My mind is still racing after Game 5 of the NBA Finals—a thrilling, nail-biting, sweat-inducing 106–105 Warriors win. The last time I was jumping out of my seat yelling because of improbable shots was three years ago, when the Dubs were the mega-favorites against the underdog Cavs. In 2019, the roles have flipped. Thanks to injuries, Golden State is a shell of its dominant self, while the Raptors have been the better team for most of the series. The result is incredibly compelling basketball, and now I’m rooting hard to see the Warriors pull out a Finals upset of their own.
Where do we begin after Monday night? Holy s---. Game 5 felt like it occurred over multiple days. It started with Kevin Durant making his highly anticipated return to the court, and looking like Kevin F---king Durant for 12 minutes, scoring 11 quick points before he suffered an Achilles injury. Golden State weathered the storm, thanks to the kind of full-squad performance the team has mostly lacked for nearly all of the Finals. There will be plenty of Durant chatter over the next few days and through the offseason, but for now, let's focus on the Warriors who pulled out an absurd victory.
Kevon Looney basically played until he couldn’t lift his arms above his head—and then he kept playing some more until finally succumbing to something called a “1st costal cartilage non-displaced fracture.” I have no idea what that is, but it does not sound like something anyone should be playing a basketball game with. DeMarcus Cousins was out of the rotation until KD went down, and then he returned with some heroic minutes, scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while holding up just well enough defensively in ways he couldn’t the past two games. Cousins wasn’t perfect, but the fact that he could offer Steve Kerr anything after he was planted on the bench was remarkable.
Draymond Green was his typical brash self, and his passion was dripping off the screen. It was Green’s rotation that kept Kyle Lowry from having a clean look at a game-winning three, as he expertly covered Marc Gasol before flying out to the corner to deflect the Lowry shot without fouling. Green also hit two huge threes, letting bombs fly from deep as other players were scared to shoot. Elsewhere, Quinn Cook hit a big fourth-quarter three of his own, while Andre Iguodala took on the task of trying to slow down Kawhi Leonard.
Meanwhile, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were their brilliant selves. They combined to hit 12 threes, and the duo scored the Warriors’ final nine points when it looked like their dynasty was left for dead. The Raptors went up 103–97 thanks to a personal 10–0 run from Kawhi. Steph and Klay came back with three threes of their own to re-take the lead, an adrenaline-pumping display of shotmaking that saved Golden State’s season.
The resiliency of this Warriors team—down Durant, down Looney, looking old and fatigued—is legitimately awe-inspiring. The combination of stakes and difficulty have never been this high for Golden State. Even when the Dubs went down 3–2 against the Rockets last season, it felt like they were in control because of the Durant, Curry, and Thompson trio. The hilarious margin of error the Warriors have enjoyed the last three years has been completely erased. This is a veteran team with two clear-cut stars, an all-time glue guy, and a bunch of spare parts being held together by duct tape going toe-to-toe with a veteran-laden squad led by a historic talent in Leonard.
I don’t know how an objective third party can root for the Raptors at this point. Even if you think Golden State has won too much over the last four years, this isn’t that Golden State team. The Warriors cushion is gone. In it’s place is guile, guts, and a legendary resilience.
Is the Dubs’ performance from Game 5 replicable in any way? Almost certainly not. Golden State was an absurd +36 from the three-point line Monday night. The Warriors got hot from outside, and got stellar play from the supporting cast that’s been notoriously inconsistent in this series. But I’m not saying the Dubs are definitely going to win, simply that completing the 3–1 comeback without Durant would almost be on par to what Cleveland did in 2016.
This is what I want from the NBA Finals. I want drama. I want stakes. I want the improbable. That’s what the Warriors delivered in spades in Game 5. There were so many moments they could have folded Monday night. After Durant’s injury. After Kawhi’s near Finals-clinching run late in the fourth. But with their backs against the wall, Golden State delivered in a way it hasn’t had to during this entire run of success.
The biggest complaint against the Warriors since Durant joined the team has been their inevitability. They felt unfair. That narrative has completely changed. It’s Durant circumstance—pushing himself to return only to hurt his Achilles—that feels unfair. Golden State has gone from inevitable to unpredictable, which is exactly what the NBA has lacked during the Dubs’ ascent to dominance. Everything many felt was taken away from the league when KD joined the Warriors is now being given back by that team itself. That, and the added emotion of how the Durant situation has played out, is why I want to see Golden State win the Finals. Three years after being the cocky champions who were knocked off their pedestal, the Warriors are being challenged to an absurd degree. Watching them meet that challenge head on—and ultimately conquer it—would be the most satisfying outcome to this series.