TORONTO — Suddenly, it was the Toronto Raptors who were scrambling.
Perhaps they didn’t know how to respond after their stunning run was countered by one from the two-time champion Golden State Warriors, who had no intention of meekly succumbing to the moment or the pressure.
Despite their fatigue, the sullen feeling of watching two of their teammates leave the game with injury and an entire nation rooting for their demise, the Warriors bounced back to extend this series, extending this drama-filled season at least three more days.
With Kevin Durant leaving Game 5 in the second quarter with an Achilles’ injury that could affect his free agency, the Warriors continued to push, leading most of the way, with their dynasty at stake until Kawhi Leonard turned a shoddy night into a game-saving one, scoring 10 consecutive points late to give Toronto a 6-point lead with 3:28 left.
Like a heavyweight boxer trying desperately to hold on to his title against a younger foe, the Warriors managed some brilliant haymakers on the ropes, responding with three consecutive 3-pointers from their Splash Brothers — Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry — to regain the lead.
They then withstood the final push and got two key defensive stops, including on the final possession as the disheveled Raptors could only manage a Kyle Lowry prayer 3-pointers as they won, 106-105.
Game 6 is Thursday in Oakland but Durant won’t play and may have played his final game with the Warriors.
Warriors general manager Bob Myers addressed the media afterward in tears, revealing that Durant sustained an Achilles’ injury, different from the calf strain that kept him out nine games. If it’s a rupture, Durant could miss most if not all of next season.
He was expected to be the most coveted available free agent on the market this summer, and his future has been tied to that of the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, with speculation that the two want to sign with the same club.
When Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked to describe his emotions, he said, “I don’t think that I can, honestly. I just told the team I didn’t know what to say because on the one hand I’m so proud of them, just the amazing heart and grit that they showed, and on the other I’m just devastated for Kevin. So it’s a bizarre feeling that we all have right now.
“An incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time.”
While the Warriors were stellar down the stretch, Toronto coach Nick Nurse will have his regrets following this loss. He did not call a timeout with 15.7 seconds left after DeMarcus Cousins committed an offensive foul to give the Raptors a chance to win.
Leonard was blitzed defensively and suddenly the Raptors turned passive, leaving Lowry to a launch a 24-footer at the buzzer that was tipped by Draymond Green.
For a while, the Warriors were looking whole, resembling the team that many observers expected to breeze through the NBA playoffs en route to their fourth title in five years. Leading by 4 points with 9:46 left in the second period, Durant already had 11 points and looked like himself.
Then came the injury.
Durant took a power dribble toward Serge Ibaka and them crumbled to the floor. When he rose, he headed immediately to the locker room, with teammate Andre Iguodala and head trainer Rick Celebrini aiding him on either side. Curry, who checked out of the game, soon joined the group in escorting Durant.
Toronto fans initially cheered as Durant lay on the floor as Ibaka stole the ball. Ibaka and Kyle Lowry motioned the crowd to quiet and some quickly started chanting “KD” as he was helped off the floor. He will undergo an MRI on Tuesday but the injury appears serious.
He finished with 11 points in 12 minutes, showing flashes of the brilliance that has made him a Top 3 player. But it would be his only 12 minutes of the series, and it will be determined in about three weeks whether that was his last appearance as a Warrior.
He does have a $31.5 million player option to return.
“Everybody gets so wrapped up in chasing championships and the greatness that you see on the floor, but life is more important in terms of caring about an individual and what they’re going through on a daily basis,” Curry said of Durant. “And you see the commitment and the challenges and just what’s been thrown at KD this whole year, really. And he gave us what he had, he went out there and sacrificed his body, and we know how it turned out. “I just feel so bad for him, to be honest, like that’s nobody should have to go through something like that, especially with this stage that we have.”
Myers, who signed Durant and oversaw his rehabilitation from the calf injury, was emotional in explaining the injury and defending Durant.
“He was cleared to play; that was a collaborative decision,” Myers said. “I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame, but I understand in this world and if you have to, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations department. And to tell you something about Kevin Durant, Kevin Durant loves to play basketball, and the people that questioned whether he wanted to get back to this team were wrong.
“And I’m not here to — he’s one of the most misunderstood people. He’s a good teammate, he’s a good person, it’s not fair. I’m lucky to know him. I don’t know — I don’t have all the information on what really the extent of what it all means until we get a MRI, but the people that worked with him and cleared him are good people, they’re good people.”
The Warriors moved on, as difficult as the task was. Cousins, who was benched after two poor games in Oakland, checked in and scored 7 consecutive points as the Warriors led for the final 15:33 of the first half.
Toronto was just trying to stay under control on the biggest sport day the city has seen in 26 years. Fans lined the streets surrounding Scotiabank Arena as early as Saturday, and they stood in the steady rain just to watch Game 5 on the 5 screen in the plaza outside the arena, aptly named Jurassic Park.
They were a mere 3:28 from that elusive title, then the Warriors returned to themselves again, at the perfect time.
“I think a couple of us were playing a little bit too fast on the offensive end,” Leonard said. “But we scored 28 points in the first quarter, could have played a little bit better defense, like guys were getting open shots. I guess nerves probably settled down from there and we started to play a little better basketball. “But we’re going against a great team and they weren’t going to quit.”