As Klay Thompson writhed in pain on the floor of Oracle Arena, laying with him in ruin were the Warriors’ hopes of completing a three-peat of NBA titles.
Thompson, having landed awkwardly on his left leg after a foul by Raptors swingman Danny Green as he attempted a dunk, was helped from the court with what was later revealed to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
At that point, the Warriors were leading 83-80, but with Golden State minus Thompson as well as Kevin Durant, the odds were stacked against them preserving that advantage and forcing a Game 7. However, Thompson, knowing not taking the resultant free throws would prevent him from being allowed to return if able, limped back out of the tunnel to nail both — his brief re-emergence sending a raucous home crowd into hysteria.
It was yet another indelible moment in the history of a 53-year-old building that has been the scene of so many for the Warriors and, as Golden State bid farewell to its Oakland home ahead of a move back across the bay to San Francisco and the glistening new Chase Center, epitomized the spirit that defined this battered and bruised team’s efforts in an absorbing Finals series.
Fittingly, the Warriors did not collapse after Thompson left the game for good and they led going into the final five minutes. A bad pass from Green even gave the Warriors a potential last shot to win and force Game 7, but Stephen Curry’s 27-foot 3-point effort bounced off the back of the rim.
With Curry – the Warriors’ only healthy primary scorer in the closing minutes – being hounded by a swarming Raptors defense, Kevon Looney battling a fractured sternum and a bench woefully lacking in depth compared to that of Toronto, Golden State’s success in staying in the game until the bitter end is worthy of the effusive praise coach Steve Kerr delivered after the game.
“It’s amazement that we’re sitting in this position with, during the game we have a chance to win the game and force a Game 7 and go back to Toronto,” Kerr said. “And you just think, how? How has this group of guys put themselves in position to do it?”
This team is special. pic.twitter.com/O8fxxma9tu
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) June 14, 2019
The pride the Warriors and their fans may feel in the immediate aftermath will soon have to give way to a realization of the extremely challenging situation they now face heading into next season.
Thompson and Durant are scheduled to be two of the big prizes on offer in free agency, but the Warriors will be determined to try and keep one if not both, with Thompson much more likely to remain with Golden State. Yet, even if they somehow hang on to both, the Warriors will be paying lucrative contracts to players largely unable to contribute in 2019-20.
Durant will likely miss most of next season with his ruptured Achilles suffered in Game 5 while Thompson is unlikely to return until early 2020. Any salary cap space the Warriors allocate to re-signing Thompson or Durant would have a trickle-down effect on their ability to add to a bench in dire need of reinforcements, meaning the severely depleted side that fell short on Thursday could form the basis of next season’s team.
The burden will therefore fall on Curry to carry the Warriors’ hopes for their first year back in San Francisco but, with a lack of other scorers around him, there is a blueprint to minimizing his impact executed to near-perfection by the Raptors that others will surely look to replicate and make Golden State’s path to the playoffs an arduous one.
As the scene of five straight NBA Finals appearances, Oracle Arena was a home built on the spirit encapsulated by Durant’s ill-fated decision to return from a calf injury, Thompson’s memorable free throws and the Warriors’ refusal to go quietly in the face of a deck heavily stacked against them. Yet this final show of grit in Oakland was an incredibly costly one that may render what should be a celebratory first season at Chase Center anticlimactic.