OAKLAND – Someone is going to fail.
That’s the stage we’re at in the NBA season. After thousands of games — big ones, small ones, boring ones and electric ones — it’s come to this:
The Warriors have been dealing with their regrets already. They might even be energized by them.
Even with a potentially series-ending Game 6 coming up Thursday night — the Warriors’s last game at Oracle Arena before they move across the bay to San Francisco — they were still looking back at the decision to play Kevin Durant in Game 5.
The aftershocks are still being felt after the Warriors star fell to the floor early in the second quarter and grabbed his right leg. He had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon on Wednesday morning.
His absence will hang over this series regardless of if the Warriors claw back from down 3-1 to claim their fourth championship in five years or if the Raptors make history and win their first.
While justifying playing Durant after he sat out 33 days with a strained calf and emphasizing the collaborative nature of the decision, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr also said he wished they could have it all back, a do-over.
“This last month was a cumulative collaborative effort in his rehabilitation,” said Kerr. “And that collaboration included Kevin and his business partner, Rich Kleiman, our medical staff, his own outside second-opinion doctor, outside of our organization. Kevin checked all the boxes, and he was cleared to play by everybody involved.
“Now, would we go back and do it over again? Damn right. But that’s easy to say after the results.”
It goes for everything, really, because we’re at the stage of the season that they are playing for everything, but you can’t fix anything.
When the Finals are over, one team is going to wake up feeling like it made all the right choices and joyfully relive them for decades. The other is going to be hungover all summer, replaying what they should have done differently, lamenting the bad choices made late on a June night.
Making decisions that can’t be corrected is part of the deal, because at least you were in the mix, trying to get it right while everyone else could only watch.
Would Raptors head coach Nick Nurse like to reconsider his choice to call a timeout with three minutes left in Game 5 when his team was rolling, up six, an NBA Championship in view?
Well, he just might. His club was minutes away from an NBA title and he made a choice. He can’t take it back.
“[The losses] all hit you hard. Listen, I’m like anybody that was there that understands the outcome of that one changes things a little bit,” Nurse said. “But I’ll say this: I’m absolutely thrilled to be coaching in another Finals game. This is awesome, right?
“All these things when you look back on them, every single thing you do, if it doesn’t turn out, you wish you would have called another play or had somebody else in or got somebody else a shot, et cetera …. I’m not sure that that timeout had anything to do with about 14 plays after that. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t.”
So now in Game 6, everyone gets another chance to succeed or fail, but the chances are running out. It’s a clean slate, but everyone knows what’s coming. The Raptors have to figure out — among many things — how to somehow keep the best shooting backcourt in NBA history under some semblance of control. Think too much about it and it’s terrifying. Simply being on the floor with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson invites risk, the chance that they can do something great and you’re merely the prop for another one of their magic acts as they showed in the final moments of Game 5.
“It’s all game. It ain’t just down the stretch. You got to be aware. When they’re on the floor, you got to be aware of them,” said Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. “They’re probably two of the top, whatever, all-time shooters in the game of basketball. So when they step on the floor first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter, you got to be aware of them at all times.”
Fail to keep them within reach and the price is steep. The Raptors got a taste of it in Game 5 when Curry and Thompson combined to hit three-straight threes in the space of 95 seconds to extend the series to a sixth game, stopping a Canada-wide celebration in its tracks.
The pair are shooting 44 per cent from three through five games and combined to shoot 12-of-27 — or 44 per cent — in Game 5.
They have every conceivable motivation to draw from. Oracle Arena has been a source of Golden State’s power over the years, although the fanbase may have gentrified from its Oakland-based roots when the Warriors weren’t the glamour team they’ve morphed into now. But Curry has played there for 10 seasons and Thompson eight. They feel a responsibility to put on a good show on the building’s last night.
Similarly, the image of Durant hobbling off the floor in Game 5, having risked his health for a chance to help them win their third-straight title is vivid in their minds as well.
“We’re not even thinking about the future. We’re just thinking about enjoying this last show at Oracle we’re about to give our fans,” said Thompson. “And I expect our fans to be the loudest they have ever been, especially in the name of Kevin, and bringing his type of spirit he would bring to the fight and the competitiveness.
“I know our fans will do that because we deserve it, but more importantly Kevin does for what he gave this team, this organization. There wouldn’t be banners if it wasn’t for his presence. So we expect our crowd to be loud for him.”
Chances are if the Warriors are to survive and force a Game 7, it will have a lot do with Thompson and Curry, making plays and taking shots that only they would think about and shooting them freely. They’re prepared to risk failing because they’ve succeeded so many times.
“As far as stepping into those shots, we practise those every single day,” says Thompson. “I know Steph has been doing it for 10 years with this organization, and me eight. So we know what it’s like to take those, and we can live with the make-or-miss. It’s just what it comes down to.”
With only a maximum of two games left, the pressure ramps up. Dealing with it is part of the job. There’s no hiding from it because everyone is watching.
Kawhi Leonard is as stoic as they come, but don’t be fooled. The Raptors star feels the heat too, but he has the advantage of being able to do something about it.
“Even before it gets down to the stretch, you feel like you want to play great. You want to make the next shot or get the next stop,” he said. “You want to get a stop or a score.
“[But] to really say at that time like, ‘Oh, I feel so much pressure.’ You really don’t. I think, once your adrenaline is going, it’s a lot different than you watching the game because your mindset is totally different. You’re within that moment, and you’re embracing it and enjoying what’s going to happen next.”
This is what’s going happen next: Leonard and the Raptors can win their third-straight game at Oracle Arena in the NBA Finals and break the hearts of Warriors fans that have called the building home for nearly 48 years while lifting the hearts of Raptors nation, also known as Canada.
Or they can fall short, likely falling victim to Thompson and Curry raining threes from above and head home to Game 7 with the weight of the NBA world on their shoulders.
Someone is going to fail in Game 6, we just don’t know who yet.
It’s why they are all lucky to play, to have the chance for things to go wrong and an opportunity to make it right.