TORONTO — As they have made their way into the pages of NBA history, the Warriors have been bestowed with a series of nicknames, shorthand for their dominant place in the game. There is the Death Lineup, the Hamptons 5 and for just Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Splash Brothers.
There are no catchy nicknames for the rotating cast of characters who have filled the starting lineup as they wait for the return of Kevin Durant from the strained calf muscle that has sidelined him for nearly a month now. Without Durant, it makes the Warriors almost seem…normal. And in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, they were brought down to earth from their place among the legends, beaten by a Raptors squad making its first appearance in the Finals.
Readying for Game 2 Sunday night, Durant remained hidden away in the trainer’s room while the team went through the motions of game preparation. But with Curry and Thompson, along with Draymond Green, a trio that has been here from the very start of the five-year run to the Finals every season, the Warriors remained convinced that among posters declaring the Raptors the Kings of the North, they would remain the royalty of the NBA.
“Yeah, that's part of the reason why we are here,” Curry said. “Self-confidence is key in terms of anybody being successful with what they're trying to do. We have all brought that together. The biggest thing is we understand what we each bring to the table and how different we all are, but how much we all love winning.
“And the fact that I can look to my right and my left and see those two guys and a lot of our teammates and know that they believe we can win whatever game, we're going to have that edge. If I throw him the ball and he's going to shoot it, I know he believes it's going in. That confidence is contagious no matter what the situation is. We have built that over time in terms of us being together as a core and a unit. We have to rely on that in this series, for sure.”
Raptors coach Nick Nurse admitted this week that his team has used the Warriors as a model - the long-range shooting, the efforts to push in transition constantly and maybe a little unheralded, to also put a versatile and athletic defensive unit on the floor.
But what he pointed to most was Curry’s ability to take over a game and in a way, to influence a generation of players - including those on the Raptors. The game even brought basketball fan and friend of Curry, former President Barack Obama, to Game 2.
“I call him a transformational player,” Nurse said. “He's got kids all over the world shooting from 40 feet away. I think even as you've seen the three-point shot become so rapidly used in the last three or four years, a lot of that is because of Golden State and Steph and Klay and some of the other guys, KD, the other guys they have.
“Now you're seeing quickly the league start to shoot six and eight feet behind the line pretty regularly. You didn't see that maybe even a couple years ago. So I think he has transformed the way people view the three-pointer, the distance of the three-pointer as well.”
It’s safe to say that Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet would not be launching from five feet behind the three-point arc if Curry had not made it a part of his arsenal.
"Yeah, I think about it, especially as of late where you have those kind of run-ins with parents or kids or coaches who are developing the next generation of talent,” said Curry, who put up 34 points in Game 1, his sixth straight game with at least 30 points. “They kind of have some of the same sentiments around what kids are interested in in the game of basketball, and what they see on TV and what they try to mimic and stuff like that. So it's kind of a cool experience. I always talk about the work that goes into -- everybody sees the finished product these days on social media whenever you see the glitz and glam and what happens out there on the floor, but hopefully they understand and appreciate the countless hours that go into pretty much anybody on this level that is putting on an NBA jersey and the hard work that goes into it.
“So hopefully they're inspired and motivated that they can feel like they can do some of the stuff that I do or that anybody else does in this league. Like Draymond said, you don't just wake up and accidentally or coincidentally be great at something. You got to put the time in.”