Barber: Raptors' 3-minute meltdown has Warriors soaring
On a night that brought so much darkness, the Warriors received a glimmer of hope.
They have been back on their heels for practically all of these NBA Finals, pursued by a Raptors team that is hungry, relentless and almost without emotion — a collection of Russian villains from cheap 1970s cinema. But in the final three minutes or so of Game 5 in Toronto, a minor crack opened up. A crack in the Raptors’ impenetrable facade. A crack in the gloom that has made this series such a burden for the Warriors.
For a few minutes, the Raptors looked vulnerable. The Warriors took advantage, as champions do, and they returned to Oakland on Tuesday with newfound hope, even as one of their own, Kevin Durant, flew to New York to receive the official, terrible news about his right Achilles tendon.
I suppose you could argue that we had already seen the Raptors’ weakness, at the start of the third quarter in Game 2. That was when the Warriors tore through a dazzling 18-0 run to seal their first victory in the Finals.
It’s true that the Raptors seemed a bit paralyzed by that blitz. It’s also true that they recovered from it. They stopped the bleeding with a Fred VanVleet 3-pointer, and by the time 26 seconds remained in the game, they had turned a 13-point deficit into a two-point, one-possession stare-down. It took Andre Iguodala’s classic 3-point shot to seal the win.
From that point on, the Raptors appeared able to counter every challenge Golden State presented, and to go one better. And that included Monday night, when Toronto overcame both Durant’s return to the court and his sudden, cruel removal — the first a strategic gain for the Warriors, the second an inspirational one — to take control yet again.
The Raptors’ surge from the 11:32 mark of the fourth quarter to right around 3:05 was nothing short of fearsome. It encapsulated everything that has tormented the Warriors in this series. Toronto outrebounded the visitors 9-4 in that span and connected on 11 of 15 shots, while holding the Warriors to 5 for 14.
In particular, Kawhi Leonard was all but unstoppable for those 8 minutes and 27 seconds. He scored 13 of the final 15 points of the Raptors’ flurry, and assisted Normal Powell’s unabated dunk on the other two. Leonard calmly blasted 3-point shots, scored off of offensive rebounds and finished difficult, contested pull-ups.
Before the NBA Finals began, I wrote that Leonard is the best player in the NBA, and he’s done nothing to change my mind. This fourth quarter was his signature moment, as if he needed one after his miraculous shot to eliminate Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But you saw what happened in the final 3 minutes. The Warriors have stars, too, and they rose when summoned, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry and Thompson again hitting three straight 3-pointers, and Draymond Green finishing the game — finishing the Raptors — with a brilliant defensive stop on Kyle Lowry’s attempted buzzer-beater.
It isn’t just the result that should have the Warriors optimistic. It’s the nervousness the Raptors revealed — a trait we hadn’t seen from them in the Finals.