Facing a 3-1 series deficit and playing without injured star forward Kevin Durant throughout the second half, the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors miraculously kept their season and their dynasty alive in Toronto on Monday by pulling out a 106-105 Game 5 win over a Raptors team that nearly had its first title in hand.
Durant was making his highly anticipated return from a calf strain and looked sharp early, scoring 11 points in 12 minutes, before suffering a devastating leg injury in the second quarter. The two-time NBA Finals MVP limped off the floor with the help of team-mates and trainers.
After the win, an emotional Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced that Durant had suffered an Achilles injury. He is expected to have an MRI on Tuesday.
2019 NBA FINALS
Raptors 118 - Warriors 109 in Toronto
Warriors 109 - Raptors in Toronto
Raptors 123 - Warriors 109 in Oakland
Raptors 105 - Warriors 92 in Oakland
Warriors 106 - Raptors 105 in Toronto
In Oakland on Thursday night
For Game 5, at least, Durant's injury did not matter.
Stephen Curry scored 31 points and Klay Thompson added 26 as the Warriors thwarted a comeback by the Raptors, who narrowly missed capturing their first NBA title.
The Splash Brothers, Curry and Thompson, combined for three straight three-pointers in the closing minutes after Toronto had taken a six-point lead with under 3½ minutes remaining in front of a raucous, red-shirted crowd.
'Prayers up to KD,' said Curry, who led all scorers Monday.
'He gave us what he could and we hope he makes a speedy recovery. He sacrificed his body for us and I just feel bad for him.
'I've got a lot of emotions right now. It's crazy.'
Entering Monday, Durant's return was seen as the lone bright spot for the Warriors, who had dropped two consecutive games at home.
Unfortunately for Golden State, Durant grabbed for his right Achilles and calf area attempting to drive past Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka with 9:46 to play in the first half. The Warriors were leading 39-34, and the home crowd erupted with cheers as Durant crumbled to the hardwood.
Warriors forward Andre Iguodala was on Durant's left side as they made the long walk back to the room, and Myers and Curry were in the group immediately behind them.
A clearly disappointed Durant could be heard screaming an expletive as he was helped to the locker room.
Ibaka and team-mate Kyle Lowry motioned to hush the fans as Durant was walked to the other end of the court and down the tunnel to the locker room.
Durant's willingness to return in the series had been questioned because, as a soon-to-be free agent, he is expected to sign a lucrative contract this summer.
Bur rather than preserve his health for next year, Durant risked everything by playing on a bad calf in Game 5.
'The people that questioned whether he wanted to get back and play were wrong,' a tearful Myers told reporters. 'He's one of the most misunderstood people. He's a good team-mate and I'm lucky to know him.'
You can definitely see something pop! @ProFootballDoc
— ACL Recovery Club (@ACLrecoveryCLUB) June 11, 2019
Kawhi Leonard scored 26 points for the Raptors but couldn't get the final shot, having to give the ball up.
The Warriors had controlled Leonard for three quarters, but he scored 10 straight Toronto points in the fourth and the Raptors were close to their first championship and a celebration that would have stretched coast to coast in Canada.
But even after everything the Warriors had lost, they still had two of the best perimeter shooters in the world on the floor. Thompson hit a 3, and Curry followed with one to tie it at 103. Golden State got it back to Thompson and the Raptors lost sight of him just long enough for the tiebreaking shot with 57 seconds to go
Toronto cut it to one when Lowry was credited with a basket and the Raptors got a final chance when DeMarcus Cousins was called for an illegal screen. Leonard had the ball but the Warriors forced him to pass and it ended up in the corner to Lowry, who was way off as the buzzer sounded.
Cousins had 14 points for the Warriors and Draymond Green finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Golden State is the only team to lose a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, when Cleveland came back to win in 2016.
Now the Warriors have a chance to pull off the feat themselves, but it became more difficult after Durant limped off in the second quarter after he had missed the previous nine games with a strained right calf.
Durant first suffered the calf injury on May 8 in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets. He has missed the past nine games but was cleared to return to practice Sunday.
Heading into Game 5, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said there is no minutes restriction on Durant. According to multiple reports, Durant felt he was a 'full go.'
'You worry about the conditioning,' Kerr said ahead of Game 5. 'The skill, obviously, is undeniable. He's a guy who can get a shot off anytime he wants. ... He's Kevin Durant. If we have him out there, he'll be a threat. We know that.'
Raptors coach Nick Nurse agreed.
'Yeah, well, he brings everything, right?' Nurse asked rhetorically before Game 5. 'He first of all, brings an explosive transition game. He'll race up the floor and pull up from across half court, like a couple of their other guys do. So it's another threat in transition you got to get ready for. They have got a package of stuff they run for him.'
Durant had averaged 26 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game in the regular season. During the postseason, he is producing 34.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.
The announcement of Durant's return prompted oddsmakers to adjust the line for Game 5.
Toronto opened as a three-point favorite but was down to a one-point edge at Westgate on Monday afternoon. The consensus line of -1.5 was still a big drop from the opening number.
Durant has ended both of his last two seasons since joining the Warriors by winning NBA Finals MVP.
In fact, his odds of winning Finals MVP this year jumped to 9-1 on Bovada.com immediately after the announcement of his return. Only Toronto's Kawhi Leonard and Golden State's Stephen Curry are currently getting better odds.
Durant's return was also felt on Twitter, where the phrase 'Warriors in 7' began trending throughout Monday evening.
Durant's injury was not the only news heading into Monday's game.
Some parts of the Toronto area lost power at a bad time - as Game 5 of the NBA Finals was starting.
Toronto Hydro says outages were reported in some parts of the area and that crews were dealing with them as Game 5 was tipping off. The utility company says most of the outages were fixed in the first quarter.
In a tweet to customers, the company said they 'would like to thank everyone again for your patience - we know it's a big day for the city. Let's go Raptors!'
CANADIAN & INTERNATIONAL CELEBS PACK SCOTIABANK ARENA
Hockey icon and Ontario native Wayne Gretzky was among the celebrities at Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Toronto. Several other big names from the sports world were in the crowd as well - including Canadian tennis star and former NBA All-Star Celebrity Game player Eugenie Bouchard, soccer's Thierry Henry and Jonathan de Guzmán and hockey's Claude Giroux and Evander Kane.
There were also plenty of actors as well, including Chris Tucker and the father-and-son duo of Eugene Levy and Dan Levy.
Billionaire Richard Branson was also been seen in the stands.
And, as always, Canadian rapper and Raptors ambassador Drake sat in his usual front row seat. However, unlike the Eastern Conference Finals series against Milwaukee, Drake did not seem to irritate the opposing players or coaches with his sideline antics.
NBA FINALS SETS VIEWERSHIP RECORDS IN CANADA
The NBA says some portion of Game 4 of the NBA Finals was watched by almost 11 million Canadians, setting another viewership record in that country.
The average audience in Canada for Toronto's Game 4 win over Golden State was 4.9 million viewers, nearly 600 per cent more than the country's number for Game 4 of last year's series between Golden State and Cleveland. Combining the average audience in the U.S. and Canada, the 17.7 million viewers for Game 4 was up 4 percent over Game 4 of the finals last season.
Entering Monday's fifth game of the series, roughly 16 million Canadians - in a country of about 37 million - have watched at least some part of the finals.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS LIST TRADE DEMANDS FOR NBA All-STAR ANTHONY DAVIS
David Griffin began paving a path out of New Orleans for Anthony Davis, but the Pelicans' personnel boss wants suitors to pave that route with talent in return.
Griffin, the newly appointed vice president of basketball operations, began providing an outline of demands to teams interested in acquiring Davis, the All-Star center who demanded a trade before the 2019 All-Star break, per ESPN.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported Griffin isn't optimistic one team can satisfy his list of needs and it might take two or even three trade partners to facilitate a deal.
'So far, Los Angeles and New York teams --- the Clippers and Lakers, Knicks and Nets -- have been among front offices inquiring with New Orleans, league sources said,' Wojnarowski reported. 'The Boston Celtics have long considered a run at Davis, but they must take into consideration the future of free agent Kyrie Irving before committing to a significant offer of assets to New Orleans.'
Griffin helped assemble a championship roster for the Cleveland Cavaliers upon LeBron James' return from Miami.
The rebuild in New Orleans won't likely have an established star as part of the Pelicans' nucleus, but it likely will include prospective No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson.
Davis would be eligible for a five-year supermax contract if he stays in New Orleans, with a value above $235 million. A sign-and-trade could be considered, but Griffin is said to be pushing for a deal to completed before the 2019 draft on June 20. That timing and the start of free agency 10 days later could call for creative accounting and asset-for-asset type deals, which would also beckon the involvement of multiple teams.
The Lakers engaged the Pelicans in trade talks in February but those fell apart before much traction had been gained. However, the principal negotiators for the two sides -- Magic Johnson for the Lakers and Dell Demps in New Orleans -- are no longer employed by the teams involved.
The Pelicans' previous regime did not place a high value on the young talent the Lakers were attempting to send to New Orleans, including guards Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.
The Lakers also own the No. 4 pick in the 2019 draft.
The Knicks are expected to make a major push for All-Star talent this summer. What's not certain is whether they prefer to serve up a pairing from the 'Special K' group of Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Kemba Walker without parting with the assets it would take to acquire Davis.