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NBA Finals Game 5 Preview 10.06.2019

It feels almost surreal, but here we are. Toronto Raptors are a single win away from their first NBA title. In most of Finals Game 4 Raptors looked deeper, stronger and more willing to win than the Warriors. The defense was at the beginning and the end for the Canadians. The Raptors troubled the Warriors all night. Golden State shot just 45 % from the field, including 30 % from the 3-point range, and made 19 turnovers. That old-school NBA defense is what allowed the Raptors to keep the game from getting out of hand in the first half, when the Splash brothers came out shooting hot. Then, after the half-time, the star player and leader Kawhi Leonard ended it all.

Even his opponents admitted Kahwi’s greatness in the series. "He played amazing," Steph Curry said. "He hit every big momentum shot in that third quarter. It gave them the lead. And then kept the separation. They took control of the game. It's one of those nights where you play with a lot of energy and you start to build momentum and then the wheels fall off a little bit."

 

And The Claw hit his knock-out punches mainly in the third quarter. Just the quarter, in which the Warriors have been known to complete legend runs and come-backs over the course of the team's run at the top of the league. It was all vice versa at Game 4 – Warriors started very strong and had a double-digit lead early in the game, only to fade away slowly through the last two quarters. Raptors won the third quarter by a whopping 16 points. The run was started by back-to-back Kawhi’s 3’s to begin the half and the lead was strengthened by his 11 points in the final 3 minutes of the quarter. Leonard finished with 36 points, 12 rebounds and 4 steals, on 12-of-22 shooting.  He put up 14 points and carried Toronto’s offense even in the first half when it looked like the Warriors may take control of the game. His team-mates went just  1-of-13 from the field in that stretch and Kahwi was the only reason his team was behind only in single digits entering the second quarter.

Yet all Toronto’s team deserve credit beside their star player. Leonard’s 2019 playoff run seems like it could go down in history alongside great ones like Dwyane Wade’s in 2006, Dirk Nowitzki’s in 2011, LeBron in a few Finals, and of course Michael Jordan’s in all his Finals. Raptor’s defense was just as important, as already mentioned, and players like Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet (who got 7 stitches on his face after Shaun Livingston unwilfully elbowed him on a run to the basket), Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry made the right plays all night long. Toronto’s coach Nick Nurse gave credit to his boys where it was due: "Most teams will take cues from their star players. But Marc's pretty steady out there. Kyle's been great with his emotional makeup this season. Pascal, for being a young guy, has probably taken the cues from those older guys. And Freddie, Freddie's pretty steady too."

The mood in the Warriors’ camp would hardly be too good right now, even more so with the uncertainty around Durant’s injury situation. The next few days before the game will be dominated by questions about KD, as fans see him as the only possible savior now. Indeed Klay Thompson returned from injury with an excellent night, 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting, but Curry didn’t have his best night. He scored 27 points on not very effective 9-of-22 from the floor. By the end, he looked very tired, along with the whole team, frankly said. Now the Warriors are on the brink. It seems highly improbable that Golden State will finish this series losing three straight games to this Toronto team (or to any other team in the play-offs), but so far in the Finals, the Raptors have been clearly the better basketball team on both ends of the floor. Also nobody could realistically predicted Warriors to lose both their home games in ‘’Oracle’’, but hey, here we are.

"We're playing a really good team," Steve Kerr admitted postgame. "We have had our moments defensively, but we haven't been able to string together the stops over the course of a game that we have needed to. So I give them the credit. They have just played really well offensively, and they got a lot of threats out there, a lot of shooters, a lot of passers. So they're playing well, and we have got to do better."

All in all, this series isn't over yet, but the Raptors have control. Kawhi is in the midst of a legendary historic run, his teammates continue to help him up on both ends of the floor, and Golden State looks shorthanded and tired, with their backs to the wall. Back to Game 5 now, which take place in the early Tuesday morning for us, Monday night in the States.

Prediction: Money-line odds for Golden State to stay alive at around 2.35-2.40 (and even bigger) just seem too big. Toronto will do everything to wrap up the series here and there, but the ruling champions shouldn’t be ruled out just yet, without a fight. In a nutshell, we don’t see similar odds for this Golden State team, even without Durant, to let them pass unbacked. If they are to lose and possibly start the slow end toward the end of their dynasty, so it be…

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