2019 NBA Finals: Game 5 Preview
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The Toronto Raptors are one win away from an NBA Championship. Let's take a moment to appreciate the magnitude of that statement... This is a team that went through a complete facelift to start the season. Their current starting lineup only played 161 minutes together during the regular season, and they have already more than doubled that total this postseason at 362 minutes. The Raptors came into the Playoffs with a bit of a learning curve but have proved to everyone that they belong and are now the favorites to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Let's take a look back at Game 4 to see how Toronto emerged victorious.
The first half of this game was an absolute slog. The Warriors led 46-42 at halftime after the Raptors had arguably their worst offensive half of the season. They were 2-for-17 on threes after two quarters on a multitude of open looks. Kawhi Leonard was the lone bright spot and showed once again why he was the best player on the court, scoring 14 points in the first quarter alone while the rest of the Raptors struggled mightily to find any kind of rhythm. Leonard said after the game, “As the (first) quarter went on, towards the last four of five minutes, I tried to stay as aggressive as possible, get to my spots, be confident, shoot the basketball. Within that first quarter I was still passing the ball, wanted my team to stay in a rhythm and know I’m gonna give them the ball when they're open”.
The Raptors came out for the second half with the same plan as in the first: stay aggressive and continue to generate open shots, knowing that if they could, then they would start hitting them and they did. Leonard hit back-to-back threes to open the third quarter and swing the Raptors from down four to up two. They went on to outscore the Warriors 37-21 in the third, going 5-for-7 on threes and forcing six Golden State turnovers. The fourth quarter was competitive for the first couple minutes, when Leonard and Kyle Lowry were both resting, but the Warriors found themselves simply unable to get stops and were never able to make a run to get back into the game. With the Raptors now on the brink of their first ever championship, let's look ahead to Game 5.
To win Game 5 and keep their three-peat chances alive, the Warriors must come out with more urgency on the defensive side. Multiple times the Warriors threw unnecessary double-teams at the Raptors and it resulted in Toronto buckets. In one particular play with about eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Stephen Curry abandoned Danny Green in the corner to double Kawhi Leonard, who easily and quickly found Green for a big corner three that put the Raptors up by 15.
Golden State did get good news on Sunday, with Steve Kerr saying Kevin Durant practiced and could potentially be available for Game 5. I touched on how the Raptors matchups would change defensively with Durant’s return in my piece on Saturday, and him getting back on the court would change the entire Warriors' outlook on the series. Even a 70% KD is better than the minutes going to combinations of Alfonzo McKinnie, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Bell, and so on. It would also allow the Warriors to go small with their full arsenal of weapons around Draymond Green. They went with Green at the five for the first time this Finals in Game 4 but didn’t have much success, as they were outscored 10-2 during that stretch at the end of the third quarter. Golden State must find more success defensively to have a chance of forcing a Game 6.