LeBron James said it after the Warriors knocked Houston out of the NBA playoffs and it applied again as they stole Game 5 from the Raptors: Never doubt the heart of a champion.
Golden State survived a devastating injury to Kevin Durant after his heroic attempt to play lasted just 14 minutes, a Michael Jordan-like sequence from Kawhi Leonard and a six-point deficit with two-and-a-half minutes on the clock to produce a stunning 106-105 win.
Game Six is Friday (AEST) in Oakland.
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Down 103-97 after leading for most of the night, the Warriors held the Raptors to just one basket down the stretch and the Splash brothers delivered at the other end.
Klay Thompson (26 points) hit his sixth and seventh three-pointers of the night and Steph Curry (31 points) added his fifth to leave the Raptors crowd speechless.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was speechless too as the reality of Durant’s injury made the victory impossible to properly savour. “I just told the team I didn’t know what to say,” he said. “It was an incredible win and a horrible loss.”
Warriors General Manager Bob Myers broke down in tears, announcing Durant had suffered an Achilles injury.
“He was cleared to play tonight. that was a collaborative decision. I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame. I understand this world, if you have to, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations department,” he said.
The Warriors tried to land an early haymaker but the Raptors stood firm.
Durant started as the Warriors opened with their Hamptons Five line-up and hit three first quarter threes.
Curry also looked like the player he was Game 3, while Thompson connected on his first two long-range attempts as the Warriors opened 7/10 from deep.
The offence was flowing for the visitors but Toronto wasn’t exactly sluggish at the other end as Marc Gasol ensured the lead didn’t blow out.
Kyle Lowry and Leonard were also impactful as Toronto weathered the storm.
An over-excited Toronto crowd had a moment it would like to take back after Durant’s injury.
The home fans started cheering after Durant attempted to change direction while being defended by Serge Ibaka and appeared to aggravate the calf injury that had kept him out of the series until today. It was later reported as a different injury, this time to his Achilles.
Lowry admonished the fans and a number of NBA players reacted on Twitter.
“Why are they cheering for his injury? Come on man,” Philadelphia center Joel Embiid wrote.
Added Washington’s Bobby Portis: “Raptors fans can’t cheer for a player getting hurt. That’s lame.”
The Warriors immediately called time-out as Durant sceamed a four-letter word in disappointment, before teammates Curry and Iguodala escorted him to the locker room. A heroic effort — given his calf clearly wasn’t ready — was over.
DeMarcus Cousins, who didn’t appear during the first quarter, was inserted as a replacement and made an inspiring effort to pick up the slack, scoring nine points in five minutes to remarkably push the Warriors’ lead out to 11 points.
The Raptors steadied as Gasol continued a stellar night and Draymond Green picked up his third foul — and a technical when he argued the call.
Curry — three turnovers aside — was doing everything he could to keep the champs in front with 23 points but a six-point lead felt precarious at half-time.
The teams exchanged runs in the third quarter as the Warriors answered every challenge.
Golden State scored the first five points of the third to push its lead back to double digits but the Raptors responded with an 8-0 run as it was announced Durant would not return and have an MRI scan on his calf tomorrow. He left the arena on crutches wearing a moon boot.
The back-and-forth continued as the Warriors reeled off eight straight points through triples to Curry and Andre Iguodala and a Thompson lay-up and it was back to 75-63.
Fred VanVleet ended a long run of three-point misses by the Raptors by hitting a pair but Thompson (20 points, 5/10 threes) was becoming a factor as the Warriors stayed in front.
Raptors duo Leonard and Pascal Siakam were a combined 10/30 from the field and 0/8 from three with a quarter to play.
Serge Ibaka and Lowry provided the spark and Leonard attempted to deliver the hammer in the fourth.
Ibaka continued his fine recent form as the bench’s went toe-to-toe to open the final stanza, taking his tally to 13 points with a pair of baskets.
Lowry was feeling it too, hitting a huge triple to close the deficit to 92-89.
The points were starting to dry up for Golden State as it was announced Kevon Looney would also miss the remainder of the game with a chest cartilage injury.
Sensing the moment, Leonard stepped in to play closer, shaking off a game-long shooting slump to pour in 10 points in four minutes to give Toronto a six-point lead with three minutes remaining. It was a stunning sequence.
But just when the game appeared over the Warriors went bang, bang, bang and were back in front.
Three triples from the Splash brothers suddenly put the visitors back up 106-103 and they held on to win by a point.