Narratives are, by design, fairly linear. They allow latecomers and distant observers to walk away feeling a sense of understanding about nuanced subjects. Game 5 of the NBA Finals was one of the strangest games of basketball I’ve ever seen played and it didn’t allow a single person to walk away with a clean-cut narrative after the final whistle blew. Game 5 was as frantic and frenetic as Kramer at times, and as morose and removed as “dark and disturbed” Jerry at others. I think the Raptors close this series out in game 6, but last night was beyond the pale.
Let’s get the fan talk out of the way first. After Jimmy Kimmel sketches painted Raptors fans as the most polite people in the world, all the talk about the city of Toronto deserving this championship, and the credit that was doled out to the fandom for their tenacity and loyalty, the fans had a hiccup. They boo’d Kevin Durant’s injury in a display that has been admonished and commented on by millions. It’s incredibly strange that so much of the conversation around this series has surrounded this raucous Raptors fanbase, and now after a lot of warm reception, they’re villains to some. All this happening in the same series where one of the Warriors minority owners shoved Kyle Lowry. I’m not equating the two, or commenting on either, just that both happening in the same series is beyond odd. There’s a long conversation to be had about tribalism and the nasty underbelly of fandom, but there’s smarter people for that and it seems a bit dramatic when I know most everyone reading this is a lot closer to the type of fan I’m proud represents the Raptors as opposed to the villainous type.
People still talk about Philadelphia booing Santa Claus so many years later. This is a tough look for the fanbase, but not representative of the whole. Steph Curry talked glowingly of the city and the people before adding that he was confused at the response. If people can maintain the wider scope of the Raptors fandom, maybe it won’t take so long to put this behind them.
Stephen Curry on the fans in Toronto initially cheering after Kevin Durant’s injury.
— 95.7 The Game (@957thegame) June 11, 2019
Kawhi Leonard’s game 5 was as full of ups and downs as anyone else’s. And that was something that would’ve been forgotten by everyone if his incredible, show-stopping 10-2 run during the final 5 minutes had stuck and the Raptors would have won. He was 5 of 19 from the floor outside of that burst, which is in stark contrast to what we’re used to seeing from him. Now that the Raptors have to return to Oracle Arena, Leonard has to go back to the drawing board, in some sense, and evaluate how he can attack the Warriors a bit better. And it’s a damn shame that, that has to happen. Leonard’s explosion in the fourth was Michael Jordan-esque, it was heroic and should’ve been a defining moment in the Raptors playoff run, and yes, the narrative. Now we’re left with this and it feels like we were robbed of something special.
Kyle Lowry – who is no stranger to pernicious narratives – played a terrific game. He navigated the pick n’ roll with precision and guile, he attacked the Warriors big men without relenting and he managed the pace of the game fairly well. So much of his work was undone by poor decisions late. The same passivity that has doomed the Raptors offense for stretches, found him and the other Raptors rotating around the Sun that is Leonard. Running clock and denying themselves a chance to run good, strong actions against a Warriors defense that really can’t defend the Raptors offense. This “playing not to lose” care-taking that the Raptors marched out after going up 103-97 is what allowed the Warriors to unleash a 9-0 run and steal the game.
This game almost feels like it is beyond analysis. The things that combined to throw this thing way out of loop and drive it completely helter-skelter couldn’t be replicated if you tried. The Warriors hit twenty shots from downtown, the Raptors shot 8-of-32 for their part, and the greatest statistical shooter of all time in the Finals, Danny Green, went 0-4 on mostly open shots. Marc Gasol led the Raptors in scoring for most of the game, the refs called an offensive foul on the last Warriors possession of the game, I mean everything was absurd. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Now the stage is set for the Warriors to mount a historical comeback against the Raptors, claim the title, and dedicate the victory to the injured Durant, but I don’t think that’s how things will shake out. More than likely, the Raptors will put the clamps on the Warriors skeleton crew in Oracle Arena and raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy as champions. For Raptors fans, that will be incredibly meaningful and the true bright spot of the franchise’s tenure. Lowry will be celebrated and enshrined in our collective memories. Leonard will achieve folk-lore status.
For the Warriors, though, they’ll likely have to contend with the media storm that surrounds them in the aftermath of what is being reported as Durant’s “likely” torn achilles. Remaining cognizant of Leonard’s refusal to cooperate with the San Antonio Spurs doctors, prioritizing his own health and seeking out his own medical staff, and now reaping the rewards, it’s tough to see how this Durant situation isn’t at least somewhat transformative for the league in how they handle injuries. Durant is a mega-star and this looks like it will be a major roadblock in his career.
An incredibly strange Finals game. One that I’m sure the Raptors can bounce back from, recapture their normalcy, and secure a shining moment for the Raptors fandom after a dark night for the league.
Have a blessed day.