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OAKLAND — They are this close — this close to making history, one click of the clock, one last-second jump shot, so close and so far away from winning an NBA championship.
With a win, just one more win, the Toronto Raptors become a household name in professional basketball history. Their own history of defeat and difficulty seems almost irrelevant today.
All they need is one more win to write a new script that matters. A story that will last forever. A story that changes Canadian sporting history.
One win with two games to play. That’s all it takes.
A win on Thursday night in the last NBA game to be played at the historical Oracle Arena — where Wilt Chamberlain once starred, where Steph Curry and Klay Thompson now shoot — would make the Raptors the first road team since 2001 to win three road games in the Finals.
The last time that happened, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were starring for the Los Angeles Lakers against Philadelphia. The last time that happened, Dell Curry, Steph’s father, was still shooting for the Raptors.
It was that long ago.
All of this is happening against a basketball backdrop of intrigue, misinformation, and second-guessing. You can’t get to Game 6 without drawing back to the lost opportunity that was Game 5. The Raptors were a shot away from celebrating their championship at home.
A shot away on Monday night. A world away now after the long flight to the West Coast.
Nick Nurse, the impressive first-year Raptors coach, has been sliced and diced and questioned after decisions he made, late and later in Game 5, that may have prevented his club from winning. He doesn’t care as much for the second guess as he cares for finding a way to win now.
“Momentum is definitely real in everything in life, from the moment you get up to a basketball-game moment,” said Nurse. “Sometimes timeouts stop them. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes not taking one stops it, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s the kind of world we live in on the basketball court. You take them. Sometimes you don’t and sometimes you do.
“Deep thought,” he said, then laughed at his own words.
It was his way of lessening the pressure he must now be feeling. The Raptors have gone further than anyone expected.
Maybe Masai Ujiri or Bobby Webster thought a championship was possible this season. Maybe no one else did. But then they took a 3-1 lead in the Finals. And then they led in Game 5 and it looked to be going their way.
But they lost a game that was theirs for the taking. It was the opposite for the trailing Warriors: In Game 2, Andre Iguodala hit a late three to clinch the game for Golden State. In Game 5, late threes by Curry and Thompson brought Golden State from behind to win. The Warriors are known for hitting those kinds of dramatic game-winners.
The Raptors have only needed a last-second shot once in the series — and a rather clumsy attempt led to a Kyle Lowry partially blocked shot — and the series didn’t end the way it could have in Toronto.
When asked if the Game 5 loss hit him harder than others — so close to a championship — Nurse said it didn’t. That probably makes him almost Kawhi Leonard-like — a man without a pulse or an outward emotion. But Nurse is more human than he likes to let on.
“Did it hit me any harder? Not really,” he said. “They all hit you hard. Listen, I’m like anybody that was there, that understands the outcome of that one timeout changes things a little bit. But I’ll say this: I’m absolutely thrilled to be coaching in another Finals game.”
The whole country is absolutely thrilled.
In the Bay Area, Nurse’s decisions are less a topic than the state of the Warriors and all that happened to the great Kevin Durant during Game 5. It was his first game in two rounds. It was clear, considering that he severed his Achilles tendon with 9:42 to go in the second quarter and his 2019-20 season is now in question, that he shouldn’t have been allowed to play.
Coach Steve Kerr opened his media availability on Wednesday by saying there was “no news on Kevin.” That was a lie of sorts, inadvertent or not. As he said those very words, Durant was coming out of surgery in New York and either Kerr was playing with the truth or maybe worse than that, the Warriors weren’t made aware of what Durant had opted for.
One source speculated on Wednesday night that, with Durant’s free agency in question come July, there may be some legal action considered against medical staff — and maybe the Warriors — for allowing him to play in Game 5, where he scored 11 points in 12 minutes.
Whatever happens, Thursday night is the end for Oracle Arena as an NBA home, and for Oakland, the loss of its basketball team, which will be followed by the loss of its NFL team. And maybe or maybe not the end of Durant in Golden State.
Klay Thompson is also a free agent who doesn’t want to leave and, from a Toronto perspective, who knows what Kawhi Leonard is planning in the not-so-distant future?
There is so much at stake here — for these teams, for these towns, for these players, and in the case of the Raptors, for this emerging basketball country.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019