TORONTO — When Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse called timeout with 3 minutes, 5 seconds remaining and his team leading 103-97, it felt like the beginning of a championship celebration north of the border.
Toronto had just gotten 10 straight points from Kawhi Leonard to explode into the lead after trailing since the first quarter, and appeared well on its way to winning the first title for the city in more than two decades.
But then, in an instant, it wasn’t.
The Golden State Warriors ripped off three straight 3-pointers — first by Klay Thompson, then Stephen Curry and then Thompson again — to storm back into the lead, and the Raptors missed multiple chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute, falling 106-105 on Monday night in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Golden State now will get a chance to push this series to a seventh game when these teams meet again Thursday night in the last game at Oracle Arena, while Toronto will be hoping to claim that elusive final win to clinch the title.
“We just came across and just decided to give those guys a rest,” Nurse said of the timeout. “[We] just thought we could use the extra energy push.”
In a rule that was instituted last season, teams can have only two timeouts inside of the final three minutes in the fourth quarter. Any extra timeouts are lost, causing many coaches to call one in exactly the same spot Nurse did Monday night.
In this case, the Raptors found themselves with all the momentum and closing in on a championship. After it, things fell apart.
“At that time I felt that he probably wanted to get us some rest,” Leonard said. “You never know. I mean, if we would have won the game, we wouldn’t be talking about it.”
The Raptors did not win the game — and in particularly ugly fashion.
Toronto missed five of its final six shots in the last three minutes — including three 3-pointers — and committed one costly turnover that led to Curry’s game-tying 3 with 1:22 remaining. Golden State, meanwhile, got the shots it needed to take the lead, and then a season-saving block by Draymond Green on Kyle Lowry‘s potential championship-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“It felt great out of my hand,” Lowry said. “He got a piece of it. That’s what great defenders do. He got a piece of it and we’ll continue to look at it and see how we can be better for the next game.”
Leonard, who was double-teamed on the play, explained his decision not to take the final shot.
“Well, I mean two guys came up on me, I don’t know if I could have got a shot off,” he said. “It’s hard. If you got two guys on top of you, you have to try to find the right play. We ended up getting a shot in the corner, but it just didn’t go off quick enough.”
It was a strange end to a strange game, one that saw all the air taken out of the arena early in the second quarter when Kevin Durant planted his right foot and fell in a heap, eventually walking off the court with what was later diagnosed as an Achilles injury.
When it happened, it appeared some fans were cheering Durant going down — something Lowry and other members of the Raptors immediately began telling them not to do. After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr thanked the Raptors for doing that.
“I think that I don’t think the fans knew the significance of the injury,” Lowry said. “They kind of just seen he went down. In this league we’re all brothers. At the end of the day, we’re all brothers and it’s a small brotherhood and you never want to see a competitor like him go down. You don’t know what the circumstances are.
“And for me it was just, listen, we don’t want anything to ever happen like that. We don’t know what’s this or that. So I just kind of — we don’t want that type of stuff. And it didn’t change much emotionally. It was just after he went down he went down, and we got on and finished the game.”
That finish turned out to be nothing like what anyone expected, however, when Leonard ripped off those 10 straight points to power Toronto in front. Scotiabank Arena — not to mention the tens of thousands of fans outside it, and across the country that had congregated at various “Jurassic Parks” to watch it — erupted, and it felt like the Raptors were destined to get over the finish line and win the title.
The Warriors, though, reminded the world why they have won two titles in a row, three of the past four and made it to five straight NBA Finals, by taking Toronto’s best shot and coming right back at the Raptors.
“I think that in this day and age, up six with three minutes to go doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Nurse said.
“You got to keep playing and getting good shots and keep guarding. We have been a really good close-game team this year, both ends of the floor. We really guarded in the second half; we held them to 22 each quarter, and I felt good at that point.
“[We] just needed to make a couple more plays.”