Imagine for a moment, Raptor fans, if this scenario was presented to you around Christmas: In June you will have three opportunities to beat the defending world champion Golden State Warriors in order to win the franchise’s first-ever NBA title.
It sounds like an improbable scenario, yet one that has become reality for the 2019 Raptors.
“If you would have probably told me at the start of this thing, ‘If we could fast forward to a 3-2 lead, you want to take it?'” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said following Game 5’s lost to the Warriors. “I would probably say, ‘Yes.'”
History is within reach; victory is so tangible that fans can taste it.
Maybe that’s why in the wake of the Raptors’ Game 5 loss at home, a creeping cloud of doubt has emerged among pockets of fans.
If you talked to some people, it seemed like the Raptors had actually lost the series and not had two more chances to win.
For basketball neophytes, maybe this series, these playoffs are a lesson in how difficult it is to win and how difficult it can be to finish of a dynastic team like the Warriors.
But rest assured Raptors fans, most basketball experts say the Canadian team is still very much in the driver’s seat.
It always helps to look at what Las Vegas is saying. The Warriors are slightly favoured to win Thursday night’s game, but given the circumstances, that’s to be expected. The slight advantage is a nod to Warriors’ home court, Oracle Arena, where the team will play its last game ever.
It’s the encore that wasn’t supposed to happen, and the place will be rocking as fans say goodbye to the team ahead of its move from Oakland, Calif., to San Francisco. More importantly though, odds makers still have the Raptors as the heavy favourites to win the series, even if they don’t get it done in Game 6.
Other leading prognostication sites concur. Nate Silver’s popular fivethirtyeight.com site still gives the Raptors an overwhelming 83 per cent chance to emerge triumphant in this series. Those are pretty good odds.
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Raptors have been better
Look at the numbers: the Raptors have been the better team throughout this series. Toronto has an advantage in almost all key statistical categories and continues to get sublime play from its superstar Kawhi Leonard, who if the series ends tonight will undoubtedly win Finals MVP.
The Warriors, on the other hand, are dealing with the tragedy of losing Kevin Durant to injury. Sure, the injury provides a well of inspiration for the Warriors. But by almost any statistical measure (and by evidence of Durant’s domination during his brief time on the floor in Game 5 Monday night) the Warriors are far superior with Durant on the floor. His injury is tragic but the impact of his absence cannot be understated.
“Toronto is firmly the favourite once again. Durant’s arrival back on the scene threw everything up in the air,” wrote ESPN NBA insider Tim Bontemps. “It’s hard to see how Golden State can summon enough to pull off two more games, no matter how much championship DNA remains.”
“The Raptors have appeared to be the better team in this series when Durant is out,” adds fellow insider Andre Snellings. “They are longer and more athletic than the Warriors, able to maintain offensive and defensive pressure that Golden State seems unable to overcome. Toronto should be the clear favourite to win one of the next two games.”
Can the Warriors pull off an improbable comeback and win this series? Of course, even without Durant this is a team that still possesses two of the great shooters of all time in Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. It is also a team looking to add to its dominant run in the modern NBA, one that includes three titles in the last four seasons.
They won’t be vanquished easily.
But take breath, Raptor fans. The team is still up 3-2, with two chances to win.