inch height advantage for Toronto. Neither Andrew Bogut or Kevon Looney were on the floor for the Warriors. With 15.7 seconds left, Toronto should have and could have given the ball to their sure-handed center with the half-foot size advantage. Had Gasol gotten the ball, he could have attempted a high-percentage shot or, should he get doubled, kicked it out to an open Raptor. Instead, Toronto did neither of those things, wasted a height advantage, and jacked up a tough shot as time expired.
Toronto had a flair for the dramatic and it almost came down to one of the greatest finishes in Finals history. Instead, Toronto is headed to Oakland for a crucial Game 6, wondering what could have been. Maybe next time their coach won’t cool off their hottest star, maybe they’ll defend the three, and maybe they will use a glaring mismatch in size to their advantage. Or maybe they will shoot a bit better from three.
We will see come Thursday.