OAKLAND — Stephen Curry was the last Golden State Warrior to leave the court. He held his fists above his head as the last crowd at Oracle Arena gave a half-hearted cheer. The stands didn’t empty, at least, not immediately. It was almost as if the last crowd at Oracle Arena was hoping for a last-minute reversal, some call that was missed.
After an in-bounds play that led to a wild Curry 3-pointer with less than five seconds left in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the long rebound skittered to mid-court, where Draymond Green sprawled into a crowd of Toronto Raptors to corral it and call time out. Except, Golden State did not have a time out left. Kawhi Leonard hit the technical foul shot, and then was fouled on the rebound.
The crowd began to chant. WARR-I-ORS. WARR-I-ORS — a sad, mournful chorus. Leonard hit two more to seal a 114-110 win, earning the Raptors’ first NBA title. In a game Golden State dedicated to the injured Kevin Durant, they got yet another big Game 6 from Klay Thompson, but he, too, would leave the game with an ACL tear after a dramatic return in the third quarter. Though capped with an anticlimactic end, the Warriors gave their home of 47 years an appropriate sendoff, even if their dynasty — as currently constituted — came to an inglorious end.
“It’s actually, it’s hard to put into words how I feel about our team,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “What I’ve witnessed as their coach over the last five years is just an incredible combination of talent and character and commitment to each other. This just doesn’t happen. A group of guys like this doesn’t come around together and do what they did over the last five years. And I’ve been lucky enough to be their coach.”
In a game that featured 18 lead changes, nine ties and no lead larger than nine, Oracle Arena’s final NBA crowd was as loud, constant and intense as it had been all season, rivaling the hottest crowds in the building’s recent history. Twice before during that five-year run, the Warriors had been down in a series 3-2, and both times, Thompson had saved them with record-setting performances.
On Thursday, he went 4-of-7 and hit all his free throws for 18 first-half points, allowing Golden State to keep pace even though Curry started just 2-of-6. Thompson regularly brought the crowd to its feet with his threes off the catch, countering a blistering 7-of-10 first half from Kyle Lowry, who opened the game on a personal 11-2 run and finished with 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting.
As if Game 6 Klay wasn’t enough, the crowd found energy in the video board image of Durant, who tore his right Achilles in Game 5 while helping the Warriors return home one more time. When Durant’s post-surgery Instagram message to fans — “dubnation is going to beloud as f—-” — was flashed on the jumbotron with just under seven minutes to go in the opening stanza, accompanied by words of praise from his teammates, the crowd roared. When, moments later, Durant was shown telling fans to raise the roof, they obliged with a standing ovation.
When DeMarcus Cousins came off the bench and scored five points in his first four minutes — echoing what he did in the moments following Durant’s injury three nights prior — the crowd began chanting “DE-FENSE!” He obliged by forcing a travel on Serge Ibaka.
Even as the Raptors countered every Golden State run with one of their own, Thompson helped keep pace, and not just with his scoring. One of the best perimeter defenders in the game, played lock-down defense on Leonard, who, despite scoring 18 first-half points of his own, was a minus-7.
Even after a time out was called at 5:22 in the second, as Leonard tried to get in rhythm with a shot that wouldn’t have counted, Thompson grabbed Leonard’s jersey, guarded him and funnelled him to Curry, who contested the shot. Above them, recorded testimonials from NBA stars past and present — including Kobe Bryant — gushed about the atmosphere of Oracle. Bryant, in particular, said that the crowd “always felt like it was on top of you.”
Down just three points at the half, the Oracle crowd only got louder after the break, but, unafraid of Golden State — especially without Durant — the team that was quietly built as a reflection of them shut down Curry, who scored 21 points on 6-of-17 shooting and shot just 3-of-11 from 3-point range.
Still, as Thompson hit a three from the right side to give Golden State a four-point lead with three minutes left in the third, the crowd shot to its feet. A sustained applause broke out when Leonard was called for his fourth foul.
That momentum, though, stopped as Thompson — who had gone 8-of-12 for a game-high 28 points — came down awkwardly from a dunk with 2:22 to go in the third, and writhed in pain on the ground, clutching his right knee. He was taken to the locker room hanging on the shoulders of Jonas Jerebko and Jordan Bell. Less than a minute later, Thompson — who played through a high ankle sprain in the 2018 Finals, and begged to play through a hamstring strain in this series — hobbled back out onto the floor to hit both his free throws, serenaded by “MVP” chants. MRI confirmed the ACL tear.
He would exit the game three seconds later, after a Cousins foul, and did not return. Three minutes into the fourth quarter, general manager Bob Myers grabbed owner Joe Lacob and walked into the locker room. Thompson was seen leaving the arena on crutches as Shaun Livingston drew the largest cheer of the night with a one-handed jam on the break to give the Warriors a three-point lead with 6:34 to go in regulation. One minute later, the game was tied again. Toronto took a 104-101 lead with 3:46 to go on a Fred VanVleet three — one of his five on the night, and one of Toronto’s 13 on 33 attempts. The Raptors never trailed again.
The end of the game signals the end of the Warriors’ dynasty as currently constituted. Nine Golden State players are slated to be free agents this summer. Though Thompson is one of them, he is expected to return. Durant could choose to opt out of his deal, or stay for one more year while he rehabs. Cousins could parlay his playoff performances into a contract elsewhere, or he could stay and get a minor pay bump from his $4.7 million mid-level exception. He said after the game he’s open to returning. Backup center Kevon Looney could depart for a more lucrative deal after a stellar playoff run. Backup point guard Quinn Cook and reserve Jordan Bell are also free to go.
While the Warriors always insisted their eyes were fixed on this postseason run, now, they will have to deal with the future, and it will be their most uncertain future they’ve faced in the last five years. With Thompson’s knee injury and Durant out with an Achilles, Golden State will have two max-contract players who will be unavailable to play.
“I think everybody thinks it’s kind of the end of us,” Green said. “But that’s just not smart. We’re not done yet. We lost this year. Clearly just wasn’t our year, but that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes. But, yeah, I hear a lot of that noise, it’s the end of a run and all that jazz. I don’t see it happening though. We’ll be back.”
“We’ll be thinking about this one, it’s tough,” Curry added. “But our DNA and who we are and the character that we have on this team, I wouldn’t bet against us being back on this stage next year and going forward.”