Bittersweet goodbye to Oracle Arena for Warriors, fans

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OAKLAND - Just as the Golden State Warriors completed their circle in more ways than one, the sport of basketball did, too, on Thursday night at Oracle Arena.

The Toronto Raptors won Game 6 of the NBA Finals, 114-110, defeating the Warriors to earn the championship trophy and end Golden State’s hopes for a historic three-peat after they had claimed the previous two titles.

In winning their nation’s first basketball championship, the Raptors returned basketball to its origins: The game was invented by Canadian James Naismith in 1891, and the first NBA game ever played was in Toronto.

When the final buzzer rang on the game, the Warriors not only saw their championship run conclude but they also ended a 47-season run at Oracle Arena. Next season, they will move across the bay to San Francisco in the new Chase Center in Mission Bay.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who as a rookie head coach in 2015 led the Warriors to their first championship in 40 years, had trouble finding the right words to describe his team’s journey.

“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,” he said. “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.”

The team was first to go to five consecutive NBA Finals since the Boston Celtics in 1962-66. But devastating injuries to key stars proved too much to overcome for the team to win a third consecutive title, and fourth in five years.

Kevin Durant, who joined the Warriors in 2016 and won the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award the next two years as Golden State won it all, ruptured his right Achilles tendon in Game 5 on Monday in Toronto. He is expected to miss all of next season after undergoing surgery this week.

That catastrophic injury came only 12 minutes into the game, which he started after sitting out a month nursing a strained calf.

Kevon Looney damaged cartilage in his chest, limiting his time.

And Klay Thompson strained his left hamstring in Game 2, forcing him to miss Game 3.

That all happened after point guard Stephen Curry dislocated his left middle finger in the second round of the playoffs.

Thursday, Thompson went down again, with 2:22 left in the third quarter with Golden State up by 3 points. He came down awkwardly after being fouled and hurt his left knee. ESPN reported that, according to Thompson’s agent, he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

After initially being helped off the court and into the tunnel back to the locker room, Thompson returned and completed the free throws. He told Kerr he just needed a two-minute rest and could return to the game. But it wasn’t to be. The medical staff told Kerr Thompson was done.

And so were the Warriors. Though they remained in it until the final seconds — down 112-110 with under 10 seconds remaining — Curry couldn’t drain a 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining.

Kerr said he was amazed his bandaged and splinted team was even in a position to force a Game 7 in Toronto.

“You just think, ‘How? How has this group of guys put themselves in position to do it?’” he said. “And then … when Klay goes down and is out for the game, it’s just sort of ‘You got to be kidding me, like this has to stop.’ But it’s just the way it’s gone.

“It’s devastating.”

The end of the season may also be the end of Durant’s legacy as a Warrior.

Signed on July 7, 2016, he joined a championship lineup that already included All-Stars Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green as well as 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. He will miss next season with the injury but may also leave the Warriors.

Thompson also is eligible for free-agency.

While Durant was absent Thursday, his presence was very much felt at Oracle.

Fans crafted homemade signs, wore custom-made shirts and chanted his initials before and during the game. Some of his teammates wore his No. 35 shirts on the bench.

Vernell Gomez of Penngrove sported a custom-made blue and yellow “KD” shirt, which a friend made just hours before the game.

Gomez, originally from San Francisco, choked up when she described what Durant has meant to her.

“After what went down in Toronto, I knew tonight would be about KD,” she said, referencing how some Raptors fans cheered when Durant left the game injured with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

“A lot of fans want to show love, show respect for him. I wanted to do something different to show respect, so I got the biggest K and D I could. It’s emotional. KD should be out there on the floor.”

Goosebumps, memories, hugs, tears, farewells.

Fan after fan echoed Gomez’s sentiments, either about the Warriors last game at Oracle or the absence of Durant, or both.

For Jonathan Steele of Santa Rosa, Game 6 was truly the end of an era.

His first Warriors experience came when he was 7 years old, when his father took him to a game when the team was the San Francisco Warriors.

“I thought that building was the most amazing thing on earth,” he said. Then, in high school, he saved all his money to go to games.

As a Santa Rosa High School senior, in 1975, Steele decided he wanted to become a lawyer, and when he did, he pledged he would buy Warriors’ season tickets. He graduated from law school on July 2, 1987, and 18 days later he bought them.

He’s been making the trek from the North Bay to Oakland ever since.

“This place is so special to me,” he said, his voice catching. “It’s an old family member, an old friend. Chase is going to be exciting, but this is an end to a magical era.”

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