However these NBA Finals end and whatever causes the eventual collapse of the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty, the Dubs’ 106-105 Game 5 win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday assures it won’t be because the Warriors gave in.
On a night when they had every opportunity to collapse, when the physical and emotional blows would have felled any other team, the two-time defending champs somehow emerged still standing. Still alive. Still able to look forward to another elimination game.
Behind 31 points from Stephen Curry, 26 more from Klay Thompson, a valiant effort from Kevin Durant and a series-sustaining 20-of-42 team performance from long range, Golden State prolonged its postseason existence.
Durant’s long-anticipated return made it seem like the series was starting anew. He lit the Raptors up early, hitting three treys and scoring 11 points in the first quarter. The terms of engagement had changed; Golden State had its most dangerous weapon again. Why couldn’t the Warriors blow this game open, return to Oakland and do it again in Game 6?
As Durant buried the shots Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and a revolving cast of suspect shooters wouldn’t even take all series, the path to an improbable Warriors upset materialized.
But then KD went down early in the second quarter after trying to push off on that sore right leg. It looked bad, and close-ups made it look worse. Stephen Curry and Iguodala accompanied Durant to the locker room as play resumed, telegraphing their understanding of just how grave the injury was. They seemed to understand the level of his sacrifice.
After the game, Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers validated everyone’s concerns:
The full repercussions of Durant’s injury are too vast to chronicle here-to say nothing of the fact that full clarity won’t come until an MRI on Tuesday. In the moment, though, Durant’s injury had a bleak, simplifying effect on the game and the series. With him available, there were angles to discuss, strategies to dissect and matchups to ponder. His presence added layers and intrigue to the proceedings. Without him, the Warriors didn’t have a chance. Three losses in their last four games proved that.
Golden State got its difference-maker back for a grand total of 12 minutes and then lost him again, surely for the duration of the series.
Somehow, the Warriors fought on.
They fought on after Kevon Looney, inexplicably playing through a right first costal cartilage fracture, re-aggravated the injury and couldn’t play in the fourth quarter.
They fought on after Kawhi Leonard ran off 10 straight fourth-quarter points, seizing the lead for the Raptors and setting up all the predictable narratives about how the Warriors gave their best but ultimately couldn’t hold on.
They fought on even when Toronto expanded its late lead, closing the curtain on a dynasty with every second that ticked away.
But then it happened.
Down six with three minutes to play, Klay Thompson hit his sixth three of the game. Then Curry hit his fifth. Then Thompson rang up trey No. 7 to put the Warriors back on top. Nearly dead, Golden State lived by the three-appropriate for the team that ushered in the long-range revolution just a few years ago.
Really, it was the only way they generated offensive life all game. Toronto beat Golden State 43-37 on the boards and racked up 13 offensive rebounds. The Raptors also got to the foul line 13 more times than the Warriors and won the points-in-the-paint battle in a rout, 54-32.
Golden State nearly gave the game away anyhow, committing a backcourt violation and turning it over on an illegal DeMarcus Cousins screen on their final two offensive possessions. On brand even in the direst of moments, the Warriors nearly let complacency spoil the whole thing.
But on Toronto’s final play, Iguodala’s timely double-team forced the ball from Leonard’s hands, and Draymond Green refused to be pinned down by a Marc Gasol baseline screen, enabling him to close out aggressively and send Kyle Lowry’s would-be game-winner off target at the buzzer.
In the wake of a breathless, touch-and-go, emotionally exhausting effort like Monday’s, it’s hard to argue the Warriors have momentum in the series. But they have a chance. The door is ajar. They got one miracle, and now they need two more.
And maybe it means something that the task ahead is so stripped of inessential distractions. No reinforcements are coming. The roster is too thin for any late-series tweaks or lineup changes. This deep in a series, everyone’s best ideas are already out in the open. Nobody has anything saved up for an emergency. For a Warriors team beset by noise all year and assailed by outside chatter, that simplicity might even be refreshing.
Survival will be incredibly difficult, as Monday’s win proved. But at least it’s uncomplicated.
Curry yelled out his team’s new mantra as he walked off the floor in Toronto.
For one more night at least, it was mission accomplished.