Walking through the concourse of Scotiabank Arena before Game 5, I noticed a fan holding a sign that read Destiny vs. Dynasty. At that very moment before tip-off, before Kevin Durant’s injury and before the strangest NBA Finals game in recent memory, the destiny vs. dynasty narrative felt true.
The Toronto Raptors were one game away from completing a magical playoff run that already had its signature moment with Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7 buzzer-beater over the Philadelphia 76ers. The four fortuitous bounces before the ball bounced in that evening seemed to foreshadow something bigger at play for a franchise that had been defined by its playoff shortcomings, but appeared to have finally acquired the one player to get it over the hump. With an entire country rallied around them, Monday’s Game 5 at home seemed like the perfect way to end it.
On the other side, though, are the Golden State Warriors, who somehow survived the emotional toll of Durant’s injury, let alone the impact on the court of removing a two-time NBA Finals MVP from their lineup, and earned a remarkable road win in Toronto to force a Game 6 back at Oracle Arena on Thursday. Former Houston Rockets head coach Rudy Tomjanovich once famously said to never underestimate the heart of a champion, and these Warriors, in their fifth consecutive NBA Finals, are embodying that phrase so far in this series. It’s been a series in which the Raptors have been the better team for a majority of the five games, and yet the door is still open for the Warriors to force a Game 7 back in Toronto on Sunday, at which point all of the pressure will be on the Raptors.
Despite all of the moving parts from Monday’s Game 5, it appeared the team of destiny was going to prevail, when Leonard authored a 12-2 run late in the fourth quarter to put the Raptors up six with three minutes left. The storybook ending appeared in sight, but then Steph Curry and Klay Thompson rallied the Warriors once more, and now, heading into Game 6, it feels like the narratives have shifted, and the momentum is on the Warriors’ side.
So, is momentum something either team believes in? They were asked about it during Wednesday’s media availability.
“It’s definitely a real thing,” Curry said. “It’s just a matter of can you capitalize on it once the next game starts and lock in and focus on details and kind of see adjustments the other team is going to make, especially in [a] playoff series because that happens, they switch film, try to tinker a little bit.”
Raptors coach Nick Nurse was asked about momentum in the context of two timeouts he took with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Raptors having made a run that seemed to have pushed the Warriors to the brink. Did he think those timeouts halted Toronto’s momentum?
“That’s a loaded question,” Nurse said. “Momentum is real, in everything in life. Sometimes timeouts stop ‘em, sometimes they don’t, sometimes not taking one stops ‘em, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you don’t take ‘em, sometimes you do.”
How you view Game 6 might depend on whether you believe in the team of destiny or the dynasty team that refuses to die. Or perhaps there’s a more pragmatic view of how Game 5 played out. The Warriors made 20 three-pointers, the most Toronto has allowed in any game (regular season or playoffs) in franchise history. Meanwhile, the Raptors made only eight three-pointers in the game. Toronto was outscored by 36 points from beyond the arc, was clearly rattled by the severity of Durant’s injury, and still came within a possession of winning the game.
The Raptors have also won twice already (three times if you count the regular season) at Oracle Arena in this series. It will be an emotional crowd, as it is the last game at the arena before the Warriors move to San Francisco next season, and also because the home crowd will be determined to rally around Durant’s injury. There will be a lot of emotions in the building tomorrow night. The team of destiny, the Toronto Raptors, has another chance to clinch its first-ever championship. The two-time defending champions, the dynasty team of this era, have a chance to force a winner-take-all game for the title.
It will be destiny versus dynasty, and if the Warriors prevail, things are about to get real tense in Toronto for a championship-deciding Game 7.
News and notes:
Impressive teammate: Everyone watching this Raptors playoff run has been in awe of Leonard’s play. Turns out, even his teammates have been pleasantly surprised by how great he’s been.
“I didn’t know he was such a great shooter,” Kyle Lowry said on Wednesday. “I didn't know he was such a great -- this year alone, you say wow because he's gotten even better as a playmaker. Early in the year, but then throughout the season, he's become a better playmaker. He'll have games with 12 rebounds, 15 rebounds -- I think it was one game, I don't know if it was in the playoffs, it was like 30 (points) and 15 rebounds or something like that. I mean you just say, God, Jesus, that's a crazy stat line for a guy like that. He just does it on both ends.”
Math guy: Earlier this season on an episode of “How Hungry Are You” with Serge Ibaka, Leonard confirmed he was a fan of math growing up. Asked about it on Wednesday, our resident fun guy elaborated on why.
“Just really liked math class more than any of my other classes, like English or history and things like that,” Leonard said. “I guess it just made more sense to me to use in everyday life.”
Life and basketball: Leonard was also asked about losing his father while he was still a high schooler, and whether it pushes him today.
“Once it happened, I thought about it a lot,” Leonard said. “But as I got older, I pretty much just really stopped thinking about it. I think it just gave me a sense and feel that life and basketball are two different things and just really enjoy your time and moments. Like I always say, this is basketball; just go out there and have fun. These are going to be the best years of my life, playing this game. Being 27, this young, you shouldn't be stressing in life about things that really don't matter. As long as your family is healthy, you're able to see the people that you love and you're able to walk, run and you're not injured.”
Technicality: Something to keep an eye on in Game 6: Draymond Green is one technical foul away from triggering an automatic one-game suspension, which means he would miss a potential Game 7 if it is necessary. Green said on Wednesday he is well aware of this and will need to restrain himself, or try his best to avoid picking up a technical foul.
True North: There’s been so many new basketball fans who have joined this Raptors playoff run. To everyone who is watching and reading basketball regularly for the first time: welcome. Before this series ends, I wanted to take the opportunity to recommend a docu-series called True North, which was released by Red Bull Media and the National Film Board of Canada last year. You can watch the docu-series here. It captures in wonderful detail the past, present and future of basketball in Toronto.
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