OAKLAND, Calif. — They had spent much of the fourth quarter stealing glances. How could you blame them? They’d been trained to believe anything was possible, to believe magic happens to them.
So now Golden State fans were going with the impossible, looking at the tunnel behind the Warriors’ bench in hopes that Klay Thompson would emerge to re-enter the game and save them, save the series, save the season and send the NBA Finals to a Game 7 in Canada.
Thompson’s brilliant night had ended with 30 points in nearly 32 minutes, ended with an ugly knee hyperextension that at first looked only moderately problematic (he returned to sink two free throws).
It proved to be a devastating cap to an all-time horrible week.
Thompson would hobble out of the Finals on crutches much the way Kevin Durant had hobbled out of the Finals on crutches three days prior, bookends of misery. For Durant, it was a ruptured Achilles. For Thompson, a torn ACL.
For the Warriors, it wasn’t just a loss to Toronto — 114-110 on the night, 4-2 in the Finals — it was even worse.
The end of Oracle Arena over here in Oakland. The end of fans expecting only golden things to happen during this glorious run of five Finals appearances (and three titles).
And the end, perhaps, of the entire dynasty, done in by gruesome and franchise-altering injuries at the worst possible moments.
Maybe the glances for Thompson to emerge were out of the sense that this was all suddenly fleeting, that the most reliable juggernaut in sports over the past half-decade might go up in smoke. Or maybe it was just that all the winning had made fans believe in the absurd, especially here on the night they’d close their beloved concrete basketball barn next to the freeway.
In the end, there was just the end, just yellow-clad Warrior fans shuffling out of their tired old place here in Oakland with no idea what faces them when they open the gleaming new place across the bay in San Francisco next season.
Durant had surgery on his Achilles on Wednesday, but he could be out six months to a year. Thompson will repair the ACL soon, but the timeline for that injury usually calls for a full year. Even then, when each returns, are they the same player?
Both are free agents. Thompson probably isn’t going anywhere, although who knows now? Durant may not either, at least for a year, but what if the team is on the hook for his $30 million-plus player option while he rehabs and then bolts somewhere else?
How much can Golden State pay for two players who won’t actually play.
That leaves Steph Curry, Draymond Green and who knows what else. There isn’t enough scoring. There isn’t enough depth. There isn’t enough salary-cap flexibility.
The bully of the Western Conference could suddenly be fighting to make the playoffs.
Is it any better long term? Did the Warriors’ medical staff clearing Durant to return from a calf injury too soon ruin his trust in the franchise? He had his surgery in New York, not out here. Is there anything to that? Or does this, in an odd way, anchor him to the Warriors, at least for the short term?
No one knows. Maybe not even Durant.
A half-decade ruling the league isn’t easy. The miles add up. The dings become dents. Age happens. And while the Raptors benefited from a hobbled opponent in the Finals, it’s clear they represent all these deeper, younger contenders that are coming for the Warriors.
“True champions that we are we should be able to adapt and keep the same DNA no matter what our roster looks like next year and have high hopes of being back here,” Curry said.
It’s an optimistic outlook. He said it before the severity of Thompson’s injury was known. Even then, he noted, “There is going to be some change.”
For two years, ever since Durant joined a 73-win team, it had been relatively smooth sailing for the Warriors. Two seasons, two titles, Golden State becoming the bane of some NBA fans’ existence because it had too much talent and too little adversity.
That changed in a hurry. The team that knew only good news has been buried by the bad — two catastrophic injuries and a Finals loss.
“I think a lot has been proven about who we are as a team,” Curry said, “The fight that we had.”
Fight is good. The Warriors certainly had it, making this series last far beyond what made sense. Even better is youth and health and Golden State suddenly has little of it. Next season Curry turns 32. Durant will be 31. Klay and Draymond will be 30. Andre Iguodala will be 36. Shawn Livingston will be 34.
“Next season will be next season, we will be back with the right mentality,” Curry said, almost trying to talk himself into it.
“I definitely don’t think it is over,” he noted.
“Our story is not over yet,” he added.
Perhaps. This is still the most talented team. If it weren’t for the injuries, the champagne likely would have been sprayed on the opposite end of Oracle. Injuries are part of the game though. Especially for an aging team that has logged a lot of minutes.
On Thursday, the last night over here in Oakland, the Oracle crowd tried to roar and will its depleted and reeling club across the finish line. The fans were as rowdy as ever, pushing and believing and, like their team, never quitting. It was like they could sense it was last call.
They kept looking for Klay to come out like Superman, because when you win this much, you expect heroes to fly in and save the day.
There were no heroes. Just a younger, deeper team celebrating the title, just more gut-punch medical news, just more uncertainty about everything.
That was it for the Finals. That was it for Oracle.
Was that it for Golden State, the great Golden State Warriors?
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