OAKLAND, Calif. — When they took the floor Thursday night, it was the Warriors' 2,070th game played at Oracle Arena, a number only notable because it was also the last. Outside, the arena was still draped in Warriors images, huge photos of players and fan-ready slogans, but it was still goodbye, just a matter of whether a parade might pass by in a few days.
Inside the arena, there were emotional signs, too. With Kevin Durant having undergone surgery to repair the ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in Game 5 three days earlier, Quinn Cook, Durant’s longtime friend, warmed up in a white Durant No. 35 jersey. Towels were being handed out with an imprint honoring Oakland with the K and D highlighted for Durant.
But with all of the nods to history and the very real prospect of being eliminated with the Raptors up 3-2 in the series, it would eventually fall not to motivational touches but to performance on the court.
“Well, this is unique,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “This is sort of a once-in-a-career moment where you play in a building for the very last time, and you absolutely know positively without a doubt that it's the last game you'll ever play here. We had a ceremony at the end of the year in the regular season, but we knew we were coming back here to play. And then we had that weird Game 4 a few days ago where we lost and it sure felt anti-climactic, like this can't be the last game at Oracle. Now it's here and it's definite and it's in the midst of this series that we're trying to win, so there's a lot going on.
“I think the main thing is to just lock in on the game, focus on what we have to get done. And when the game's over, win or lose, I think there will be a chance for us to acknowledge our fans and the people in this building, the people who have worked here in this building for many years who we have gotten to know. Win or lose, we'll be able to share some emotion and say our goodbyes, and hopefully with one more game to play in Toronto. But it is a strange, unique night.”
The game, like the series, would rest not in the hands of a printer providing flourishes to induce tears or goosebumps, but to the players who were tasked with carrying their teams to the finish line. And no matter the result, these teams boasted players who seemed made for the moment.
In a lineage of players who have worn the uniform for the Warriors here and even won championships (playing in a nearby arena in 1975 for the Finals home games because the Ice Follies were occupying the arena), there may have never been players more suited to hold this pressure than Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, the core of the five-year run that made this arena a landmark in its final iteration.
But on the other side they were facing a Raptors squad with players equally calm with the ball in their hands - Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
“I don't know. It really doesn't just come to my head,” Leonard said. “It's just about going through a season. Just being able to be the best player on your team, or one of the best players. Once you keep going, reaching the steps and getting to the next round of the playoffs or just making it to the playoffs, I guess my mindset is just to keep playing and just want to win throughout the season. You come into the playoffs with the same mindset: I want to win today's game, I want to win today's game. And I feel like just having that carry over pretty much helps me or helps your team or players that get in this position.”
Said Kerr, "A willingness to accept the consequences of missing. Until you get to that point, it's going to be tough. So you have to go into it knowing that even if you are the best in the world, you're going to miss half the time. If you can hit half your game-winning shots, that's a hell of a percentage. But if you go into it thinking, Oh, man, I don't want to miss, it's a big situation, then you're defeated already.”