Barber: Warriors prove their mettle in NBA Finals loss to Raptors
OAKLAND — It turned out Oracle Arena saved the best for last. Imagine that.
The barn that had hosted World B. Free and Run TMC, Baron Davis’ dunk and Sleepy Floyd’s 51-point game, the completion of the Warriors’ historic collapse in the 2016 NBA Finals and their joyous revenge against LeBron and the Cavaliers a year later bore witness to one last, spectacular, heart-wrenching game. The lead changed hands 18 times Thursday night. Neither team led by more than six points after the 5:13 mark of the first quarter.
Yes, Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals was an epic, and most of the sports-loving world got what it wanted. The Warriors were toppled from their thrones. The visiting Toronto Raptors won 114-110 and became the third team in four years to celebrate the NBA title at Oracle — only one of those teams being the Warriors.
I understand why the Warriors fell out of favor the past few seasons. It gets repetitive to see the same team win year after year, and when these guys were healthy, they enjoyed a clear talent margin over whichever team came next.
But even the most ardent Warriors hater has to acknowledge the character this team showed in 2018-19, and especially during the playoffs. The Game 6 loss, while among the lowest moments of the Steve Kerr era in Oakland, proved the Warriors’ inner strength more than any victory could have.
Because the team that finished the 2019 postseason was a shadow of the squad that started it.
Kevin Durant, arguably the most unstoppable scorer in the history of basketball, was back in New York for Game 6, taking the first baby steps in what promises to be a yearlong rehabilitation from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Klay Thompson, who scored 30 points in 31 minutes Thursday night, had left the arena on crutches after landing badly the third quarter; ESPN later reported that he had torn his left ACL. Center Kevon Looney played almost 27 minutes but wore a massive shoulder wrap when he sat on the bench, the result of a Game 2 tumble that fractured cartilage in his sternum.
The Warriors who were left standing ramped up their efforts, and their minutes, and were visibly spent by the time the Raptors celebrated at midcourt.
That included Stephen Curry, the guiding force of this team. With Durant and Thompson out of action, the Raptors were able to throw the weight of their efforts at Curry. They bumped him and trapped him and rarely let him get a free look from the 3-point line.
Curry had to work hard for his 21 points, and it caught up to him. He hit 1 of 6 shots, and none of his four 3-point attempts, in the fourth quarter.
Years from now, we’ll look back on the final five years of Oracle, and it will probably seem like a joyride. The clips of Warriors fast breaks and 30-foot Curry swishes will become a shorthand for the entire era of basketball.
But it hasn’t been easy, not at all. The fact is, maintaining a dynasty is difficult work, and it has become incrementally harder since the breakthrough of 2015. In 2016, the Warriors wore themselves out in trying (and succeeding) to break the NBA record for wins in a season. After Durant arrived, the scoring became easier but the chemistry trickier. The players got complacent. The basketball started to feel like work. Money issues loomed. It happens to every empire sooner or later.