OAKLAND, Calif. — When they took the floor Thursday night, it was the 2,070th game played by the Warriors 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.
But what the Oracle really needed was one more memory and that came late in the third quarter when Klay Thompson, who had supplied much of the heroics for the Warriors on this night, came down awkwardly as he was fouled on a fast-break layup. He had to be helped to his feet and carried off the court with his arms wrapped around the shoulders of his teammates.
The Warriors called a timeout and by the time that they were shuffling back onto the court Thompson came striding out of the tunnel, raising echoes of Willis Reed. He went to the line and sunk a pair of free throws, giving him 30 points. But the return was an emotional one, not a realistic one. By coming back for the free throws he was eligible to return to the game but he departed after sinking them and headed back to the locker room, done for the night, leaving the locker room on crutches. ESPN reported that Thompson, according to his agent, suffered a torn ACL.
In the end, emotion wasn’t going to push the two-time defending champs over the top.
The Warriors, who had formed a roster that was the envy of every team in a five-year run of dominance, were outmanned and outplayed down the stretch as the Raptors held on in the final minutes to secure their first championship with a 114-110 win in Game 6.
Kawhi Leonard earned the Most Valuable Player honors, his second Finals MVP. This one came in his lone season in Toronto — and what could be his only season with free agency looming this summer.
"It was a whole group collectively,” Leonard said on the stage, still wearing the goggles he’d put on with the champagne flowing. “Tonight Fred [VanVleet] played amazing in that fourth. Kyle [Lowry] played amazing tonight throughout the whole game. Pascal [Siakam] played big. I just kept striving and pushing and I ended up with the trophy but everybody deserves it.”
Even before Thompson’s injury inside the arena there were emotional signs. 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 shirt and Draymond Green donned one for introductions. Towels were being handed out with an imprint honoring Oakland with the K and D highlighted for Durant, who was back in New York recovering from surgery.
The pomp and circumstance was assembled for a farewell to the Oracle, and the Warriors and Raptors gave it a fitting sendoff. But as the game wore on like a heavyweight bout, it seemed as if the arena was hosting a cage match with the final reward going to the last man standing.
"We know what this team has been made of all along,” Draymond Green said. “I said it over and over again, the pretty offense will always be the story line, but this team, a ton of heart. Everybody that steps on that floor displayed a ton of heart. So it’s no shocker to us that we continue to fight, but we came up a little short and that’s just it.”
The teams traded blows until finally, with 3:46 to play, VanVleet connected on a three-pointer from the top of the key, nudging the Raptors in front. The Warriors kept coming, closing the gap to 109-108 on a drive by DeMarcus Cousins with 46 seconds left. Siakam scored on a short jumper and Steph Curry went to the line with 18.5 seconds left, converting a pair of free throws to cut it to one again.
Danny Green, trapped near midcourt by Draymond Green, threw the ball away, giving the Warriors the ball with 9.6 seconds left. After a dangerous crosscourt inbound pass, Green flipped the ball to Curry, who rose for a three-pointer — difficult, but the sort of shot he has hit so many times and broken so many hearts with. But he misfired and in a scramble for the loose ball as the clock ticked down Draymond Green dove on it and called a timeout that the team didn’t have for a technical foul, stopping the clock with 0.9 seconds left. Leonard hit the free throw and Toronto inbounded to Leonard, who was fouled as time expired, a review the only thing keeping the game alive.
“You live with it,” Curry said of the last gasp shot. “I’ll shoot that shot every day of the week.”
The Raptors - more specifically, Kyle Lowry - scored the first eight points of the game and suddenly the tributes and fireworks seemed a distant memory. But after the Warriors finally got on the board and Lowry added another three-pointer for an 11-2 Toronto advantage the Warriors methodically began to make their way back, briefly taking a lead before settling for a 33-32 deficit after one quarter.
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 since the Ice Follies were occupying the arena), there may have never been players more suited to hold this pressure than Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, the core of the five-year run that made this arena a landmark in its final iteration.
With an uncertain summer approaching because of free agency and injuries, there was a nagging feeling that this could be not just the end of the season, but the end of a magical run for the Warriors.
“A lot of decisions what will go into the summer,” Curry said. “We’lll deal with those accordingly. Two championships — we should be able to adapt, no matter what our roster looks like next year. I have high hopes of being on the stage next year.”
For the Warriors, reality finally set in. While the Raptors celebrated on the court and fans partied in the streets outside of Scotiabank Arena more than 2,500 miles away, arena workers lined up in the catacombs armed with garbage bags and brooms, closing out the Oracle for the night and as far as the NBA is concerned, for good.