TORONTO: Clutch 3-pointers by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson enabled the defending champion Golden State Warriors to edge Toronto 106-105 on Monday and sustain their hopes of winning a third consecutive NBA Finals.
Curry scored 31 points while Thompson added 26 as the Warriors pulled within 3-2 in the best-of-seven championship series, forcing a sixth game Thursday at Oakland, California, with game seven if needed in Toronto on Sunday.
“Do or die,” Curry said. “It wasn’t pretty in the second half but we just made the shots.”
But the victory was dimmed by the loss of Warriors star Kevin Durant, who made his long-awaited return from a right calf injury but scored just 11 points in 12 minutes before suffering a right Achilles tendon injury and being helped off the court.
Durant, the 2017 and 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player and Golden State’s top playoff scorer with 34.2 points a game, left the arena on crutches and will have an MRI on Tuesday.
“On the one hand I’m so proud of them, just the amazing heart and grit they showed, and on the other I’m just devastated for Kevin,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“So it’s a bizarre feeling we all have right now, an incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time.”
The Warriors seek their fourth title in five seasons while the Raptors suffered an agonising near-miss in their bid for the first title in their 24-season history.
History remains on the Raptors’ side. Only once in 34 prior situations has a team led the NBA Finals 3-1 and lost the title, that being in 2016 when LeBron James-led Cleveland rallied to defeat Golden State.
Needed a couple plays
Kawhi Leonard, who led Toronto with 26 points, sank a back-to-back 3-pointer and jumper to give the Raptors, who trailed by 14 points in the third quarter, their largest lead at 103-97 with 3:28 remaining.
“In this day and age, up six with three minutes to go, doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I felt good at that point. Just needed to make a couple more plays.”
Golden State answered with Thompson and Curry sinking 3-pointers and Thompson nailing another that put Golden State ahead to stay at 106-103 with 57 seconds to play.
Kyle Lowry cut the lead to the final margin with 30 seconds remaining and, after Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins was whistled for a foul trying to set a screen, the Raptors had one last chance to swipe the title.
But the Warriors double-teamed Leonard and Draymond Green blocked a Lowry corner 3-point shot at the buzzer, the crowd going from loud cheers to stunned silence in shockingly short order.
“Our defence was bending down the stretch but we didn’t break and the last stop was tremendous. Amazing defence on that last play from all five guys,” Kerr said.
“Draymond’s block, he covered so much ground on Kyle’s shot from the corner. So our guys just stayed with it and they stayed poised and just an amazing job finishing the game.”
Durant’s brief return
Durant had missed nine playoff games over the past month since being hurt against Houston in the second round, but he briefly made the Warriors look like the team that dominated the past two NBA Finals.
Durant made two early 3-pointers as the Warriors hit 7-of-8 shots to open the game, including five 3-pointers, for a 19-12 edge. But Marc Gasol scored 10 early points as Toronto had a 9-0 run for a 21-19 lead.
Golden State closed the first quarter with a 15-7 run for a 34-28 advantage and led 39-34 when disaster struck 2:14 into the second quarter.
Durant planted his right foot while dribbling the ball and pulled up, then sat on the court and grabbed the same sore calf that had sidelined him.
Durant was helped off the court and to the locker room, his dramatic comeback ended far too soon.
Cousins, who had 14 points off the bench, entered and sparked Golden State but the Raptors closed the gap and kept the game on a knife’s edge to the finish.