Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes you could write a book about 48 minutes. Let’s get to it:
*Golden State’s 106-105 victory over Toronto in Game 5 of the NBA Finals was a choose-your-own-narrative affair — much different than choose-your-own-adventure — from start to finish.
Did the Raptors choke with their first NBA title within their reach on their home court … or did the Warriors, facing the brink of elimination, rise to the occasion?
Did Toronto coach Nick Nurse sabotage his team’s momentum by calling a timeout with 3:05 left after the Raptors surged to a six-point lead … or was it a sound strategic move that backfired — either for real or coincidental reasons?
Did Kawhi Leonard shirk responsibility by passing the ball on Toronto’s last possession, leaving Kyle Lowry to eventually get his shot partially blocked in the corner as time expired … or was it the smart basketball play, something Michael Jordan has been credited for doing in similar finals situations (including one, ironically, in which he passed to Golden State coach Steve Kerr).
And most importantly: How do we unpack everything about Kevin Durant’s night?
The amazing thing about choosing your own narrative about any of these subjects is that you might think you are 100 percent right, while someone else with the completely opposite opinion also might think he or she is 100 percent right.
Few things reinforce the complicated ways we arrive at decisions and opinions — full of our own biases and histories — quite like sports. Most of the time, these things are pretty harmless, as long as we don’t confuse opinions and facts.
And there is usually a lot more gray area than anyone wants to admit.
The Raptors played poorly in the final 2 minutes, and the Warriors played well. That probably had more to do with Golden State than Toronto, but both certainly played a role.
Second-guessing of Nurse’s timeout and Kawhi’s final possession have the added bonus of outcome-based second-guessing. Had the Raptors cruised to the win and a title after the timeout, or had Kawhi passed to an open teammate who knocked down the game-winning shot, both might be getting huge praise for, alternately, out-of-the-box thinking and unselfishness.
Just because something doesn’t work doesn’t mean it was a bad idea. But it might have been a bad idea!
As for Durant, who would comprise a good part of the book written about Game 5, this is where things get particularly complicated.
He returned from what was termed a calf injury, played quite well for the Warriors early, but exited in the second quarter with what is now feared to be a torn Achilles. It’s too easy to say Golden State would have lost without his 12 minutes, but the Warriors did outscore Toronto by six while Durant was on the court.
After sifting through all the “Durant proved his toughness” opinions mixed in with those who want to blame the Warriors, the fans or even the media for pushing Durant to play in Game 5, I’ll expose some of my own preconceived ideas in forming this opinion:
I don’t think the Warriors would have sent him out to play if they didn’t think his body could handle it. I’m also certain that Durant felt some level of external pressure to play.
I’m also a believer in the bottom line of personal accountability. The decision to play had many layers, but ultimately it was up to Durant. It’s awful that it ended the way it did, but negative consequences come with the territory of complicated decisions.
Blame isn’t the same as responsibility. The latter rests primarily with Durant.
*On a much lighter note: What if Ryan Fitzpatrick’s beard and hair were reversed? That question has an answer!
*Wolves star Karl-Anthony Towns worked out at Rutgers.
*Cleveland is at a crossroads, which bears watching if you are a Twins fan. If the next few weeks go south for the Indians, a sell-off could help the Twins cruise through the summer with even more ease.