By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) – The Toronto Raptors had the Golden State Warriors on the ropes late in Game Five on Monday but even with one hand on the Larry O’Brien Trophy it was not enough to wrestle the NBA championship away from the two-time defending champions.
Toronto had mounted a fourth-quarter comeback to take control in front of a rollicking red-shirted crowd eager to celebrate the first NBA championship in the team’s 24-year history, but then their shooters suddenly went cold.
Even after squandering a six-point lead with three minutes left the Raptors still had a chance to win the game but Kyle Lowry’s last-second shot from the corner was not even close.
The Raptors guard dismissed suggestions they let thoughts of celebrating a title on their home floor creep into their minds.
“No, we stayed in the moment. They came back and made three straight threes. Played some good defence down the stretch,” Lowry said after the 106-105 loss.
“We just missed some shots and they did what they were supposed to do.”
The Raptors trailed by as many as 14 in the second half before a torrid run saw them grab a 103-97 lead with two-and-a-half minutes to play. However, they were then outscored 9-2 the rest of the way, shooting 1-for-6 in the closing minutes.
Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard had been contained for much of the night when he broke loose to get the comeback started, a three-point dagger putting Toronto ahead by one with five minutes to play.
That marked that start of a red-hot stretch for Leonard, his 10 consecutive Toronto points giving them the late six-point lead before head coach Nick Nurse called a timeout, which seemed to stall their momentum.
“At that time I felt that he probably wanted to get us some rest at that moment,” said Leonard, who had a team-high 26 points. “You never know, I mean, if we would have won the game, we wouldn’t be talking about it.”
But the Warriors, who lost Kevin Durant to an Achilles injury in the second quarter, came out firing and used some quick passing to set up a number of easy looks while taking advantage of some Toronto turnovers.
Thankfully for the Raptors, they have two more chances to close out the best-of-seven series, which resumes in Oakland tomorrow. A Warriors win there would set up a winner-take-all clash in Toronto on Sunday.
“Our team has reacted all year long great to bad losses, and I would say it takes a lot to beat this team, and that took a hell of a lot of blows and a heck of a lot of balls bouncing the wrong way in the last couple minutes for us to come out on the wrong side of it tonight,” said Nurse.
“But I’m super proud of the guys. Man, they played their guts out, kept on fighting, and put themselves in position to win it.”