TORONTO — Kevin Durant was gone, hobbled out of the building on crutches. Larry O'Brien, or at least the trophy named for him, was here, ready to come out for a celebration.
All around the Golden State Warriors was the noise of inevitability — cheers and claps and primal shrieks at the prospect that this, a Toronto Raptors NBA title, a Canadian champion, was about to happen. From Drake down by the bench to the ushers who'd abandoned their duties and morphed back into fans, the True North was roaring, strong and free.
For the Warriors, shots weren't falling, calls weren't coming and Kawhi Leonard was heating up. Toronto was up six in Game 5. If there were a time to fold, to call it quits on the season, to wrap this as a miserable night where both KD and the championship were lost, this was it.
Three titles in four seasons isn't too bad. This just wasn't their year.
Only the Warriors didn't quit.
They heeded the words of Stephen Curry, who rallied them after Durant's injury and asked them to keep fighting and win for Kevin.
And now Game 6 comes Thursday, back in Oakland. The Warriors are still reeling and depressed from the loss of Durant, but also staring at a glorious opportunity to prove this dynasty is as much about grit and substance as splash and sizzle.
And at the heart of it is Curry, the two-time NBA MVP, who despite three championship rings has had an uneven experience in his four Finals appearances.
Now the floor is his, a chance to make a historic impact and lead his depleted club from a 3-1 series hole. His legacy isn't reliant on it. He's a Hall of Famer regardless. Yet this is what the all-time greats do.
Curry delivered 31 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in Game 5, including three big rebounds and a huge 3-pointer down the stretch to do his part. Now he's hoping that momentum will continue, that he and the Warriors can continue, if not build on it. It's the only way to roar back from a deep hole.
"It's definitely a real thing," Steph said of the momentum on Wednesday. "It's just a matter of can you capitalize on it once the next game starts and lock in and focus on details and kind of see the adjustments the other team is going to make, especially in the playoff series because that happens, they watch film, try to tinker a little bit.
"But momentum and just confidence, in terms of what we're trying to accomplish every possession, every quarter, in order to win the game," Curry continued. "It's definitely a real thing."
Steph has excelled throughout his career at reacting smoothly, even obliviously, to the pressure of expectation. This is the kind of stuff that would visibly gnaw at LeBron James. Steph remains outwardly relaxed, talking about the team playing well, like he's just another spoke in the wheel.
That's great, but this isn't happening without him. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins and others have to deliver. But without Steph coming up big, like 30-or-more-a-night big, it's almost impossible to see where the Warriors get enough firepower to beat this deep, determined Raptors club.
Three years ago, LeBron and his Cleveland Cavaliers trailed the 73-win Warriors 3-1 in the Finals.
James wasn't the only Cavs hero, but he stirred the drink. He averaged 41 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, 3.5 steals and three blocks in Games 5 and 6, and then delivered a 27-point, 11-board, 11-assist triple-double (not to mention one astounding late-game block of Andre Iguodala) in the close-out Game 7.
"Win or lose, I don't feel like we need to prove anything anymore," Curry said. "It's just about can we get the job done or not … there's no more statements needed to be made about who we are as a team and our heart and our competitiveness and whatnot. We want to win this championship. We're going to give everything we got. But I think we're done with proving people wrong or making bold statements with our play. People know who we are."
For all of Curry's accolades, he's never been a true star in the Finals. He's been good, but Iguodala was the MVP of the 2015 Finals and Durant the last two years. In 2016, the most memorable play involving him was getting locked down late in Game 7 by Kevin Love.
Well, now it's Steph's chance, Steph's turn, Steph's obligation even. The Warriors still have a mountain to climb, but the initial steps were made. Thursday they continue.
"I think just in terms of the opportunity we have in front of us ... suiting up in front of Oracle Arena, with the amazing atmosphere and opportunity to play for [Durant], and to kind of honor the sacrifice he made in terms of putting his body on the line," Curry said.
"We're going to give everything we got. I would like to say I would guarantee the win, but who knows how it's going to end up? But we're going to give everything we got. We're going to fight. We're going to compete."
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