BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The Warriors championship run came to an end Thursday night, in spite of a gutsy performance that saw yet another key major injury to Klay Thompson that proved insurmountable, falling to the Toronto Raptors 114–110 in the final NBA game at Oracle Arena.
Toronto quickly jumped out to an 8-0 lead, temporarily dampening the spirits of the amped up crowd, but the Warriors fought back to take the lead for the first time with just over two minutes remaining in the first quarter behind a combined 17 points from Thompson and Steph Curry. It remained a tight game throughout with 18 lead changes and neither team able to establish a double digit lead.
Both the game and the Warriors hopes of a third straight championship came crashing down with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Warriors up 83-80. With Thompson going up to slam an outlet pass from Curry, he came down awkwardly and immediately grabbed his left knee after having his shot contested when the Raptors Danny Green went up for a block.
It was a clean play by Green, but the anguish on Thompson’s face was evident immediately as a collective silence came over a crowd that had high hopes of a Warriors win in the final game at Oracle to push the series to a deciding seventh game. Thompson immediately left the game, but moments later stunned the crowd by running back onto the court and sinking a pair of free throws. An immediate timeout ensued, and Thompson was helped into the tunnel only to learn an hour later that he had suffered a torn ACL that is expected to keep him out of action for most of the 2020 season.
Golden State continued to fight gamely, leading thru most of the fourth quarter, but the Raptors took the lead for good on a three pointer by Fred VanVleet with 3:46 remaining. Still the depleted Warriors refused to die, closing to within a point on two separate occasions in the final minute, but missed free throws and Toronto’s superior depth simply proved too much as Curry’s off-balance three pointer in the closing seconds bounced off the rim insuring the Raptors the first championship in their 24 year history.
Kyle Lowry (9-16) got Toronto off to a fast start, scoring 15 in the first quarter and finishing with 26 points for the game, tying Pascal Siakim (10-17) as the Raptors leading scorer. Lowry also finished with seven rebounds and 10 assists, while Siakim added 10 rebounds in a game high 46 minutes of action.
Kawhi Leonard had 22 points, his lowest offensive output of the series, but was still a near unanimous selection as Finals MVP as he averaged 28.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game to go along with his leadership and clutch shooting. VanVleet (6-14) also scored 22 off the bench while consistently pressuring Curry on the defensive end, and Serge Ibaka (7-12) added 15.
Thompson’s 30 points (8-12) in just 31 minutes of action led all scorers. Andre Iguodala (9-15) scored a personal playoff high 22 points for the Warriors while Curry (6-17) netted 21. Draymond Green also contributed another herculean effort with his second triple-double of the series, grabbing 19 rebounds to go along with 11 points and 13 assists in a team leading 44 minutes of action.
Leonard, who also won the Finals MVP Award for leading the San Antonio Spurs to the title in 2014, was asked about the rollercoaster ride he’s been on the past two years since an injury in the opening game of the 2017 playoffs against the Warriors at Oracle led to him missing all but nine games of the 2018 season, along with precipitating his trade to Toronto. “Last year, a lot of people were doubting me. They thought I was either faking an injury or didn’t want to play for a team. That was disappointing because I love the game of basketball. It doesn’t matter what anybody has to say about me. I know who I am as a person, I know how I feel.”
The soon to be free agent added, “Last summer was tough. I was still rehabbing and just trusted the process with myself. I told myself I would be back. I wasn’t going to come back until I could be the player I am today. I wanted to come back in the same shape and form without coming out playing five games and then re-injuring something. I wanted to be able to play the season, or what did I this year. I wasn’t able to play 82, but I’m happy that I got to the 60 games. Just being able to win this championship this year is something special for me because you know how the last year everybody was looking at me, and I stayed true to myself, and I had a great support system. And once I got here to Toronto they understood everything and kept moving from there.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, classy in defeat, prioritized congratulating Toronto. “They’re a fantastic basketball team. Great defensively, share the ball, play a beautiful style, a lot of great two-way players and a lot of veteran players who have been in this league contributing for a long time. I’m very happy for them. Winning a championship is the ultimate in this league, and they’ve got a lot of guys who have earned this. So congrats to Toronto, they are a worthy champion.”
Asked about looking back at the season and the “what ifs” surrounding the injuries to Durant and Thompson, Kerr added, “Injuries are always part of the NBA season. It’s just the nature of these injuries, the severity of these injuries. What matters is Kevin Durant is going to miss next season with an Achilles tear and Klay suffered a knee injury. It’s just brutal of what these guys have had to deal with and what they’re dealing with right now. I don’t know if it’s related to five straight seasons of playing a hundred plus games and just all the wear and tear, but it’s devastating.”
Questioned about the state of the Warriors dynasty, Draymond Green cautioned any doubters. “I think everybody thinks it’s kind of the end of us. But that’s just not smart. We’re not done yet. We lost this year. Clearly just wasn’t our year. I hear a lot of that noise, it’s the end of a run and all that jazz. I don’t see it happening though. We’ll be back.”
Curry agreed. “I think a lot has been proven about who we are as a team and the fight that we have and all the adversity that we dealt with this entire playoff run. It’s a one-possession game to keep our season alive tonight. But our DNA and who we are and the character that we have on this team, I wouldn’t bet against us being back on this stage next year and going forward. So really proud of the way that we fought until the end and this five-year run’s been awesome, but definitely don’t think it’s over. I think true champions like we are, we should be able to adapt and keep this same kind of DNA no matter what our roster looks like next year.”
Game 6 was the 2,070th and final Warriors game at Oracle Arena. Golden State played their first game at the then Oakland Coliseum Arena on November 29, 1966 against the Chicago Bulls. The era concluded tonight with their 343rd consecutive sellout.
The Raptors are the seventh team to win three road games in an NBA Finals. They’re the first to do so since the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 Finals (against the Philadelphia 76ers). Toronto and Golden State combined for five road victories in the series, the most in an NBA Finals. The Raptors finished the season 4-0 at Oracle Arena, including the regular season and Finals.
Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard raised his total in the 2019 playoffs to 732 points, the third most in a single postseason. The only players with more points in a postseason are Michael Jordan (759 in 1992), LeBron James (748 in 2018).
Leonard joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only three players to win the Finals MVP Award with two different teams. He also won it with the 2014 San Antonio Spurs. He’s also the first player to win the Award in both conferences.
The Warriors’ Steph Curry tied George Mikan for 14th place on the career NBA Finals scoring list. Curry now has 741 Finals points.
With his first three-pointer of the game, Klay Thompson passed LeBron James (370) for sole possession of third place in NBA playoff history. Thompson now has 374 playoff threes, trailing only Stephen Curry (470) and Ray Allen (385).
The Warriors used their fifth different starting lineup in the series, the most in an NBA Finals since starters were first listed on official box scores in 1970-71.
Nick Nurse is the third coach in the last five seasons to win an NBA championship in his first season as an NBA head coach, joining Golden State’s Steve Kerr in 2015 and the Cleveland Cavaliers Tyronn Lue in 2016. Before this five-year stretch, the last coach to win a championship in his first season as an NBA head coach was Pat Riley with the Lakers in 1982.