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NBA

The Warriors’ Reign Ends On Crutches

Image Credit: Getty Images

Things always seem to balance themselves out in the end.

Injuries suck.

But, they’re a part of the game and a footnote that will always be included in the legacy of the Golden State Warriors.

First, DeMarcus Cousins went down early in the playoffs. And while he returned, he was nowhere near himself.

Then, Kevin Durant went down for good with a torn Achilles in the second quarter of Game 5.

And on Thursday night, Klay Thompson left the game in the third quarter with a torn ACL as the Toronto Raptors held on to win 114-110 for their first championship in franchise history.

Fans who cheer against the Warriors might call it karma, but Dub Nation will probably view it as balance. The Warriors’ run was built on playing teams depleted by injuries.

It’s funny how the thing that was there, in the beginning, managed to stick around until the end.

Of the 16 playoff series the Warriors had been in since 2015 coming into this season, 10 of their opponents were down at least one starter. The 2016 postseason is still the only time in which every team they faced was healthy.

In 2015, the Cleveland Cavaliers were without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in the Finals. In 2017, the San Antonio Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. And in 2018, the Houston Rockets lost Chris Paul in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

And without Durant, and after losing Thompson, who was the game’s leading scorer with 30 points, the Warriors just didn’t have enough left.

As I said, karma.

But it wasn’t like the Warriors just packed it in, the Raptors went out and snatched the Larry O’Brien trophy away from the defending champs.

Given that a Canadian invented basketball and the first NBA game took place across the border, it feels right that the Raptors were able to finally win an NBA championship.

Kyle Lowry was spectacular all night, as his 11 consecutive points to start the game set the tone early. Fred VanVleet was money, again, off the bench. Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka were forces down low. And a year after being wrongfully scapegoated in San Antonio, Leonard brought it home for Toronto, joining only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to win Finals MVP for two different teams.

“Last summer, man. I was going through a lot,” he told ESPN’s Doris Burke after the game. “I had a great support system and I just kept working hard and had my mind set on this goal right here. I came to a team that had a new coach whose mindset was the same as mine.”

“This is what I play basketball for,” Leonard explained. “This is what I work out for all summer and during the season. I’m happy that my hard work paid off.”

When we look back at it, these Finals may go down as one of the most dramatic in NBA history, given all the injuries and momentum swings. Thursday night added to the drama as Game 6 resembled a Rocky Balboa fight, as the Warriors and Raptors slugged it out all night.

“It was stressful. Those guys don’t make it easy,” said VanVleet about the Warriors. “They’re the best in the business for a reason and they’ve been the best for a long time. It took a lot of effort on our part, a lot of focus, a lot of resilience. They don’t give you anything and you have to go out there and take it.”

But while Drake and every other Canadian will be partying throughout the offseason, the Warriors will be wondering how they couldn’t overcome multiple mental lapses, despite not being at full strength.

Draymond Green, a Michigan native, pulled a Chris Webber at the end of the game, sealing the deal for Toronto.

Steph Curry had yet another subpar NBA Finals game, as he was held to 4 points in the fourth quarter while only attempting 4 shots. Curry ended the night with 21 points on 6-for-17 shooting from the field and 3-for-11 from deep. Six different players outscored Curry on Thursday night.

And after dealing with the Box-and-1 since Game 2, Steve Kerr could never figure out a solution to get Curry open against the zone defense. When the Warriors won it all in 2015, it was Kerr who was the rookie head coach that won a title. Since then, Kerr has lost twice in the Finals to rookie head coaches in Ty Lue (2016) and Nick Nurse (2019).

With the win, the Raptors improved to 4-0 against the Warriors in Oracle Arena this season, as they became the 14thteam to win a series in six games after taking a 3-1 lead.

“Both teams are really good road teams and have been all season,” said Nurse earlier in the week. “Two really tough-minded teams playing, and you got to be a little more tough-minded on the road. And I think a lot of those games probably could have went either way.”

The attention surrounding Toronto won’t last long outside of Canada, as free agency looms in the coming weeks.

Will Kawhi re-sign?

Is Durant headed to New York?

Will the Warriors offer Thompson a max deal?

No one knows, but the underlying storylines are what made the series so intriguing.

But for now, it’s all about Toronto, as the Raptors will celebrate, while the Warriors will wonder what could have been.

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