2019 NBA Finals: 5 Thoughts on Game 5
Courtesy of Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
1. The Warriors are, undeniably, a much better team with Durant (game-high +6) on the court; likely, the most talented squad ever assembled.
When Kevin Durant was on the floor for those precious 12 minutes, he was simply electric, hitting all of his attempts from beyond the arc - often in the spite of Klaw-sized mitts and tight defense. His presence was a jolting reminder that these are not the unbeatable, fabled Warriors of years past; they are a throwback machination with same illustrious core, but substantially less well endowed in terms of accessories and high-calibre role players. While this has always been Curry's team, the addition of KD (with the sacrifice of roster depth) is what gave this present Warriors squad their aura of sheer invincibility and, dare I say it, inevitability. Durant's absence will continue to affect the series to a substantial degree (more on that later), but enough cannot be said of the repercussions his Achilles injury will have on the course of NBA history itself, beginning with the possible end of a Golden era.
2. Kawhi had a poor shooting night (9/24 FG, 2/7 3PT, 6/8 FT,); that cannot happen again if the Raptors are to win the title.
Look, the Raptors know by now what it will take to beat the Durant-less Warriors, because they've done it three times already. A core part of that blueprint involves Kawhi Leonard performing efficiently, both with his shot-making as well as his decision making (5 turnovers). That didn't happen in Game 5, and despite putting up otherwise stellar numbers (26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks), the Raptors felt the effects of those lost possessions and missed shots. As nit-picky as this may sound, the Raptors need a perfect game out of Leonard if they are looking to go for the throat against a Warriors team with its back against the wall (yet still dangerously close to victory themselves, now only down 3-2 and headed to Oracle). If Leonard can't give the Raptors slightly more juice with better efficiency, the remainder of this series will ask quite a lot from the Raptors supporting cast. If anyone has the mindset to go full-on assassin here and end the series with a stone-cold show-out, it's Kawhi, but his fumbling of the final 8.0 seconds of this game left a shadow of a doubt creeping in this Raptor fan's heart.
3. The Warriors, sans Durant, are definitively worse than the presently assembled Raptors. Without Durant's 11 points, this was a Toronto double-digit W.
The thought really says it all, and although that might a bit of a self-serving, reductionist transformation of the result, it still affirms what dedicated Finals viewers have known all along: the Raptors are actually a better team than these Warriors without Kevin Durant. They have more shooters, more plus defenders, a top-4 superstar player of their own, matchup advantages in the paint, and perhaps a more innovative head coach in Nick Nurse. Many are calling for the series to end in Game 6, and there is reason to believe that the Raptors can get it done at Oracle (where they have beaten the Warriors twice already this series) now that they know exactly how their opponent will line up. Over the course of a full 48 minutes, Toronto should have the advantage, and this can swing further in their direction if Kevon Looney is unable to play, or give the Warriors more than 15-20 minutes in Game 6.
4. Another game, another reaffirmation of the theory that ALL of Toronto's roster needs to be contributing for them to outlast the Warriors.
The guilty parties here include Pascal Siakam (12 points on 6/15 FG, to go with four rebounds, two assists, and one steal in 34 minutes) and Danny Green (four points on 2/7 FG, with five rebounds and one steal in 33 minutes); the Raptors simply cannot afford to have any members of their rotation have an off game when trying to close out this series. The entire team has to remember whom they are dealing with - a squad of champions with a very personal reason to inspire a historic comeback of their own - and play accordingly. No one gets a free pass. Siakam has to play like the secondary star he is, and Danny Green has to hit the shots that matter most, as he did previously in Games 3 and 4. As has been the case all series, Toronto's mitigating strength - the one thing that gives them a fundamental edge over the Warriors plainly more talented squad - is that they have more contributions coming from more sources. In the most basic sense, 8 players scoring 15+ points will net you 120+ points, while having 3 players score 30+ will net you 90+ points. It is from this ideology that the Raptors exploited the Warriors one glaring weakness (now that Durant is gone): scoring depth. For the Raptors to take this thinking all the way to a championship banner, they need to be able to rely on their own scoring depth, and outscore the defending champs one last time.
5. Boogie's performance will be the X-Factor for the Warriors in their attempt to rally back from the 3-1 deficit.
In Game 5, he was the only bench player with more than four points (he had 14 on 6/8 shooting to go with six rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in 20 minutes of action). If Boogie can manage to stay on the floor (4 fouls) and give the Warriors high-quality minutes in bursts of playtime, the Dubs can make this interesting. He is one of the few Warriors who can make plays for himself, and score reliably against a stifling Toronto defense. The Warriors desperately need his offensive rebounding and low-post playmaking against a Raptors team that has a definite edge in the front court. Marc Gasol may prove too tough of a matchup to fully neutralize, but making his life tougher - without fouling - would be a great way to throw a rock into the well-oiled machine that is this Raptors offence. Bottom line: if the Warriors pull off the comeback, you can expect Cousins to be a big part of it.