OAKLAND, Calif. — The music played and the Warriors players moved easily through the shooting drills on the court at Oracle Arena, repeating a routine that they had gone through for all of their careers. There was no change from the images you’d have seen when they were making their way through the last four NBA Finals appearances, when winning 73 games a few years ago or from the championship runs of the last two seasons.
But everything was different. Kevin Durant was posting messages from a hospital bed in New York. The practice session at Oracle would be the last one, preparing for the final game there Thursday night ahead of the team’s move to San Francisco next season. And the Warriors were facing the very real possibility that they would be eliminated and see their championship aspirations vanish.
The ruptured Achilles for Durant had thrown the season into an alternate universe from the path the finish to the Warriors season seemed destined for, but still, the Warriors and even the Raptors seemed strangely calm as history awaited.
“It hit me a little bit today driving here,” Shaun Livingston said about the last times at Oracle Arena. “It's like, wow, it's our last go-round. It's kind of like a memory lane, it felt like driving here today. The memories, deja vu kind of setting in. All the memories we made here just from my first year. I think the first year, first two years, thinking back about all the memories that we made here. And then establishing myself to be here for the next three or four years after that, it's just special times.
”I really believe it's going to kind of hit us before we get here. But once we're in the game, I think we'll be locked in to what it's going to take to win here. I don't know if we'll be thinking about, man, it's our last game. I think those feelings, those emotions, will more so hit us before the game. And then God willing, we take care of business after.”
While the history of the arena that dates back to 1971 may elicit tears, it is this iteration of the Warriors that has placed the franchise in the history books, making five straight trips to the Finals and putting themselves in the debate for the best team ever. It is not Al Attles or Rick Barry trying to keep the Warriors alive this time, but instead Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, the remaining pieces of the Hamptons Five.
“I expect us to obviously come out and play as hard as we can,” Thompson said. “We're not even thinking about the future. 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 and bringing his type of spirit he would bring to the fight and the competitiveness. 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.”
But if Curry and Thompson seem oblivious to the pressures of the moment they aren’t alone. Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard has not only been the best player in the postseason, but he has reinforced his reputation as a cold-blooded player, jokingly referred to as a cyborg. That demeanor has seemed to sift through the Raptors roster, embracing the moments in this Finals as they find themselves on the verge of a title and unaffected by an opportunity lost to close this out in Game 5 back in Toronto.
“We haven't really looked at or talked about those things,” said Raptors wing and Long Island native Danny Green. “We are thinking about it one game at time, game by game and we have an opportunity here to win. Whether it's here or in Toronto, it's a basketball game. Championship teams have to win on the road. And it seems as if both these teams have been playing better on the road. We have to continue to try to do that and hopefully win the next game and not allow it to go or extend it.