Barber: Uncertainty follows Warriors to Toronto for Game 5
The Warriors were playing in Portland three weeks ago and I was killing time in the media workroom when a writer who covers the NBA nationally threw out a question.
How will it end?
He meant the Warriors dynasty. How will it end? I have been thinking about that question a lot over the past year. The writer wasn’t talking about the precise mechanism that will knock the Warriors off their pedestal, like which players will leave and which will stay, or who the eventual vanquisher will be.
The question was more general. How will this improbable run end? In acrimony and infighting, a fate that has befallen so many other sports dynasties? Via a couple of major defections and/or career-changing injuries? Gradually, as the Warriors remain competitive but fall back into the pack?
There is a related question, of course: When will it end?
That one has been thrown into dramatic relief by recent events, specifically the Toronto Raptors’ victories at Oracle Arena in Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals. The “when” question is apropos because, as you know, the answer might be Monday.
Consider the issues looming over the Warriors right now as a series of concentric ripples. The first ripple is what will happen at Toronto in Game 5.
Your heart is probably telling you that Steve Kerr’s Warriors will emerge with a victory Monday night, because they have done so almost every time they’ve stared down a similar challenge in the past. Kerr’s players have championship-level talent. More important than that, they have championship-level character and experience.
Remember Oklahoma City in 2016? Remember Houston in 2018? Write off the Warriors at your own peril.
But your head should be rebutting those sentiments. This Raptors team is as worthy an opponent as the Warriors have faced during the five-year reign. And this particular Golden State team is flawed. It sacrificed its depth to obtain and retain Kevin Durant, and has been without Durant’s services. I guess Durant may play in Game 5. But even if he does, considering he has missed a month of action, it may be an imperfect version of KD that we see.
The Raptors are the Warriors’ equals right now, at the very least, and Scotiabank Arena will be a madhouse for Monday’s game — even more thunderous, pardon the pun, than OKC in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. This is a true crucible.
And if the Warriors win, it will only lead to another ripple: What will happen over the rest of the series?
Because make no mistake, a victory in Game 5, no matter how heroic, does not guarantee a championship for the Warriors. Toronto, following the lead of the incredible Kawhi Leonard, is one of the most imperturbable basketball teams I can remember. Outside of that 18-0 third-quarter run that won Game 2 for the Warriors, the Raptors have calmly answered every Golden State mini-run with a timely 3-pointer or defensive stop.
No, don’t expect the Raptors to fold. If their lead is trimmed to 3-2, they will still have a great chance to win one more. And that is regardless of how much Durant plays.
If the Warriors should lose this series, the perspective will widen to a much larger ripple: What will happen after the final game of 2019?