TORONTO — Game 5 wasn’t a must-win for the Toronto Raptors like it was for the Golden State Warriors.
But it was a game they really, really wanted to win — a victory Monday night at Scotiabank Arena would’ve given them an NBA championship on their home court against the Warriors.
Toronto didn’t want to go back to the Bay Area for Game 6. But that’s what they’re doing.
The Raptors didn’t want to give the Warriors a chance to force a Game 7 back in Toronto. But that’s a very real prospect, too, after Golden State defeated Toronto 106-105 in Game 5.
Toronto isn’t in trouble yet. It has a 3-2 lead with two chances to win the series — once on the road where it won twice already in the Finals and once at home, if necessary.
The pressure is starting to increase. Yes, teams with a 3-1 series lead in the Finals are 33-1, with Cleveland the only team to win the title. That happened in 2016 against Golden State.
Kyle Lowry breaks down what happened on the Raptors’ final play. #NBAFinalspic.twitter.com/9q1yt5uN5V
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And if there is a Game 7, even more pressure will be on the Raptors, and as they learned Monday, it won’t be easy to beat the two-time defending champions who have won three titles in the previous four seasons.
“After Game 2 in the Philly series I said, ‘Listen, I expect this to be a long series, right,’ ” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I expect this one to be a long series. I’m not sitting here trying to think we should be this, be that, but if you would have probably told me at the start of this thing, if we could fast forward to a 3-2 lead, you want to take it? I would probably say yes.”
There is a common theme in Toronto’s two losses in this series. In both games, the Raptors trailed by double-digits, including 77-63 in the third quarter of Game 5.
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There is no quit in these Raptors, and they just keep playing possession after possession. Kawhi Leonard had a tough three quarters offensively but had a big outburst with 10 consecutive Raptors points in the fourth quarter. The deficit disappeared, and it was a 103-97 Raptors lead with 3:28 remaining.
Just 208 ticks of the game clock separated the Raptors from the first championship in the franchise’s 24-year history. It seemed so close, and the fans sensed the historic moment.
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“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 (in the second half), and I felt good at that point. Just needed to make a couple more plays.”
Toronto just didn’t execute well enough in the final minutes, going 1-for-6 from the field, while Klay Thompson made two 3-pointers and Steph Curry one.
And then leading up to the final play of the game, Nurse didn’t call timeout and let the Raptors try to run a play for Leonard. He was double-teamed, and the basketball ended up in Kyle Lowry’s hands for a corner 3 that would’ve won the game. Draymond Green got his hand on the ball for a blocked shot.
You can argue Nurse should’ve called a timeout to regroup and design a play. Nurse defended his decision.
“I was confident we would come down and play and make the right decisions and get a good shot,” Nurse said. “I have a lot of faith in those guys.”
Although the idea of winning all three games against Golden State at Oracle Arena seems preposterous, the Raptors believe they can.
They just can’t let another opportunity escape.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.