TORONTO – Kawhi Leonard drilled what Fred VanVleet would call an f-you 3-pointer, giving the Raptors their first lead since the first quarter. Toronto fans burst into a frenzy. Leonard drove for a basket. The arena erupted. Leonard pulled up for another 3-pointer. The crowd somehow got even louder. Leonard turned a drive into a short pull-up jumper. It was pandemonium.
Raptors 101, Warriors 97
Already up 3-1 in the NBA Finals, Toronto appeared to seize control of Game 5 with three minutes left. Leonard scored on four straight possessions to cap a 12-2 run. Kevin Durant had already exited with an injury. The Warriors looked like they were running out of gas.
The Raptors’ first championship appeared imminent.
But Golden State closed the game on a 9-2 run to steal a 106-105 victory. The reversal was quick and jarring. A stunned fan base fell quiet. Just like that, the celebration was dashed.
Toronto had a 94% chance of winning Game 5 when up six with 2:59 left, per inpredictable.
Teams have lost 13 potential championship-clinching games since 1997, as far back as the NBA has play-by-play data. Only the Spurs’ Game 6 loss to the Heat in 2013 had a more devastating blown lead. Up 3-2 in the series, San Antonio had a 99% chance of winning the title when leading by five with 23 seconds left, per inpredictable. But Ray Allen hit a huge 3-pointer, and Miami won in overtime then took the series in Game 7.
Here’s every lost potential championship-clinching game since 1997, sorted by inpredictable’s peak odds for the losing team:
The Raptors still have two chances to eliminate the Warriors – Game 6 Thursday in Oakland and, if necessary, Game 7 Sunday in Toronto. Most teams in the Raptors’ position have won the series. Golden State losing Durant tilts the odds even further in Toronto’s direction.
But if the Raptors don’t win one more, the end of Game 5 could haunt them for a long time.