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The ball was in Kyle Lowry’s hands. The NBA championship was on the line.
All he had do was make one shot.
All he had to do was finish what Kawhi Leonard managed against the Philadelphia 76ers in the final seconds of Game 7 two rounds ago. But he didn’t get a bounce. He liked the shot he took. Draymond Green got a slight piece of it.
And now there is Game 6 in the NBA Finals. Now the Raptors lead 3-2 after five games, having failed to hold a six-point lead in the final three minutes of a game that could have sent the city, the country, the basketball community into total frenzy.
Only now, the series is in doubt. Only now, the Raptors who didn’t win a 106-105 game against the Golden State Warriors, who lost the brilliant Kevin Durant for what’s left of the season, maybe what’s left of his time in Oakland.
They lost Kevon Looney, who was declared out for the season, came back in Game 4, left in Game 5. He’s probably gone like Durant is gone.
The Warriors won Game 5 and their general manager Bob Myers was in tears afterwards trying to explain the Durant injury. Trying to explain the thought process that went into bringing him back Monday night. Trying to get words out, but he wasn’t talking about the great win by the Warriors — a win while losing, sacrificing the giant Durant in the process.
But it was there for the Raptors after having something of an ordinary night. They did what they’ve done in the fourth quarter of so many playoff games. They worked their way into the lead. They were up by six and looked just minutes from bedlam. They had a lead, couldn’t hold it, and needed one basket to win.
One basket for history. One basket to remember forever.
The Raptors wanted Leonard to take the final shot, but the Warriors, knowing that, double-teamed him and had a third man close by, just in case. Leonard was smart enough to throw the ball out to Fred Van Vleet, who then quickly relayed it to the baseline to Lowry, who had a strong shooting second half of the game.
There was a partial block and a bounce off the rim — and the need for three of four more of the Leonard Philadelphia bounces. Only they didn’t happen.
“Freddie had a look and threw it to me in the corner,” said Lowry, trying to explain the ending. “Draymond got a piece of it. He blocked it. I’m not going to miss it.”
And then he second-guessed himself and maybe the moment.
“It felt great out of my hand,” said Lowry. “He got a piece of it. That’s what great defenders do. He got a piece of it and we’ll continue to see how we can be better for the next game.”
This helps the Raptors in a way. Oddly enough, in the home-heavy NBA, the road team has won four straight. If that continues for Game 6 at Oracle Arena, the Raptors will win their championship on the road.
They’re still in a better position to win the championship, but this was more than an opportunity left behind. It wasn’t just the final shot for Toronto. It was the final minutes after they took a lead and the crowd was ready to explode. The Warriors fought through all that. They stay composed to the end when there was reason for them to fall apart.
Only this team doesn’t know how to fall apart.
Durant went down with an Achilles injury and left the Scotiabank Arena on crutches. His season is over. The beginning of next season may also be in some doubt. Looney went down and it doesn’t look like he’ll be back, either. Golden State is running out of strength and depth, but they absolutely destroyed the Raptors from three- point land, outscoring them 60-24 from beyond the arc. That’s a 36-point difference. Steph Curry ended up with 31 points and Klay Thompson had 26 and combined, the two made good on 12 three-point shots. Durant took three threes and made three. Then he left with 9:42 remaining in the second quarter and the Warriors ahead by four.
When Durant went down, some idiots in the crowd cheered his injury. Both Lowry and Serge Ibaka waved to the crowd, asking them to tone down their noise. After the arm-waving, there were chants of “KD, KD!” as if to make up for the behavior of a few.
When the Raptors get up Tuesday morning, watch the films, see the emotional twists of the night, they will be wondering how they let this championship clincher get lost in translation. They let the game slip away in the final minutes, the championship slip away, preferably not forever.
Curry hit a three and Thompson hit a three at the end and that was it. A championship on hold. The possibility gone in a second.
“Amazing defence,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr of the final shot. “Our guys just stayed with it and they stayed poised and just an amazing job finishing the game.”
Winning the game. It was all there for the Raptors. Everything but the winning bucket.
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