The Golden State Warriors embarked in their 2019 postseason campaign aiming for the elusive three-peat, but wound up hobbling to the finish line, losing their shot at a pivotal Game 7, a third straight title, and now with a pile of bodies left to mend.
Game 6 of the NBA Finals — the last ever at the vintage Oracle Arena — had the makings of being an all-time classic, as 14 lead changes through the first half made for an extremely competitive game against the Toronto Raptors, yet the Warriors couldn’t escape the foul nature of injuries, ones that can now shape a potential end to this dynasty.
Is it all lost at this point? Not quite, but there will be a lot of mending to do before this team is ready to challenge for an NBA title again. These are 5 Clutch Points from Game 6 of the NBA Finals:
Game 6 Klay and the ultimate tragedy
Klay Thompson looked ready to keep his legend of “Game 6 Klay” alive again, as he’s come up big in several key Game 6 moments of the Warriors’ five-year run. His 18 points at the half were a clear indication that Klay came to play.
Game 6 Klay everybody 🔥
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) June 14, 2019
Thompson’s stroke was evident from the jump, but his desire to put the team on his shoulders was even more noticeable when he was fearlessly taking shots of this kind — a one-on-four pull-up 3-pointer in transition that would tie the game at 76.
Klay launching from everywhere ☄️
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 14, 2019
His avalanche seemed all but inevitable… until his injury took place.
Thompson attempted a two-handed dunk in transition, only for him to be met by a flying Danny Green, landing awkwardly in his left leg — and as the Warriors would later learn, tearing his ACL in the process.
Klay Thompson takes a fall and he was on the ground in some serious pain pic.twitter.com/mw0HpOOq5y
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) June 14, 2019
Thompson would head to the locker room after the timeout, but soon return after he was informed that not shooting his two foul shots would render him ineligible to return to the game.
The marksman turned back and walked through the tunnel on his own, shooting and making both free throws before departing again upon an intentional foul. He would be ruled out for the rest of the game during the fourth quarter, with those last two free throws giving him a game-high 30 points.
Here's Klay Thompson needing help just to get off the court, going down the hall, slowly starting to be able to walk under his own power, then reversing course to go shoot those FT's. This is amazing. pic.twitter.com/1TawOxhGBk
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 14, 2019
Thompson lived up to his name, yet faced a fate that no one saw coming, one that will ultimately have deep implications on how this team will look next season.
Iron Man Klay’s living legend
The Warriors have been marred with injuries through this playoff stretch, and sadly enough, it culminated with Klay Thompson’s season-ending injury — one that will likely carry out at least through next year’s All-Star break.
Yet Thompson’s legend didn’t end there, as he stayed true to his iron man reputation by shocking his teammates and coaches with his resolve.
Draymond Green for one, was astounded by his teammate’s decision to walk back and shoot two key free throws to extend the Warriors lead, even after being plenty deep in the tunnel and halfway to the locker room.
“You see him try to run back down the floor, like, what are you doing?” Green said post-game, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic.
Even before exiting through the tunnel, Thompson gave his coach Steve Kerr a brief message:
“He said: ‘Just a two-minute rest and I’ll be ready,’” Kerr recalled in his post-game press conference.
Thompson met his father Mychal in the tunnel, who asked if he’d heard anything pop, to which he replied twice to his father’s relief: “I did not hear anything pop.”
His toughness and willingness to play through injuries has been well-chronicled — even before this incident.
It was only three games ago that the sharpshooter intended to play after pulling his hamstring in Game 2, an injury that would’ve left many others sidelined for several days, if not weeks.
Thompson made every effort to convince the coaching staff to let him play, but they ultimately sat him out for precaution — making that the first playoff game he’s missed after playing 119 straight.
Klay’s injury is a crushing blow to the Warriors, but his legacy as one of the toughest players to step out on the floor will rival those of Michael Jordan’s legendary flu game, Karl Malone playing through a torn MCL in the 2004 NBA Finals, and even Willis Reed’s mythical return from a serious thigh injury in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
Too much talent, too little luck
The Toronto Raptors walked away with their first-ever title, a deserved one, as they proved to be the better team through the course of this series.
While this story could have been different if the Warriors were at full force, these were the hands that were dealt and the Raptors played their cards admirably, having a different player step up in each of the six games of this series, something the Warriors direly lacked.
Despite playing a dedicated eight-man rotation, the Raptors found a different support cog to step up in each game, ranging from starters Marc Gasol and Danny Green, to key bench players like Serge Ibaka and Fred Van Vleet.
In Game 6, it was Kyle Lowry who provided the early spark, going off on a personal 11-point run to start the first quarter, including three 3-pointers to put the Raptors ahead.
It was this same Lowry that was often criticized for his subpar play in the postseason, but wound up having three huge games this series, leaving the best for last with a 26-point, 10-assist, seven-rebound, three-steal performance in Game 6.
— NBA (@NBA) June 14, 2019
It took a well-paced perfect storm for the Raptors to earn this championship, as Pascal Siakam found his touch from the 3-point line after an 0-for-12 skid, scoring 26 points in 46 minutes of play.
VanVleet and Ibaka had huge nights of their own, scoring 22 and 15 points respectively, providing that steady bench support that made this Raptors team so tough to keep off the scoreboard throughout this series.
The end of an era
Every NBA dynasty comes to an end at some point or another. Championship windows narrow. Some age like the San Antonio Spurs did before getting Kawhi Leonard, some others blow-up like the 2007-12 Boston Celtics and the 2010-14 Miami Heat.
This dynasty will sadly be decimated by a slew of injuries, one that kept this team from showcasing its full potential, along with the incertitude of free agents like Kevin Durant, who could likely leave in a few weeks as a free agent.
The Warriors could end up looking very different by their first season at the Chase Center, one that ownership likely had penned up with a state of the art facility and plenty of rich suits hoping to ride the wave while it lasts.
Yet even if Golden State manages to sign Durant and Thompson, the two could potentially miss the entire 2019-20 season, a scenario not many could foresee for the grand opening of the organization’s new home.
The Warriors had been blessed with great health through their first four years chasing a championship, and while they’ve had a setback or two during the postseason, they always had the necessary arsenal to keep head above water.
This time around it was just simply not the same, trotting out the thinnest roster of their five-year run, with every injury taking a significant toll on their championship odds.
Their chances took a tumble early with DeMarcus Cousins’ quad tear, only three minutes into his second-ever playoff game. Stephen Curry’s dislocated fingers would follow, then Andre Iguodala’s aging lower body, which forced him out of several games.
Suddenly Kevin Durant’s calf injury sent a massive shockwave to the Warriors’ title chances in Game 5 of a pivotal series against the Houston Rockets, yet true to form, the Warriors prevailed, finishing them in six games and moving on to sweep the Portland Trail Blazers.
Then the NBA Finals came around and there was no sight of Durant on the practice court. Klay Thompson pulled his hamstring, Iguodala could be seen laboring through his knee and calf injuries, and Kevon Looney’s collarbone fracture was too much pain to allow him to even lift his arms.
Yet these Warriors fought on like an army of zombies, they soldered on and kept putting their bodies on the line, staying true to the name they don in their uniforms — Warriors.
Every franchise meets its end, at one point or another, but this one came with a devastating “what if” attached to a brutal slew of bodies that will need to go through the knife to see the court again.
Light at the end of the tunnel
While it may be a while before the Warriors are back to full strength, this team will look a lot different by October, once the 2019-20 season tips off.
Kevin Durant might be wearing a different jersey, or might not even wear a jersey at all, depending on the extent of his torn Achilles injury, which could take 8-12 months for recovery — for others, even longer.
Klay Thompson will be out of action for at least until the All-Star Break at the soonest with his torn ACL (eight months’ recovery).
Yet this could prove a chance for Stephen Curry to channel the best of his prime at 31 years old, putting up a season for the ages as the main man once again, while Draymond Green will almost surely make a run to become an All-NBA player and a potential comeback as the Defensive Player of the Year, fighting arduously for that max contract that awaits him at the end of 2020.
“We’re not done yet,” said an optimistic Green after Thursday’s title loss.
The Warriors might look different and less gaudy, not nearly as dominant — but true Warriors fans have been there before, cheering on teams that were true underdogs and not expected to have a chance at the title.
Golden State will regain that with two of their stars out of commission, and hence have the chance to make their run at a new legacy, one that starts today — a new day, with some light shining at the end of the tunnel.