After failing to sew up the NBA Finals and hoist the trophy before their home crowd in Toronto, the Raptors must play Game 6 on Thursday inside the emotional twister that will be Oracle Arena on its farewell night.
When the Golden State Warriors eked out a one-point Game 5 win, they earned a second chance to give their beloved old arena in Oakland a proper sendoff before they move into a new state-of-the-art stadium in San Francisco next season. Now add to that mix the inspiration to win for fallen teammate Kevin Durant.
Oracle Arena, which opened in 1966, has been the Warriors’ home since the 1971-72 season. It has been the house of victories and Champagne celebrations. Six championship banners hang from Oracle Arena’s rafters, along with the retired numbers of legendary players such as Rick Barry and Wilt Chamberlain.
Nostalgia for all of those big moments at Oracle will swirl into the bittersweet tornado of other feelings swirling around the Warriors. The thrill of extending this series is intertwined with the misery of the catastrophic injury to Durant, their missing two-time NBA Finals most valuable player. Mystery surrounds the way Durant’s injury was managed and who is to blame.
Durant dropped a bombshell on Instagram on Wednesday, confirming that he had indeed ruptured his Achilles tendon and that he had just undergone surgery to repair it. In his post, Durant, called the surgery successful and “easy money.” He said he’s surrounded by family and loved ones, and he sent his best wishes and good luck to the Warriors. Part of his lengthy post read:
“I'm hurting deeply, but I'm OK. Basketball is my biggest love and I wanted to be out there that night because that’s what I do. I wanted to help my teammates on our quest for the three peat. Its just the way things go in this game and I'm proud that I gave it all I physically could, and I'm proud my brothers got the W. It's going to be a journey but I'm built for this. I’m a hooper I know my brothers can get this Game 6, and I will be cheering with dub nation while they do it.”
However, just minutes before Durant’s post, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was doing his off-day press availability in Oakland, telling reporters that he had no update to share on Durant. The coach had not mentioned any surgery, raising major questions about whether Durant and the Warriors are on the same page.
Kerr said Durant had met with both Warriors doctors and an independent medical team before deciding to make a comeback for Game 5 after a month-long absence due to a calf injury. He played 12 minutes in that game before he had to be helped off the court with an injury. Kerr said all parties were worried about re-injury to his calf, but none anticipated an Achilles injury.
“Would we go back and do it over again? Damn right," Kerr said. "Our feeling was the worst thing he could do was re-injure the calf. The Achilles came as a complete shock.”
Durant is heavy on the hearts of his team.
“We’re just thinking about enjoying this last show at Oracle we’re about to give our fans. And I expect our fans to be the loudest they have ever been, especially in the name of Kevin,” Klay Thompson said. “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.”
Stephen Curry echoed the emotions of his fellow Splash Brother:
“Like Klay said, to protect our home court, feed off our crowd’s energy, play for K and try to keep our season alive – there are a lot of things that you can kind of tap into for energy tomorrow,” Curry said.
The road team has won four of the five games in this series so far. Toronto’s Kyle Lowry wouldn’t bite on a question about what it may feel like to win a championship and spoil Golden State’s farewell party at the same time. He talked about being focused on the Raptors, and staying together.
“Get there when we get there,” he said.