TORONTO (AP) — They were up by six, in the city that Torontonians call The Six, with less than three minutes left.
The NBA championship was there for the taking.
And the Toronto Raptors couldn’t finish it off.
The Raptors still lead the NBA Finals 3-2, even after losing at home to the Golden State Warriors 106-105 on Monday night. But they’ll be heading back to California on Tuesday, and allowed the Warriors — the wounded two-time defending NBA champions — to have renewed life in their quest for a third straight ring.
“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 postgame. “I would probably say yes.”
Kawhi Leonard’s jumper with 3:28 left put the Raptors up 103-97. They were outscored 9-2 the rest of the way. They missed five of their last six shots — the only make was on a goaltending call — and went 0 for 3 from 3-point range in that crucial closing stretch. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry scored all nine of Golden State’s points in that finishing kick.
The Larry O’Brien Trophy went back into its carrying case.
Off to Oracle it goes for Game 6 on Thursday night, the final home game the Warriors will ever play in that building.
“We had a chance to win a championship tonight and we didn’t do it,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “We didn’t play well enough, we didn’t execute enough down the stretch and that stings a little bit.”
The Raptors are still in control of the series. The worst thing that can happen to them in the next few days is to have a Game 7 in their Scotiabank Arena on Sunday night to decide the championship.
They’ve won three times at Oracle already this season. But they also knew this was a chance that slipped away. Kyle Lowry took the last shot, a 3-pointer as time was expiring that would have given the Raptors a title if it dropped.
“Felt great out of my hand,” Lowry said.
The problem was, Draymond Green got his hand — or at least a little bit of his hand — on the ball, just enough to make sure it would sail off Lowry’s intended path. It didn’t even get close to the rim.
“He got a piece of it,” Lowry said. “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.”
Against a team with such a championship pedigree, even with the Warriors now set to be without Kevin Durant for the rest of this series with an Achilles injury, any missed opportunity could be very costly.
The Raptors still have two chances to finish off this title.
But they also know the champagne could have been popped on Monday night.
“We’ll look at film. See what we did well, what we can do better,” Raptors center Marc Gasol said. “See what didn’t work so well and what we can do a lot better. Pretty simple.”