9:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Raptors -3, Over/Under: 212
The end of a dynasty is nigh, as the Golden State Warriors look to stave off elimination north of the border, as they face off against the Toronto Raptors in this decisive Game Five of the NBA Finals from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario. All things come to an end. Kingdoms crumble, dynasties fall, and heroes become villains. Whichever clever quip you choose to describe what is happening to the Warriors (57-25, 1st in Western Conference) in this NBA Final, one can’t help but feel it’s appropriateness. This remarkable run of five consecutive NBA Finals appearances, including three NBA Championships over the past four years, appears to be at it’s conclusion as Golden State is staring at elimination via 1-3 hole, which has only ever been overcome at this stage of the Playoffs once, which coincidentally happened back in 2016, when the Dubs relinquished a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in one of the most dramatic comebacks in the postseason history. In this column, we’ve said over and over that the only thing that can apparently stop this team is themselves, and with absolutely no disrespect to the Raptors, that is precisely what is happening in this Series. Former MVP, Kevin Durant (26.0 PTS, 52.1% FG, 35.3% 3FG, 6.4 REB, 5.9 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.1 BLK, 24.2 PER) continues to rehab from a strained Calf Muscle, and has yet to suit up for action at any point in this Final, while sharpshooter, Klay Thompson (21.5 PTS, 46.7% FG, 40.2% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 2.4 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.6 BLK, 16.6 PER) missed Game Three (a 109-123 loss) with a strained Hamstring. DeMarcus Cousins (16.3 PTS, 48.0% FG, 27.4% 3FG, 8.2 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.3 STL, 1.5 BLK, 21.4 PER) returned for Game One after missing virtually the entire buildup to the Finals with a strained Quadriceps, while fellow Center Kevon Looney (6.3 PTS, 62.5% FG, 5.2 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.7 BLK, 17.3 PER) made his return during Game Four from cracked ribs suffered in Game Two. Andre Iguodala (5.7 PTS, 50.0% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 3.2 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.8 BLK, 13.1 PER) and Shaun Livingston (4.0 PTS, 51.9% FG, 1.8 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.4 BLK, 11.7 PER), key members of the Supporting Cast throughout this remarkable run, are aging and nearing the end of their respective careers, while the once formidable Bench has been taxed due to all the injuries. And then there is the impending Free Agency of both Durant and Thompson leaving the future very much uncertain. Needless to say, there is a lot going on for Steve Kerr and his charges, who have been outplayed at virtually every turn by a younger, hungrier team, particularly over the past two games. One would think that the Warriors would have enjoyed quite the boost in front of their home crowd at ORACLE Arena, particularly given that the team will be moving into a new building next season, leaving the fact that Friday’s defeat in Game Four could have been the final contest ever played at that venue all the more nauseating for their fanbase. Despite jumping out to an early lead, the affair slowly slipped out of their control, until they were altogether overwhelmed in the Third Quarter in which the visitors outscored them 37-21. In the end, the home side shot just 44.9% from the field, including a disappointing 8-of-27 from beyond the arc (29.6%), while knocking down just 14-of-21 Free-Throws (66.7%) and committing Nineteen Turnovers. Steph Curry (27.3 PTS, 47.2% FG, 43.7% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 5.2 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.4 BLK, 24.4 PER), two nights after dropping an insane Forty-Seven Points in Game Three, looked fatigued, scoring Twenty-Seven Points, but did so on 9-of-22 shooting (40.9%), including 2-of-9 from downtown (22.2%). Thompson added a team-high Twenty-Eight Points despite being compromised to a degree by that tender hamstring, while Draymond Green (7.4 PTS, 44.5% FG, 28.5% 3FG, 7.3 REB, 6.9 AST, 1.4 STL, 1.1 BLK, 12.9 PER) nearly registered another Triple-Double with Ten Points, Nine Rebounds, and Twelve Assists. However, as we stated earlier, the Supporting Cast was missing in action throughout the contest; Iguodala and Cousins managed just Three and Six Points respectively, committing Six Turnovers between them, while the Bench as a whole could muster only Eighteen Points. At this point, one is left to wonder if Golden State will ever return to full health before it’s too late, with Durant, as of the time of this publication, finally returning to a full practice regimen. These guys have been on the wrong side of history before, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they could manufacture a comeback if the four-time NBA Scoring Champion gets back on the hardwood.
Meanwhile, the Raptors (58-24, 2nd in Eastern Conference) are indeed making the most of their first trip to the NBA Finals, and as a result find themselves just one game away from hoisting their first Larry O’Brien Trophy in Franchise History. All the gambles made by General Manager, Masai Ujiri, seem to have paid off, whether it was acquiring former NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard (26.6 PTS, 49.6% FG, 37.1% 3FG, 7.3 REB, 3.3 AST, 1.8 STL, 0.4 BLK, 25.8 PER), via trade with the San Antonio Spurs in the Offseason, firing newly-minted Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey in favor of his top Assistant Coach, Nick Nurse, or adding veteran Center, Marc Gasol (9.1 PTS, 46.5% FG, 44.2% 3FG, 6.6 REB, 3.9 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.9 BLK, 16.0 PER) for the Playoff Run. Each move has been a rousing success for a young franchise that has been by and large a punchline in the Postseason, but that is no longer the case. We’re not going to talk dynasties here, because their Offseason figures to be just as eventful as their counterpart’s for a variety of reasons, but instead we’re going to appreciate what they’re doing to a team that has more or less dominated the league for half of a decade. Granted, Toronto have certainly played the role of opportunists, pouncing on the shorthanded Warriors’ injury-riddled Rotation, and relentlessly exposing their weaknesses throughout the first four games of this Series, particularly the past two in Oakland. Heading to ORACLE Arena in it’s last days as the official home of the reigning champs with the Series tied at 1-1, most people figured the hosts to feed off their home crowd and gain the advantage, but Nurse’s charges were undaunted, humbling the Dubs and quieting their raucous crowd in the process. In Game Three (123-109), the visitors decided to let the aforementioned Curry do his thing, while clamping down on the Supporting Cast, which was made possible by the absences of both Durant and Thompson. Sure, Curry poured in a Playoff Career-High (47 Points), but the hosts as a whole shot just 39.6% from the field, including 12-of-36 from beyond the arc (33.3%), with everyone in a Warriors’ jersey not named Curry, shooting a miserable 36.7% overall. The visiting side had no such problems putting the ball in the basket, shooting a blistering 52.4% from the field, including a staggering 17-of-38 from downtown (44.7%), while also knocking down 20-of-21 Free-Throws (95.2%). Furthermore, they dished out a playoff-high Thirty Assists, which led to six different players scoring in double-figures, including all of the Starters. Leonard had Thirty Points, while Kyle Lowry (14.2 PTS, 41.1% FG, 34.7% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 8.7 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.5 BLK, 16.5 PER) added Twenty-Three, with Pascal Siakam (16.9 PTS, 54.9% FG, 36.9% 3FG, 6.9 REB, 3.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.7 BLK, 18.7 PER) and Danny Green (10.3 PTS, 46.5% FG, 45.5% 3FG, 4.0 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.7 BLK, 13.0 PER) chipping in with Eighteen apiece. Game Four (105-92) was much tighter, but the outcome remained the same, even though Toronto was nearly as effective shooting the basketball. Despite mustering just 41.9% shooting from the field, they still maintained advantages in a number of key areas, including Three-Point Shooting (10-of-32), where they outscored the hosts 30-24, Free-Throw Shooting (23-of-24), where they bested the Warriors by Nine Points, and in Turnover Differential, committing just Eleven, while forcing their opponent into Nineteen. Again, Leonard was fantastic, totaling Thirty-Six Points on 11-of-22 shooting (50.0%), with Twelve Rebounds, Two Assists, and Four Steals, while Siakam finished with Nineteen Points. Lastly, a pair of unsung heroes off the Bench continued to play a huge role in this Series, with Fred VanVleet (11.0 PTS, 41.0% FG, 37.8% 3FG, 2.6 REB, 4.8 AST, 0.9 STL, 13.7 PER), who was bloodied early in the affair, logging Eight Points, Four rebounds, and Six Assists, and more importantly pestering Curry at every end, while veteran Forward, Serge Ibaka (15.0 PTS, 52.9% FG, 29.0% 3FG, 8.1 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.4 STL, 1.4 BLK, 18.7 PER) posting Twenty Points on 9-of-12 shooting off the Bench (75.0%). But let’s get back to the story that has been Leonard, who has been nothing short of amazing throughout this Playoff Run for the Raptors. Three years ago, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year saw his trek through the Postseason (and eventually his tenure as a Spur) end against these same Warriors, with his troublesome ankle landing on the ill-placed foot of a defender. After a season lost to injuries, he has returned with a vengeance, averaging 31.1 Points on 49.8% shooting from the field, including 39.1% from beyond the arc, along with 9.1 Rebounds, 3.9 Assists, 1.6 Steals and 0.6 Blocks in these Playoffs, with those figures further impressing in the Finals, putting forth averages of 30.8 Points, 10.3 Rebounds, 4.0 Assists, 2.0 Steals, and 1.0 Block thus far. Who cares if he stays in Toronto or decides to leave in Free Agency, let’s all just appreciate him while he’s there.