Everyone who has participated in Game 5 of this weird NBA Finals, a series that has gone wildly from boring (Game 3) to incredibly intense (Game 5), is still shocked to some degree.
The game and probably the series will be remembered for Kevin Durant's broken Achilles – the decision to play him, the public tears of Bob Myers, the president of the Golden State Warriors for basketball operations, and the private of other Golden employees State.
Immediately after the injury and a classic Golden State comeback, it was difficult to discuss the implications of a possible Achilles tear on the wider league landscape. It could change so many things for so many teams and players: the Knicks, Clippers, Warriors, Nets, Celtics, maybe Kyrie Irving, maybe Anthony Davis, but obviously more than all together for Durant.
Durant will come back from this, but he could never be the same player. The story of the Achilles injuries, as described by Kevin Pelton of ESPN, suggests that Durant is most likely to return, since the likeliest result is slightly less than his old self.
Durant is not just a superstar. He is perhaps the best player in the league, though Kawhi Leonard has made his claim ̵
Durant was there. He is two times MVP in the final. With 22,940 points in the regular season, he is already 30 years of the 31st of all time. Big shooters age well. In good health, Durant could have finished second or third on the rating list. With impeccable health and longevity, he could have challenged Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record. He's a couple of rebounds, helping to become the 18th player to have scored at least 22,000 points, 6,000 rebounds and 3,500 ricochets.
Again, he is 30 years old. He's well on his way to becoming one of the top ten players of all time, and that's probably a testament to how his statistical resume and performance would have looked after the season in a decade if Monday night had not happened.
Durant is more than a superstar. He is a historical giant.
When everyone tried to digest the shock of the collapsing Durant, a classic final game developed. We'll forget a lot of the basketball, and that's human and understandable, but here are eight moments I'll try to freeze in my brain:
Klays First Crunch Time 3
This was the first Golden State possession after the now infamous Nick Nurse time out. The nurse's decision seemed strange in real time, with a plus of 103-97 in Toronto and all the momentum that speaks for her. But in the light of the day, it feels like we are giving too much importance to a decision that is easy to recognize. If Sister thought the raptors were gassed, they probably were. The Warriors exchanged only one player – Quinn Cook for Andre Iguodala – and it weakened their defense for a possession that could have brought the game almost out of reach.
And then Steve Kerr released this beauty. It is a modification of a typical action: a tall guy sets a screen for the ball handler, and while his defender pauses to solve this problem, he shoots off to place a pindown for another shooter. In most such games, the screener – Draymond Green – cuts in the direction of the frame to look for a shooter who rises from the baseline.
Kerr designed this set so that Green cuts across the 3-point arc. The Warriors anticipated that Green would trap Stephen Curry in Toronto, meaning that no defender would be around Thompson when he turned for Green's second option here to switch. They played small, with Pascal Siakam on the bench, Leonard in power forward, and Kyle Lowry, who defended Green. Lowry and Fred VanVleet are tailor made for the change. But Toronto was in "trap" mode, and this deep cut hit the Raptors unprepared.
Leonard meets Thompson on the other side of Green. Thompson and Green stage him with a nice piece of improvisation: Green turns for a second screen and Thompson turns into paid dirt.
A streaker might argue that Norman Powell should emerge from the left corner, but he's with Cook – a good shotgun who plays against Iguodala just for his respect.
This was, in a sense, a classic victory for the Splash Brothers. The warriors struck 20 out of 42 from the depths; Toronto clinked to an 8-by-32 mark. Golden State prevailed in the 3-point standings against Toronto with 36 points. This is really hard to overcome, even if you win almost every other statistical category. It's a bit reminiscent of Game 4 in the 2016 final when Golden State scored 11 points more than Cleveland, which seemed like a punch in the gut before the gravity of Green's other strike became known.
Golden State also got five 3s combined by Green, Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins and Cook. You'll need a certain threshold of open brands from these guys to win games 6 and 7.
Klay gives Golden State the lead
It's the pass that I'll remember the most. Guys who see the game in front of everyone else – guys like Iguodala – vibrate with a certain nervousness. They want the ball fast because they already know where to go with it, and if you wait an extra half second to go with them, the window they see – but you will not – will close. Iguodala jumps to hit the ball so he gets an extra boost on the otherwise almost touching pass for Green.
"Andre does that," Thompson told me after the game.
Iguodala and Green hurl the ball Leonard is traveling so fast that he can not get rid of Thompson without flying past him.
Maybe Leonard should have been closer to Thompson, and Marc Gasol could have sniffed Iguodala without help. But if the warriors move the ball like this, the opponents have no time to think beyond a crisis reaction.
A Klay from the Droplet 3
How many guys are dribbling from the post-ups toward the half-court, and swirling in fought-over-the-dribble 3s? That's ridiculous. Thompson told me after the game that he is doing exactly that shot. "It's a rhythm beat for me," he said.
The Raptors began doubling Thompson in Game 4 in the post, probably to test his Achilles tendon by dribbling it out of tight confines. The Raptors are also happy to lead traps to actions they have not taken in previous games to unbalance opponents.
Find everything you need to know about the NBA Finals.
• Schedules, matches and more
• What Game 5 says about Game 6
• Toronto was in trouble, now 1 victory from the title
• Can Warriors return without Durant?
• Predictions: Favorites and Probable MVPs
] • What's next for retired teams?
A disadvantage of Lowry at Thompson: Thompson is six inches taller than Lowry and it's nice to shoot at him.
Apart from a few hiccups in Toronto's defense in the first 18 minutes, Game 5 was largely well played at both ends – two great teams forcing each other to stretch. Golden State had 52 points in the middle of the second quarter; it had scored 54 points in the next 30 minutes, and to get there, this crazy shoot-making session was required.
When Danny Green got the curry order, he did well (at least after the early lot) to track him down everywhere on the floor and with his length to fill in gaps. VanVleet has done well against Curry in all series.
When Toronto moved, most of it happened without exposing any large openings. Watch three different Raptors guard curry within five seconds:
The Raptors often left only one profitable off-ball screening option for Golden State: the Gasol-type Splash Brothers (or Serge Ibakas) fend off and on Torontos Centers are a step that slowly goes beyond the arch. For the greater part of this estate, Gasol creates the right balance to defend a non-shooter of the Warriors (Iguodala). He deviates from Iguodala to prevent a possible Durant cut, and then returns to pressure when Iguodala gets the ball.
When Iguodala swings him to Curry, Gasol stays nearby – knowing that Thompson is lurking nearby. But he turns to curry and at that moment, Thompson zooms down from an Iguodala screen. Lowry strolls around unscathed, but "almost" is not enough considering Thompson's economies of scale and transcendental shooting. (Thompson is 20 out of 35 in this series.)
There are no good answers. If Gasol jumps twice Thompson, Iguodala rolls free to the edge and Golden State takes over from there the ping ping ping game. Given the exhausted status of the Warriors, it is probably preferable to force the Golden State to make more passes than the half-fought Thompson / Curry triples.
Falling Offensively Rim Runs Offensively Reclaimed for Golden State Centers:
Golden State was on Monday in its "A" movement game. The two days off have revived tired legs.
Curry runs into Thompson in the corner, as if engaging in an off-ball screening dance – another thing Toronto coped well in Game 5 – and then accelerating to a U-shape , Turn around Kevon Looney. VanVleet loses ground when he turns around that pickaxe. Still, that's a good defense.
(Leonard, who strangely guarded Looney there, could change, though this would require some high-level improvements.) His half jerk toward Curry is useless and gives Looney a head start.)  Expect the Golden State to be in play 6 Gasol and Ibaka often attacks this way. This is one of the few failures that are still in their pockets. Toronto might try some answers, including an even more dramatic sell-out of these projectionists – and all the other non-shooters who happen to be around.
Another vulnerability: the Curry Green Pick-and-Roll, the foundation game of the Warrior Dynasty. Golden State scores a whopping 1.36 points per possession on any trip with such a game, according to second-spectrum data. Toronto has not quite understood the rhythm of the defense yet. Green's defender often wanders around in no-man's-land, a traffic cone where curry can slip around. Curry's pick-and-roll volume is slightly down in this series. A small uptrend may not solve everything, considering how poor he is, but it might help.
Kyle Lowry's Moment
For about eight minutes bridging the third and fourth quarters, Lowry enjoyed one of the finest high-stakes circuits. His career was to keep Toronto so tight that Leonard could bring the Raptors home ,
He attacked mainly cousins with switches, shook him with start-and-stop dribbles and prepared Ibaka for the pick-and-roll. Before the hectic endgame – including the missed corner 3 for everything and another wide-open missed triple at 2:15 that everyone had already forgotten – this track seemed to be Lowry's crowning moment.
He planted seeds for it early. Despite a slow start in which he (and Gasol) seemed to miss some decent 3s, Lowry was picked out with his style of play:
What a combination of ball fakes and pivot moves. Lowry notices Curry ducking under the hoe, and instead of pulling himself up for an ultra-long threesome, he slaps Curry to the other side. This forces Looney to continue turning away from gas.
Lowry fakes a pass, gets into a fake shot that lures Looney to the edge, and ends with a small water balloon dropoff to Big Spain.
Each rebound counts for three
Until Leonard's run, Golden State had an answer every time Toronto sneaked to three or four points. (The Raptors have also given some open glances in these scenarios, even towards the end of the first half.)
Such an answer:
I mean, come on. When may you turn your head against these guys or go on the offensive? Never? That must be a terrible feeling for Green – watching the rebound over three Raptors and straight back to Curry, knowing that you left Thompson. (It must be a damn cool feeling for Thompson: Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme! ) If this was a movie, someone – probably a nurse – would "NOOOOOOOOOO!" Scream. In slow motion.
Quinn Cook's Fake Timeout
Patience: Did Cook use a fake timeout in the fourth quarter of a knockout game in the NBA final? "I have," he told me. "I practice that in my mind, whenever Steve tells me to take [a timeout]I think about doing it." (Cook said Kerr actually asked for a break and you can see Kerr signaling for a break.) "It's an NBA thing, they somehow point to the referee, but when I pointed at the referee, I paused Norman Powell, so I made a move. "
I've long argued that every team should have the wrong timeout in their playbook. Cook says Curry does that now and then, but Cook was a bit cautious when he stepped out of his alley. He also feared this column could overshadow Toronto. I do not think so. The fake timeout works.
Block man, board man
OK, Kawhi. If Toronto had the title, this sequence in Springfield would be a highlight. It probably should be like that anyway.
Boogie Gets Help
The Warriors do not win without 14 points and six rebounds from cousins sitting on the bench until Durant's injury forced Kerr to revise Golden State's rotation. At the beginning of the second quarter, cousins set up good screens, ran around the edge and pulled some nice passes.
Kerr pulled this evil boy out of time. Draymond Green's hockey check brings Toronto to switch Siakam to cousins. Siakam challenges cousins, but the lupine is clear, because any defender who could stop him is punctured by the threat of curry jumping from a screen to the right.
Get ready for Zion, Morant and more.
Toronto attacked cousins at the other end for almost every ball possession. It worked, though cousins could assert themselves on two pick-and-rolls – one each by Leonard and Lowry. About 1:45 minutes before the end, Lowry threw the ball into the backcourt.
Cousins must dig deep in Game 6 – especially if Looney is limited. (Golden State had some success in picking and rolling with Looney, though it felt difficult, and the change was uneven overall as the Raptors romped too often to the brink in front of them, with the team's remaining core four and looney Minus.) -10 in 41 minutes, and have allowed Toronto a fat scoring number at this time, via NBA.com.)
Toronto will come to cousins. Can he produce enough in attack to make up for the situation? Can the Warriors score their first home win in this series since Game 1?
It feels dangerous to predict anything in the most unusual recent finals.