Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:58 AM

Finals Game 5 - Warriors at Raptors

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NBA Finals – Game 5
Golden State at Toronto (-1.5/214.5), ABC, 9:07 p.m. ET

May 30 – Raptors (-2) 118 vs. Warriors 109 (Over 212.5)
June 2 – Warriors (+2) 109 at Raptors 104 (Under 213.5)
June 5 – Raptors (+3) 123 at Warriors 109 (Over 210.5)
June 7 – Raptors (+5) 105 at Warriors 92 (Under 215)

Kevin Durant practiced with his Golden State teammates on Sunday. Reporters who saw him exit Scotiabank Arena didn’t see him limping as he exited the premises. Although listed as ‘questionable,’ if would be stunning if the reigning two-time Finals MVP didn’t wear a Warriors uniform at least one last time in order to try and prevent his team from coming up short of their season-long goal of a threepeat.

The foolish ones among you who thought the Warriors were a better team without him have now been quieted. Golden State is down 3-1 in the NBA Finals, having dropped both home games of its fifth straight championship series despite being favored with Durant ruled out. Toronto won each of the contests in Oakland convincingly and now stands one win away from its first title since entering the league in 1995.

Durant may as well throw on a cape in addition to his Nikes and uniform tonight. He’ll be asked to play savior even if he ends up being more decoy than focal point as the Warriors look to become the second team in league history to battle back from a 3-1 deficit and win a ring.

Ironically, Golden State was the lone victim, losing to Cleveland back in 2016 in order to help facilitate Durant’s defection from Oklahoma City, a move still skewered by many as one that helped ruin the competitive balance in the NBA. The Warriors haven’t finished with the league’s top record, but did take down LeBron James’ Cavaliers in both Finals, doing so rather easily in order to exact revenge. They had one brush with their mortality in last year’s Western Conference finals, but took advantage of Chris Paul’s absence due to an injured hamstring in order to win consecutive games and erase a 3-2 deficit against Houston.

Entering last year’s Game 6, the series price on the Warriors against the Rockets saw them as a -130 favorite at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. Even down, they were expected to win due to Paul’s demise. Prior to Game 4 on Saturday night, Golden State was demoted to even money to win the title and the Raptors became the first team other than the defending champs to be made the favorite to win the title (-120). As things stand now, you can get a return of +400 or a little higher throughout the strip if you invest in the Warriors making history. Toronto is currently in the -500/-550 range to win one more time and crown itself a winner.

Kawhi Leonard is looking like a shoo-in for Finals MVP so long as the Raptors hold on, averaging 30.8 points and 10.3 rebounds in leading the way for a Raptors squad that has seen veterans Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka excel. Pascal Siakam was the hero of Game 1 and has changed games with his length and energy on defense in addition to his ability to create shots when Leonard is being doubled. Fred VanVleet has been the ultimate x-factor, playing tremendous defense on Stephen Curry while burying buckets from beyond the arc, helping stretch the floor by being a threat to shoot it whenever the ball comes his way.

Toronto head coach Nick Nurse, a veteran tactician sitting in the head seat in the NBA for the first time, has proven every bit the worthy opponent for Steve Kerr, excelling through both his game planning and lineup adjustments. He’s certainly had fewer injury concerns to deal with, but has to be given credit for pressing the right buttons and not dragging his team down with bad decisions due to a lack of experience. If anything, he’s been an asset. Starting VanVleet over Danny Green at the start of the second half in Oakland helped contribute to a pair of wins since it allowed him to effectively play box-and-one, taking advantage of the lack of scoring punch out there for the Warriors.

Klay Thompson returned from a Game 3 absence due to a hamstring injury and shot the ball well, finishing with a team-high 28 points, but he couldn’t prevent Golden State from its lowest-scoring output of the postseason in a 105-92 Saturday night loss. It hadn’t been held under the century mark since a March 23 home loss to Dallas and was outscored 37-21 coming out of the break. After turning around Game 2 with an 18-0 run to open the third quarter, it was a startling contrast to see the Warriors squander a four-point halftime edge by being thoroughly dominated in what’s supposed to be their quarter to gain separation in. NBA expert Kevin Rogers says that Golden State can’t count on experience to bail them out of this hole since it isn’t accustomed to having to dig out of those due to its dominance throughout its run.

The Warriors are in very unfamiliar territory by sitting one game away from elimination in the Steve Kerr era. Discounting the Game 7’s against Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals and against Houston in the 2018 Western Finals in which both teams were facing elimination, Golden State has been on the verge of getting knocked out twice in the last five postseasons,” Rogers said. “Both times came in the conference finals with the Warriors blasting the Rockets at home last season and stunning Oklahoma City in 2016. The victory over the Thunder was the only road win in this stretch when staring elimination in the face as the Warriors outscored OKC, 33-18 in the fourth quarter to force a Game 7 back at home, which they eventually won.”

Durant was on the losing side of that collapse with the Thunder but has since emerged as arguably the NBA’s top player. The Warriors are 8-1 in NBA Finals games he's participated in. Leonard got healthy this season and has come for the throne vacated by LeBron James, but Durant’s back-to-back Finals MVP awards and his body of work before being injured in the third quarter of Game 5 of May’s conference semifinals against the Rockets had him on the top perch. It now remains to be seen exactly what he can bring to the table.

Siakam and Leonard will likely draw the majority of assignments against him, which means he’ll be thrown back in the mix against a pair of agile, willing defenders who won’t make it easy for him to find a rhythm. His presence alone should be able to get Curry and Thompson cleaner looks and give Draymond Green another option to work with to facilitate offense through, but the rust factor and his likely lack of stamina are challenges that must be dealt with. He’s one of the most special players ever, but it’s hard to imagine Durant will be able to pick right up where he left off, which means his likely return will see him offer up whatever he can for as long as he can, even if it’s as a decoy to get teammates more room to work with.

Kerr has the unenviable task of working with three frontcourt players who wouldn’t be playing if this were still the regular season and now has no room for error. DeMarcus Cousins’ unexpected brilliance in Game 2 helped contribute to Golden State’s lone series win, but he’s been a liability since, picked on defensively and blitzed often on the offensive end, leading to countless turnovers. Kevon Looney is playing through a collarbone fracture that was expected to sideline him the rest of the way, but he returned to lend a hand on Friday night and finished with 10 points and six boards in 20 minutes. Andre Iguodala is currently being held together by Elmer’s glue and paper clips, but played 38 minutes in the Game 4 loss, so Durant returning should lighten his load.

Oddsmakers reacted to Durant’s likely return by downgrading the Raptors from three-point home favorites to laying just 1.5 points entering game-day betting. Considering how little Shaun Livingston and Alfonzo McKinnie gave the Warriors in trying to help fill Durant’s shoes of late, it’s hard to argue that they won’t be better here. What remains to be seen is whether there’s enough chemistry, on the road no less, to overcome weeks of inactivity. With another key figure who is operating at less than a 100 percent giving it a go, Golden State is all-in with a weak hand entering the flop. The Warriors will need for it to be friendly and then will likely need to go runner-runner on the turn and river in order to win three straight and not see their dynasty die off with a defeat that would then be scrutinized to no end entering free agency.

In attempting to win it all in its first Finals appearance, Toronto will need to show off its killer instinct. It must take advantage of Durant getting back in the flow early to keep the visiting Warriors from gaining confidence and getting juiced up. The Raptors must ride their raucous crowd to make communication difficult for a team that won’t be able to rely on carrying a positive rhythm into a road atmosphere simply because they haven’t all played together in over a month.

“Since suffering through an 0-4 ATS run in the final two games of the Philadelphia series and the first two contests against Milwaukee, the Raptors have rolled off a 7-1 SU/ATS mark over their last eight,” Rogers said. “Toronto has wrapped up each of its previous three series at Scotiabank Arena, while holding its three opponents to 96, 90, and 94 points.”

The Warriors haven’t been held under 100 points in consecutive games since Nov. 18-21, having suffered blowout losses against the Spurs and Thunder. They’ll need Curry to bounce back from a Game 4 disappearing act in which he followed up a 47-point effort by finishing just 2-for-9 from 3-point range, shooting 9-for-22 from the field. An extra day of treatment should serve guys like Thompson, Iguodala and Cousins well. Green has averaged nearly 41 minutes per game in the series and is contributing 13.5 points, 9 rebounds and 8.8 assists but must be better and more efficient, so having one more rest day should prove invaluable for him too.

From this point forward, the NBA Finals will be played with two days of rest in between every remaining game. That’s to Golden State’s advantage, but it must get the series back to Oakland for a Game 6, which would then place pressure on them to avoid being eliminated in the final contest ever played at Oracle Arena. As things stand now, Friday night’s loss would be the last result there if they fail on Monday. The Warriors have put themselves in position where they can add to their legacy by doing something special or leave themselves open to criticism for the rest of time, especially with the group likely to disband in some capacity.

Oddsmakers sent out an opening total of 212 for Game 5 but the number was nudged up to 214 at most betting shops after the status of Durant was upgraded to ‘questionable’ on Sunday afternoon.

“You can handicap this total a variety of ways but the possible addition of KD back in the lineup for Golden State has to be the starting point for Monday,” said NBA totals expert Chris David.

“Durant hasn’t played in over a month and if he’s practicing, then you have to believe he’s going to give it a go on Monday. In five road games through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Durant averaged 40.2 PPG against the Clippers and Rockets. Golden State did lose two of those five games, both at Houston, while the ‘over’ went 4-1,” David said. “However, the Warriors averaged 122.4 PPG and even if Durant gives you less than half or a third of his average, that’s a big boost to a Golden State offense that’s been running on empty in this series. If KD plays and gets close to 30 minutes, I see no reason why the Warriors wouldn’t eclipse their Team Total of 105 ½.”

The total results for this series sit at 2-2 and the ‘under’ (215) in Game 4 last Friday was never in doubt with Golden State held to its playoff low. David touched on Golden State’s ability to rebound after poor shooting nights.

“Including Friday’s production, the Warriors have been held under 100 points nine times this season. In the following contests, Golden State has gone 6-2 and the offense has averaged 118.1 PPG,” said David. “Sticking with trends, we’ve only seen the Warriors drop three straight games once this season and that occurred in the second month of the season when they lost four consecutive contests. The offense averaged 95.5 PPG during that losing skid.”

The Warriors must also overcome the excitement currently permeating throughout Toronto, which is on the cusp of its first championship in one of North America’s major leagues since MLB’s Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993. Jurassic Park, the area outside the arena, is going to be overflowing with fans looking to celebrate, while the atmosphere inside the arena promises to be intense. Golden State would love nothing more than to shut superfan Drake up again like they managed to on June 2, but the Raptors are 9-3 on their home floor in these playoffs, eliminating all three of their Eastern Conference conquests in the building to advance to this point. Their regular-season home record was tied for third-best in the NBA (32-9).

“In 12 playoff games at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto has held seven opponents under 100 points, which is an incredible feat in the offensive age of the NBA. If you’re leaning to the Raptors to close the series out on Monday, it’s hard not to lean to the ‘under’ in the game especially if you look at the production from the Warriors in finals losses. Going back to the 2015 installment, Golden State been held to 98.7 PPG in 10 setbacks of the NBA Finals,” David said. “As good as Golden State has been over the last five postseasons, sometimes the matchup doesn’t suit you and credit has to be given to the other squad. That’s certainly been the case against Toronto and when you factor in the injuries, the flaws and depth issues for the Warriors have become more exposed. Despite only having one superstar, the Raptors team defense has been a nightmare for everybody in the postseason.”

If the Warriors are able to pull out a Game 5 upset, they would try to stave off elimination again on Thursday night. A potential Game 7 would take place on Sunday, making for an interesting Father’s Day.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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