No one can ever accuse the former champs of not having the heart to extend this series. It was their bodies that were the problem.
Exhausted, wounded and depleted, the Warriors just had nothing left to give.
Until they did.
The Warriors, their incredible five-year run, and possibly their entire dynasty looked dead. A 10-point run by Kawhi Leonard put the Raptors up six with three minutes to go, and the Raptors were in total control.
But nine straight points from the Splash Brothers shocked adrenaline straight to the hearts of the champions, surging Golden State to a stunning 106-105 win and a Game 6 at Oracle Arena.
As Draymond Green got a finger on Kyle Lowry’s 3 and it clanked off the side of the backboard as time expired, the Warriors celebrated. The Scotiabank Arena couldn’t even boo. They were too stunned. The whole basketball world was stunned.
The Warriors survived — somehow.
Steve Kerr said it was impossible to describe how he was feeling after the game:
“I just told the team I didn’t know what to say because on the one hand I’m so proud of them, just the amazing heart and grit that they showed, and on the other I’m just devastated for Kevin. So it’s a bizarre feeling that we all have right now. An incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time.”
It seemed a foregone conclusion that this would be the night for Toronto, when just two minutes and 14 seconds into the second quarter Kevin Durant made a between-the-legs dribble, and collapsed on the court before reaching for his lower right leg, then motioning for help from the Warriors bench.
Curry emphasized that this team is a family, and that Durant’s injury is bigger than championships:
“Everybody gets so wrapped up in chasing championships and the greatness that you see on the floor, but life is more important in terms of caring about an individual and what they’re going through on a daily basis. And you see the commitment and the challenges and just the what’s been thrown at KD this whole year, really. And he gave us what he had, he went out there and sacrificed his body, and we know how it turned out. So a part of our mentality and the experiences, the shared experiences we have as a team and what we have all been through, that’s way more important than anything that happens out there or long-term anything that happens on the court.”
It was a rough scene to watch, only amplified by the cheering from the Toronto crowd before Lowry, Danny Green and the in-game arena announcer shushed them. Durant limped off the court, all his weight on Andre Iguodala and Curry following into the tunnel.
And the Warriors championship hopes seemed to stagger out of the arena with him.
After the game the mood around the Warriors was as if the team had actually lost the title.
The team was collectively emotional about Durant, especially Bob Myers who got choked up talking about the injury at the postgame press conference:
“It’s an Achilles injury. I don’t know the extent of it. He’ll have a MRI tomorrow… He was cleared to play tonight; that was a collaborative decision. I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame, but I understand in this world and if you have to, you can blame me.”
With Durant on the court the Warriors looked like themselves, the ball was hopping around on offense, finding shooters and generating good looks on every possession.
But without him, they looked like they have this whole series, struggling to score and defend.
Thompson said that even though it was sad to watch Durant go down, it helped inspire the team:
“It obviously inspires you to play harder knowing your best player can’t be out there. You think of him every time you dive for a loose ball or go for a rebound, because I know him and I know how bad he wants to be out there, that’s why he was out there. It sucks… It’s not the same being out there without him.”
Durant’s calf dominated the news cycle the last two days, especially after it was announced he would scrimmage yesterday in practice.
And he seemed to answer any questions when he hit his first two shots—both contested 3’s—to start the game. Or so we thought.
Then it was scramble mode for the Warriors. DeMarcus Cousins who looked like he was slated to never take off his warmups, entered the game immediately after Durant went down.
He immediately scored seven straight points. It was that stretch that really saved the Warriors season.
Kerr said that without Durant he knew they were going to need Cousins:
“I thought DeMarcus was fantastic tonight. He stayed ready. He didn’t get the first call for that second-quarter run. We went to Bogut and then with the injury we knew we needed his scoring and he stayed ready and played a brilliant game.”
Without that stabilizing sequence, the Warriors had the look of a team ready to be done with this whole injury-riddled playoffs.
But they weren’t.
Kerr said the defense is what led to this win down the stretch:
“Steph and Klay hit back-to-back threes, I believe, we got stops. Our defense was bending down the stretch but we didn’t break and the last stop was tremendous. Amazing defense on that last play from all five guys. Draymond’s block, he covered so much ground on Kyle’s shot from the corner.”
Thompson has looked like the injury he sustained in Game 2 never happened, continuing to get buckets, sprint all over the floor, and bother the Raptors defensively. He hit the clinching 3 and had 26 points in 42 minutes, all while showing no signs of that hamstring injury.
Looney has been the opposite. The injury is very apparent. It’s all over his body, the way he moves, the extra time it takes for him to get up, but he’s continued to gut through it.
Until he re-aggravated his costal cartilage fracture and couldn’t return.
That’s when the Warriors looked really done.
But they still preserved. No Durant, no Looney.
Green said that in his opinion it was the greatest win for this Warriors team:
“I think it’s got to be the greatest. When you’re down six with a couple minutes to go in an elimination for these guys to win a championship, we could have thrown in the towel. We could have folded, but we didn’t. I said it before: I’ve never seen this group fold. And that stands true still.”
This NBA Finals been a painful series—literally—for the Warriors, but they keep asking for more.
They’re gluttons for punishment—they’re also champions, at least for one more game.
There will be one final game at Oracle Arena Thursday. It will be a much-needed redo of what could have been it’s final game, and a chance for the Warriors to do the impossible and force a Game 7.
The road team has now won four straight games in the NBA Finals, the last time that happened was in 1990.