Nigerian basketball icon, Masai Ujuri could not get the early celebration of victory in the NBA Finals, which he wanted on Monday, as the Canada-based team in which he is club president, Toronto Raptors lost at home to Golden State Warriors in Game 5.
It appeared like a straight forward unassailable fourth victory for Raptors, having won Game 4 away to get a handsome 3-1 lead heading into the fifth tie at home, but The Warriors pulled off another shock.
Ujiri was left gasping and flabbergasted, as Raptors fell by a single point, which was just good enough for Golden State to keep hope alive for a fifth title in six years, as they now head home Game 6 and possible take the series into a decisive and final Game 7 in Toronto.
That was not what Ujiri bargained for, on a night when it looked like the Warriors’ championship run had finally come to an end, and all of Canada was poised to celebrate their first ever conquest of the NBA, with The Raptors’ coronation.
However, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson delivered yet another great escape, as they rallied Golden State in the closing minutes for a 106-105 win that sent the series back to Oakland’s Oracle Arena on Thursday.
The victory was more remarkable, considering Warriors’ diminishing health, with the absence of Kevin Durant sorely felt and Curry looked worn down in the second half of Game 4, fatigued from the grueling minutes of his 47-point Game 3 masterpiece.
Thompson was in uniform for Game 3 but held out by the team for fear of re-injury — a decision that now appears all the more prudent.
For much of these Finals, Curry and Thompson hadn’t synced on the floor when it mattered most.
After Kawhi Leonard put the finishing touches on his personal 10-0 run late in Game 5, the NBA was headed toward putting Leonard’s name on the Bill Russell Finals MVP Award.
With the Warriors down six, Thompson eluded Leonard, Curry followed suit off an old-fashioned, Reggie Miller, Klay added one more triple with 56.6 seconds left.
Klay hopped back like he did that May night in Oklahoma City three years ago when he single-handedly sent the NBA Western Conference finals back to Oakland for a Game 7 finale.
Whether Durant’s injury provided emotional numbness for the Warriors or fueled them with more urgency, they know that basketball gods don’t discriminate on such matters.
During Durant’s initial injury, it seemed like they were motivated to show they could win without him.
Now, they want to win for him — and they’ll take that extra weight on the floor, molding it into opportunity.
Curry always talked about embracing the moment, and when Raptors coach Nick Nurse called a timeout following his team’s big run, the champions sensed their opportunity, though they trailed and had lost momentum.
There have been openings throughout this series, however slim, and the Warriors haven’t been able to follow through, this time they rallied.
However, at the end of Game 5, Curry said he could not remember what he was thinking Monday evening.
He had run to the locker room to walk those final steps with Durant after the star’s comeback had turned from triumph to tumultuous, a stunning Achilles injury collapsing one of the greatest players to the court.
Durant’s exit drained the Golden State Warriors, and yet all Curry knew was that “the spirit” told him to follow behind his fallen teammate.
Draymond Green said: “You could kind of just feel the life just go right out of us. But to Steph’s credit, he kind of rallied the troops.
“He talked to everybody, went around the huddle and told everybody to stay locked in and do this for Kevin. I think we did a good job of coming together.”