Coming close hurts all the more when you can quantify just how close you came. One shot, or one missed shot, or one call the other way, or … one timeout? The Raptors came oh so close to winning a championship Monday night, and it’s not the one-point final margin that’ll stick in craws and steal sleep if this series goes sour for them. It’s 3:05.
Kawhi Leonard had come alive in the fourth quarter of a Game 5 so weird that the first half felt like it had happened a week ago, in a different series. He had scored 10 straight Toronto points to cap off a 12-2 run that put the Raptors up six, and the crowd was apoplectic, and the Warriors were out of sorts and running disjointed plays and missing everything, and the champagne was on ice and the locker room was covered in plastic sheeting and Bill Russell was in the tunnel ready to come out and present the championship trophy, and then there were 3:05 remaining and the Raptors called timeout.
Or, to be more specific, head coach Nick Nurse called timeout.
(There was confusion here, with viewers at the time speculating that Leonard had asked for the timeout, or maybe Kyle Lowry, but no, everyone confirmed after the game that Leonard had been pointing out assignments to Lowry and the timeout came from the bench.)
Relatively new NBA rules don’t let teams carry extra timeouts under three minutes. It’s meant to speed up the endgame, but it often doesn’t because coaches use it rather than lose it. That’s what Nurse did, momentum of the game be damned.
“We had two free ones that you lose under the three-minute mark. We’d just came across and just decided to give those guys a rest. And we had back-to-back ones there that we would have lost under the three-minute mark and just thought we could use the extra energy push.”
If the Raptors were winded, so were the Warriors. And if the Raptors were rolling and the Warriors in a haze of confusion, the timeout gave Golden State the time to at the very least equalize that situation.
They did more than that. The Warriors went on an immediate 9-0 run, with threes from Klay and then Steph and then Klay again, to take a lead that seemed unfathomable just a few minutes before. But that was AT: ante-timeout.
Post-timeout, the Raptors were a different team too, one collapsed in a puddle of flop sweat and coiled in nerves. Post-timeout, as Chris wrote, the Raptors “had as many backcourt violations as buckets, and twice as many airballs.” Which would have been fine if they had been organized on the defensive end, but somehow all the composure the Warriors gained during that timeout, the Raptors lost.
Watch how the Raptors chase the ball on Klay Thompson’s go-ahead three, like hornets swarming around their nest. When Andre Iguodala gets the ball in the paint, all five Raptors collapse, leaving three Warriors completely open behind the arc. That’s what Golden State wants more than anything, because it can make the extra pass to maximize its chances. What’s better than a wide-open Draymond Green from three? A wide-open Klay Thompson from three. No one was on Thompson the entire possession. One fake to dodge a desperation lunge from Leonard, and Thompson took a shot that he doesn’t miss.
Compare that to the Warriors’ defense on the Raptors’ final chance, where Green got a hand on Lowry’s attempt at the buzzer. One team, settled by a timeout it didn’t call, stuck to its game. One didn’t. And so the Raptors have another option to quantify how close they came: the open space in front of Thompson, vs. a fingertip on the other end.
Everything’s quantifiable: ultimately:
That peak is, of course, Nick Nurse’s timeout with 3:05 remaining. Toronto now desperately hopes it wasn’t a franchise peak too.