NBA Finals 2019: Raptors are still favourites, but have a mountain to climb against rejuvenated Warriors in Oracle swansong

The stage was set. The city of Toronto was a madhouse on Tuesday. The Raptors had just taken a lead for the first time in the game. Kawhi Leonard channelled his inner Michael Jordan to score 10 points in a remarkable span of 1:45. Meanwhile, Warriors had missed four of their previous five shots and the Raptors reeled off a 12-2 run. 103-97 read the scoreboard in Raptors' favour. The fans inside the Scotiabank Arena finally erupted after watching their side trail for three quarters. And for the fans watching in Jurassic Park (the outdoor fan zone beside Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto), Saskatchewan and Mississauga? It was celebration time.

 NBA Finals 2019: Raptors are still favourites, but have a mountain to climb against rejuvenated Warriors in Oracle swansong

Toronto Raptors won Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors at the Oracle Arena. Reuters

Fred VanVleet got the rebound of Stephen Curry's fourth consecutive miss from the field and another Leonard classic was impending. The atmosphere got crazier. Looking at the team's flow and Leonard's late surge, it was certain that in roughly three minutes, a non-American team would be crowned NBA champions for the first time.

Amidst the madness and premature celebrations, a composed Nick Nurse decided to call for a timeout.

Just when his team's offence was flowing. Just when Warriors felt the heat. Just when Raptors seemed too physical for the Splash Brothers. Just when the Scotiabank Arena went bonkers. Just when it was not needed. The timing of the timeout couldn't have been worse.

Yes, all of them were worn out and needed a breather except for Leonard, Kyle Lowry and the drained out Curry and Co. When play resumed with more than three minutes on the clock remaining, Leonard threw up an airball, and in no time Curry hit a three, Klay Thompson hit a three before Curry ripped off another three to give Warriors a 106-103 lead.

The Raptors' jubilation turned to shock. A sudden hush descended over the crowd and those watching at home or anywhere in Ontario. Warriors snatched Toronto’s moment. Drake, who was provoking the Warriors dugout throughout, had nothing to say, literally. And what about championship parade? Warriors said: Not today.

Raptors scored only two points after the timeout, missed five of their final six shots (including three three-pointers) and committed a turnover that led to Curry's game-tying three with 1:22 left. What's more? Draymond Green saved the Warriors' season with a fingertip block on a three-point attempt by Lowry that could have won the game at the buzzer. Golden State won 106-105.

From celebration time, it was time for Game 6 in Oracle. But now everyone's asking the same question: What was Nurse thinking? It was actually Raptors' collective failure.

They were 8-for-32 from three-point range and Warriors were 20-for-42. That pretty much explains all you need to know about the loss.

Raptors fluffed it and the whole of Canada rued the missed opportunity. Well, they will have to do it all over again. This time at the Oracle Arena, where they will play the final home game of the Warriors' 47-year run in Oakland. The place is electric during normal circumstances and Friday morning (6:30 am IST) will be no ordinary night.

Nurse's Raptors won Games 3 and 4 at the very arena, where hundreds of Raptors fans crowded into the lower bowl after the Game 4 victory last Friday, cheering and chanting and singing "O Canada". Toronto fans made Oracle their own.

Whatever transpired in Game 5 sets the tone for Game 6 in California.

Without Kevin Durant, the Warriors don't possess invincibilty. His influence on Steve Kerr's side has led to the team's immortal recognition in the first place, let alone consecutive championship titles.

They do have other All-Stars in Curry, Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green and the defensive stalwart Andre Iguodala but Durant's absence is certainly felt in the Warriors dugout.

Oracle will miss him but Raptors, like they have done this series, would take complete advantage of the situation.

And why not? Raptors are undefeated at Oracle. It's the perfect match-up as the emotions will be running high fuelled by how Canadian fans reacted when Durant went down.

Raptors will have to be ready for the worst because the injury-riddled, Warriors have nothing left to prove with three championship titles in four years already shinning in their cabinet. Read that again. That makes them even more dangerous.

Curry and Thompson schooled Raptors for a combined 57 points on 19-of-44 shooting. Not just that, a total of 27 three-point attempts within that shooting sum, including Thompson's 7-for-13 showing beyond the arc.

"Those guys are so dangerous that once you slip up and make mistakes they will make you pay," Raps guard Fred VanVleet said. "And it takes a lot to beat them."

The Golden State can cope up with any given situation. Meanwhile, it's doubtful if the Raptors can muster enough momentum to start with a bang in Oracle, leaving behind the could-haves and should-haves in Game 5.

"Did it hit me any harder? Not really," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "They all hit you hard. Listen, I'm like anybody that was there that understands the outcome of that one changes things a little bit. But I'll say this: I'm absolutely thrilled to be coaching in another Finals game. This is awesome, right?"

That said, Raptors are still the better side between the two. But when they take the court, they'll have to overcome Curry and Thompson and the overwhelming comfort of Warriors' champion mentality even when they're backed up against a corner.

It's the final game at Oracle too, where the Warriors faithful will be hungry to take revenge. It's still Raptors' title to lose. They've shown how to tackle the big guns all throughout the season singing the same tune: trust the instinct and dominate with elan. Oh, and O Canada too.

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Updated Date: Jun 13, 2019 20:14:00 IST