TORONTO – Draymond Green has been a part of three NBA championship-clinching wins. But he ranks the Golden State Warriors’ 106-105 road victory against the Toronto Raptors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night as one of his greatest triumphs during his seven-year career.
Considering the deflating injury to Kevin Durant and the Warriors’ last-minute comeback to avoid elimination, this victory will go down as one of the greatest in Warriors history regardless of whether they three-peat as champs.
“It is at the top,” Green told The Undefeated. “Our backs were against the wall. Your back’s against the wall, you’re down 3-1 and controlled the entire game and then all of the sudden Kawhi [Leonard] gets loose.
“They go up six with a couple minutes left and we could fold. But we didn’t. It’s up there.”
The Raptors entered the game with a 3-1 series lead, just one victory away from their first title. Drake, the city of Toronto and Canada at large were ready to pop champagne. The last major sports championship in Toronto took place when the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.
The Warriors’ only hope appeared to be the return of Kevin Durant, who was making his first appearance in the Finals after missing a month with a calf strain.
Durant delivered early, scoring 11 points, making three 3-pointers, grabbing two rebounds and blocking one shot in 12 minutes. The two-time Finals MVP appeared to be the spark needed to keep the Warriors alive. But with 9:49 left in the second quarter, Durant went to the floor with an Achilles injury.
Raptors fans cheered as Durant lay on the ground, certainly thinking more about a championship and less about sportsmanship. Raptors veterans Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka motioned to the fans to change their tune, while the Warriors seethed in disgust at the treatment of their fallen brother.
“That’s bulls—,” Green told The Undefeated. “I won a championship. I know how it feels. It’s a great experience. But you don’t cheer when someone goes down to injury. That’s classless.”
Said Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins: “That’s some trashy a– s—. Kyle and Serge had to calm them down. That’s bogus.”
The Warriors went into halftime with 62-56 lead. But seeing Durant in the locker room after a season-ending injury with more than a $221 million max contract on the line in his upcoming free agency was the worst possible downer.
Shortly after the Warriors returned to action in the third quarter, Durant had a protective boot on his foot and walked out of Scotiabank Arena on crutches. The 30-year-old will receive an MRI on Tuesday, and ESPN has reported that a torn Achilles tendon is expected to be revealed.
“Kevin Durant loves to play basketball, and the people that questioned whether he wanted to get back on this team were wrong,” an emotional Bob Myers, the Warriors president of basketball operations, said after the game. “He is one of the most misunderstood people. He’s a good teammate. A good person. It’s not fair.”
Like Myers, several Warriors players were very emotional talking about Durant’s injury after the game.
“You see the commitment and the challenges and what’s been thrown at KD this whole year, really,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “He gave us what we had. He went out there and sacrificed his body. We know how it turned out.”
The injury situation got worse for the Warriors as forward Kevon Looney didn’t play in the fourth quarter after aggravating the first costal cartilage fracture he suffered in Game 2. Still, Golden State was up 85-78 in the fourth quarter with 11:32 remaining. But the Raptors would use a 12-2 run to take a 103-97 with 3:05 left, and their fans were at a fever pitch inside and outside the arena.
Credentialed Canadian media were in the pressroom cheering as the Raptors soared ahead. Some even put on raincoats in preparation for a championship champagne shower in the Raptors locker room. Raptors personnel rushed family members near the floor for a potential championship celebration. NBA great Bill Russell was also there to pass out the Finals MVP trophy, if need be.
On the floor, Warriors reserve forward Jordan Bell could sense that the Raptors’ championship party was in the process of starting.
“You could feel the energy when you’ve been on the other side of that,” Bell said. “You think you have the game locked. The fans are a little bit louder. A little bit cockier. They’re saying little extra things they usually wouldn’t say during a game. You could hear it. You feel it.”
But the Warriors had other plans.
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Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game with 1:22 remaining. After a missed 3-pointer by Leonard, Thompson snatched the lead back for the champs by nailing a trey with 57.6 seconds left.
“We’re never going to quit as long as there is still time ticking on the clock,” Green said. “We’ll never quit.”
After a Lowry layup and a Warriors turnover, the Raptors still had a chance to make title history in the final seconds. But Green blocked Lowry’s potential series-winning shot to seal the game.
Bell compared the Warriors’ survival to overcoming a brawl.
“You ever been jumped? Someone beat you up? A whole bunch of people? That ever happen to you before?” Bell asked a reporter.
After the reporter said no, Bell said: “It’s like someone comes in to jump you. And you come back and your friends come in and kick their a–. You’re kind of happy. It’s a better feeling than when you jump somebody. … You get them back.”
Making the victory even sweeter for Golden State was that it brought Oracle Arena back to life for one last time in Game 6.
The Warriors have played in the aging venue in East Oakland for 47 years in front of a variety of fans of all colors, classes and walks of life. Golden State will move 10 miles across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to Chase Center in the budding San Francisco neighborhood next season where the crowd will likely consist of more techies and wealthy fans. Expects tears of joy and sadness once the buzzer sounds at Oracle Arena on Thursday.
Win or lose, these Warriors have proved their heart and represented the grit of the tough neighborhood they play in. Game 5 was the latest example. Oakland and Warriors fans will never forget the last team to play in the East Bay for more than just championship reasons.
Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B., who said he spent $20,000 on a ticket close to the floor for Game 5 and won the money back after winning a $10,000 bet on the game, is looking forward to going back home for the final contest in Oracle.
“That win. That was big for the culture to get us back home,” said Mistah F.A.B., who says he will perform at halftime of Game 6 with fellow Oakland rappers Too $hort and E-40. “We won Game 5 by the hair on our chinny, chin, chin. But we won.”
The odds are still long for the Warriors with Durant sadly done. But Looney told The Undefeated he expects to play in Game 6, though he certainly won’t be 100 percent.
Keep in mind that the only NBA team to came back from a 3-1 Finals deficit is the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers, who rallied against the Warriors. It may take two more wins as meaningful as Game 5 for the Warriors to three-peat. Green believes his battered team has the heart to accomplish that.
“I’ve said that all along, ‘That is why we are champions,’ ” Green said. “Everyone likes to say, ‘Oh, champions? You have a great offense.’ You don’t win championships without the heart this team has. It showed up in a major way tonight.”