Raptors forced to regroup after letting NBA title slip from their grasp
By Frank Pingue
TORONTO, June 11 (Reuters) - Canadian basketball fans did not wake up on Tuesday nursing hangovers from a championship celebration but rather with a mild sense of panic after the Toronto Raptors missed a chance to clinch a maiden NBA title.
The Raptors, with an entire nation hanging on their every shot, had gone into Game Five with a 3-1 advantage and had led the defending champion Golden State Warriors by six points with under three minutes to play on Monday but came away empty-handed as their shooters went cold.
"We didn't play well enough. We didn't execute enough down the stretch and that stings a little bit, but there's a lot more basketball left to play," said Raptors guard Fred VanVleet.
"We came into this series expecting a long series and we put ourselves in a good position. Now it's time to look at the film and see how we can get better."
Toronto still have two more chances to close out the best-of-seven series, which resumes on Thursday in Oakland, but if they come away empty-handed will most certainly be haunted by their closing stretch to Game Five for the rest of their lives.
The Raptors trailed by 14 points at one point during the second half but impressively rallied back and led by six points with under three minutes to play to put the Warriors' bid for a fourth title in five years in serious jeopardy.
But Toronto combined for 1-for-6 shooting the rest of the way in a game that came down to the final possession where Kyle Lowry's last-second shot came up short after Warriors forward Draymond Green got a piece of the ball as it traveled through the air.
"It felt great out of my hand," Lowry said of his three-point shot attempt that had it gone in would have marked the first time a Canadian team has won an NBA championship.
"He got a piece of it, that's what great defenders do. He got a piece of it and we'll continue to look at it and see how we can be better for the next game."
The Raptors will surely like their chances going forward as they have already won both games played on Golden State's home court this series and are facing a Warriors lineup that due to injury is the thinnest it has been during their dynastic run.
Kevin Durant, the centrepiece of the Golden State's potent offense, started Game Five after missing over a month with a stained right calf but went down suddenly in the second quarter with an Achilles injury.
Despite the injury to Durant, who was named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in each of the last two years, Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard is approaching Game Six with the same sense of urgency.
"They're dangerous," said Leonard. "Obviously KD makes them a different team, they have been here before ... I'm just focusing on our team and what we got to do next game.
"But they played great tonight in the last three quarters after KD exited." (Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)