Barber: Series, and dynasty, at risk for Warriors in Game 6

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Are you headed to Oakland for Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the Warriors last game at Oracle Arena? We want to hear from you!

Contact Reporter Lori Carter at lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com to share your memories of Oracle and your thoughts on the big game.

OAKLAND — Thursday is the first day of the rest of the Golden State Warriors’ lives. The question is whether the life to come will be anything like the one about to fade away.

As the Warriors prepare to host the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, it’s as if their entire world is in transition.

Kevin Durant, their most dominant player, underwent major surgery on the other side of the continent Wednesday, and almost everything about his future is a mystery — including whether he has played his last game with the Warriors. They are dealing with an aging roster and multiple injuries, including the fractured chest cartilage that center Kevon Looney has been trying to play through the last 10 days. They face an inspired and talented opponent that has them on the brink of playoff elimination.

And win or lose, after Thursday’s game they will vacate the arena and the city they have called home for 47 seasons.

Veteran guard Shaun Livingston agreed Wednesday that this is the most weight his Warriors have ever carried into a game.

“It’s just everything,” Livingston said. “A physical standpoint, right? Guys going down. Injuries. Guys playing a lot of minutes. Mentally, just adding up the cumulative effect of the last few years. And then emotionally, the rollercoaster.”

The Warriors will lean on their championship experience to cut through this frozen moment. But as Livingston suggested, the extra 104 postseason games they have played over the past five seasons are a curse as well as a blessing.

“It takes a toll on you,” he said. “It takes a toll on your body, it takes a toll on your mind. On your emotions.”

The emotional toll was multiplied by several factors Monday night in Toronto when Durant fell to the floor and clutched at his lower right leg in the second quarter of Game 5. He had waited a month to return from a calf strain, only to hobble off the court once again before he had logged 12 minutes of action. The scene broke the Warriors’ hearts, but not their resolve. They hung on to win that game 106-105 with a comeback in the final minutes.

When coach Steve Kerr addressed the media at Oracle Arena on Wednesday, he claimed the Warriors did not yet have a full diagnosis of Durant’s injury. Perhaps he was giving the superstar time to break the news himself. Fifteen minutes later, Durant posted on Instagram a photo from his bed at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, announcing he had undergone an operation to repair a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.

It must be a dark moment for the Warriors’ decision makers who greenlighted Durant’s return in Game 5.

“But that’s easy to say after the results,” Kerr said. “When we gathered all the information, our feeling was the worst thing that could happen would be a re-injure of the calf. That was the advice and the information that we had. … So the Achilles came as a complete shock. I don’t know what else to add to that, other than had we known that this was a possibility, that this was even in the realm of possibility, there’s no way we ever would have allowed Kevin to come back.”

Are you headed to Oakland for Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the Warriors last game at Oracle Arena? We want to hear from you!

Contact Reporter Lori Carter at lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com to share your memories of Oracle and your thoughts on the big game.

Durant can opt out of the final year of his contract shortly after the Finals end, and speculation has mounted during the season that he would do just that. And what now, with Durant likely to miss the entire 2019-20 season? Will his injury affect the market for one of the greatest players in history? Will he opt in for a final year with the Warriors and make them pay for his physical therapy? Does this make him any more or less likely to sign a long-term deal with Golden State?

This team has other personnel questions, too. Klay Thompson, one of their three homegrown All-Stars, also will be a free agent this summer, as will Looney and fellow center DeMarcus Cousins. It’s unlikely the Warriors can afford to re-sign all of them, and entirely possible that not everyone wants to stay.

These are huge issues, but there is a more pressing one, of course. It’s the Raptors, who have outplayed the Warriors for most of this series and were one shot away from wrapping up their first NBA title Monday.

The Warriors, and especially Thompson and Stephen Curry, have shown their championship mettle in this series. But they have yet to solve the Raptors, who are faster, springier and more physical than the two-time defending champions. They certainly haven’t solved Kawhi Leonard, Toronto’s stony-faced floor leader, who has exerted his will on both ends of the court throughout the 2019 playoffs, including the NBA Finals.

Even if the Raptors lose Thursday, they’ll get another shot to claim the crown in what would be a bonkers Game 7 in Toronto.

This is the swirling backdrop for the final game at Oracle Arena, the Oakland facility that played host to Rick Barry and World B. Free, Baron Davis’ dunk and Thompson’s 37-point quarter, the completion of the Warriors’ historic collapse in the 2016 NBA Finals and their joyous revenge against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers a year later. When the final buzzer sounds in Game 6, Oracle will bow out with a sellout streak of 343 games.

The Warriors’ new home in San Francisco, Chase Center, will be a state-of-the-art facility, a beautiful bayside arena. But will it offer the same home-court advantage that Oracle has delivered? It doesn’t always work that way. Ask the 49ers, who made it to the NFC championship game in each of their final three seasons at decrepit Candlestick Park, but who have a cumulative record of 25-55 (and no playoff appearances) since moving into sparkly Levi’s Stadium five years ago.

It’s one more factor clouding the Warriors’ future. Perhaps they will simply transfer their alpha status across the bay when they move and win rings for several more fingers. Or maybe the dynasty — three titles in four years under Kerr — will collapse Thursday, triggering another decades-long run of mediocrity. Either scenario, and just about anything in between, is a possibility.

The Warriors and their players aren’t ready to answer all those questions yet.

“We’re not even thinking about the future,” Thompson said Wednesday. “We’re just thinking about enjoying this last show at Oracle we’re about to give our fans.”

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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