Finally, even if just for a brief moment, the NBA’s spotlight has shifted away from the Bay Area.
The “Strength in Numbers” dynasty that was built by the Golden State Warriors over the last five years ended in dramatic fashion Thursday night. A 114-110 loss sent Oracle Arena out on its final night with a dying roar as the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Finals in six games.
Everything that could go wrong for the Warriors went wrong throughout the series. Kevin Durant was rushed back from a calf strain to save the Warriors in Game 5 and after 11 minutes, he ruptured his Achilles tendon. He was lost, not just for the rest of the Finals, but likely for all of next season.
Klay Thompson — who also missed Game 3 with a hamstring strain — was putting in another solid, difference-making performance in Game 6 before landing awkwardly when he was fouled by Danny Green driving to the rim with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter. He claimed he didn’t hear his knee pop at first, came back to shoot a pair of free throws, then went back to the locker room where it was later discovered he tore his ACL.
Despite losing two of their key starters, the Warriors were still in Game 6 with a chance to force a seventh game the same way an older boxer battles their his way to the 12th and final round. Stephen Curry, with seconds left on the clock, had a chance to be the hero, but his catch-and-shoot 3-pointer bounced off of the rim.
Both Curry and Draymond Green vowed to the media that they would be back in the Finals after Thursday night’s loss, that isn’t guaranteed. And Thursday night might’ve marked the end of the Warriors dynasty as we know it.
This is nowhere near the same Warriors team that won a title in 2015. That group had depth, energy and the attitude that it had nothing to lose when it won the Finals in their third-straight playoff appearance since 2013. This is a team with the expectation of reaching and winning the NBA Finals year in and year out, the same way the Chicago Bulls of the 90’s and the Lakers and Spurs of the 2000’s did.
Yes, the 2019 Warriors were banged up and, to their credit, the Finals would have been a very different series if they were healthy.
It’s going to be a tough realization, but with Durant and Thompson missing at least significant chunks of next season, the Warriors won’t make the NBA Finals next year.
Durant averaged 26.0 points per game during the regular season while Thompson averaged 21.5. Curry and DeMarcus Cousins (16.3) were the only other players to average double figures on the season (Cousins only played 30 games). Everyone else averaged fewer than eight points per game, with Green leading the way at 7.4.
Toss in that they could lose key role players off of the bench like Shaun Livingston to retirement, Andrew Bogut to Australia, and Cousins to free agency, and the Warriors will be even further diminished. Who could really step up the absence of all the guys the Warriors will be missing when 2019 starts? Can Quinn Cook step up his game even more, will Kevon Looney be healthy, and is Jordan Bell ready for more minutes? That’s a lot to ask.
If nobody within the roster can get the job done, who could the Warriors actually sign this summer, especially since they’re committed to re-signing both Durant and Thompson to max deals?
The Warriors also have trended downward in the regular season since their 73-9 record campaign in 2015-16. Since they rebounded to win the 2017 NBA title, the Warriors haven’t surpassed 60 wins in each of these last two seasons, finishing with 58 in 2018 and 57 this year. Either the West is catching up or the Warriors are slowing down.
Before the sweep over the Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, this favored Warriors team was challenged by the Clippers and pushed to the edge by the Rockets in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Each series went six games. The West is continuing to get better and is expected to improve even more over the summer. If Kawhi Leonard leaves Toronto for the Clippers, they’ll be a potential force to be dealt with, and LeBron James and the Lakers aren’t just expected to return to the playoffs next season, they’re projected as the favorites to win it all.
Then there’s one thing that stats don’t tell you: the stress and fatigue of being dominant for so long. Andre Iguodala explained to the New York Times’ Marc Stein that, “It’s more the mental strain, especially when you have success.”
“It opens your eyes a lot,” he added. “You don’t get the chance to enjoy it. It’s like, we’ll win one night, then two days later it’s right back to answering the same old questions: ‘Are you guys really this good?’ Everyone continues to doubt you. Or they say, ‘You’re about to lose this guy, so now what are you going to do?’ Or: ‘You’re not king of the NBA anymore.’ You don’t get to enjoy your success as much anymore.”
The Chicago Bulls are regarded as one of basketball’s greatest dynasties with a pair of three-peats in an eight-year span. There’s nothing wrong with not making the Finals or coming back to win it the year after losing in the finals, especially given how tough the Warriors may have it next year. Unless you’re the Warriors, moving across the Bay for the glitz and glamour of San Francisco, then not winning it all may take some of the shine off of the new billion-dollar arena.