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Raptors try to keep level head after blown lead, missed opportunity to win title

2019 NBA Finals - Game Five

TORONTO, ONTARIO - JUNE 10: Serge Ibaka #9 of the Toronto Raptors dunks the ball against the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on June 10, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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The city of Toronto… no, the nation of Canada was getting ready to party Monday night after Game 5.

The years of pent-up frustration. The raw emotion of being on the verge of winning the NBA title for the first time. It was all about to be released. The growing basketball nation north of our border was ready for its time in the spotlight.

After struggling for three quarters, Kawhi Leonard had taken over. He had gone a personal 10-0 run and eventually put the Raptors up six with 3:28 left. The Raptors were rolling, they could taste the victory…

Then came a Klay Thompson three.

Then a Stephen Curry three. Then another Thompson three — the Warriors hit 20 threes on the night — and quickly the Raptors were playing catch-up again, down three. Except they didn’t catch up. The Warriors did what they needed to and picked up the victory to force a Game 6 back in Oracle Arena on Thursday.

How will the Raptors respond to that punch to the gut?

“We don’t really have much choice,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “And I think that our team has reacted all year long great to bad losses, and I would say it takes a lot to beat this team, and that took a hell of a lot of blows and a heck of a lot of balls bouncing the wrong way in the last couple minutes for us to come out on the wrong side of it tonight.

“But I’m super proud of the guys. Man, they played their guts out, kept on fighting, and put themselves in position to win it.”

The Raptors did get in position to get the win and end the series, which makes the loss harder to take. For example, they blew that previously mentioned six-point lead.

“I think that in this day and age, up six with three minutes to go doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Nurse said. “You got to keep playing and getting good shots and keep guarding. We have been a really good close-game team this year, both ends of the floor. We really guarded in the second half; we held them to 22 each quarter, and I felt good at that point. Just needed to make a couple more plays.”

Even after the Raptors blew that play they had a chance on the final possession. After an over-and-back violation on DeMarcus Cousins, the Raptors inbounded the ball (no timeout is taken to set up a play) and tried to get Kawhi Leonard the ball and a little space.

“We tried to get to Kawhi to his right side, they doubled off him Leonard,” Kyle Lowry said. “He swung it to Freddie (VanVleet], and Freddie had a look and he threw it to me in the corner, and Draymond got a piece of it. He blocked it. I’m not going to miss it; he got a little piece of it.”

It was a tremendous defensive play by Draymond Green, recovering to get a fingertip on Lowry’s corner three. If you watch the play, Green is reacting, pumping his fists, before the flight of the ball is clear. Because he knew.

The Raptors postgame were not down, not crushed. They were frustrated at a blown opportunity, but this team has taken on Kawhi Leonard’s personality — not to high, not too low, just keep moving forward. Which means on to Game 6. The Raptors know they still lead 3-2 and they need just one more win.

The party in Canada has been delayed, but it could be back on Thursday night.