A Bittersweet, Poetic End to the Warriors’ Run

Through two-and-a-half quarters, basketball nirvana is happening.

The Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors are duking it out in a game for the ages. The Dubs are down 3-2 in a series defined by their carnage, playing in Oracle Arena for the last time; playing for Kevin Durant who sacrificed his Achilles tendon, free agency prospects and 2019-20 season just to get them that far in a Game 5 survival win.

Then there are the Raptors, technically holding an advantage but fighting a half-decade of demons—whose timeline is a weird parallel dichotomy to the Warriors’ dominance. They had just blown the series clincher on Monday. The margin for error was evaporating before their eyes.

With 2:22 left in the third, Klay Thompson (also playing hurt) finds himself with a breakaway opportunity. Danny Green chases him down and leaps as Thompson rises. Green gets a piece of the ball, but a bit of Thompson’s body as well. Thompson misses the dunk, then lands awkwardly and immediately goes to the floor holding his knee. Thompson eventually makes his way to the tunnel, then turns back to shoot the free throws needed to keep him eligible for the game.

Sadly, it wouldn’t be necessary. Thompson tries to stay loose but eventually leaves the arena on crutches. He’s done for the night, and so are the Warriors.

Jun 13, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) reacts after being fouled by Toronto Raptors guard Danny Green (14) during the second half in game six of the 2019 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit:Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

A furious back-and-forth ends with a late Raptors surge. The season ends with Toronto’s first NBA title in franchise history—a bittersweet end to an otherwise fantastic game and series.

In a bit of irony, the Warriors didn’t have the horses to compete with the Raptors because two of their three best offensive players were out. Though any kind of losses obviously hurt, this one felt kind of fitting.

With the Warriors ending their chapter in Oracle, regardless of the end result, they went down led by the two players that define their dynastic run: Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.

Curry the world-bender

Thompson was always the critical offensive sidekick to Curry’s laser light show—before Durant showed up and even before the “dynasty” years officially began. One’s elite shooting opened up the other. Still, it’s always been obvious that Curry’s dribbling ability often initiated the destruct sequences more than Thompson’s elite screen-running (at which Curry is equally great).

And Curry has operated as the lone wolf before. He put the basketball world on notice as a slender kid at Davidson, evading double teams and flinging 30-footers while in a jersey that looked a size too big for him.

Very rarely did he face straight-up defense in college. Zones prevail, and teams had to get creative (hello, box-and-1!) to take away his otherworldly shooting ability.

With no Kevin Durant to alleviate pressure during Games 1-4, the Raptors amped up their schemes on Curry. They consistently sent two defenders at him whenever a screen was involved.

It didn’t matter if Curry was receiving it or dishing it out, if he had the ball or not. When you can shoot like he can, you can shift the defense in a way that nearly impossible to recover from.

Take that sequence above: A brief scramble situation ensues after Kevon Looney snags the ball. Fred VanVleet chases Curry from the baseline. Marc Gasol, terrified of the half-step Curry has on VanVleet, shows high on the screen. Looney smartly slips to the rim, opening up a 2-on-1 opportunity.

Kyle Lowry is a great defender, but there isn’t anything he can do there.

That pressure is a snapshot of what Curry has brought to the table since this run started in 2015. He makes defenders panic, even when he isn’t shooting well himself. And boy did he shoot poorly in Game 6.

There are obvious caveats. The Raptors went back to the box-and-1 once Thompson was lost for the game. Curry was surrounded by three of Green, Looney, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala for most of the fourth quarter. That made it easier for the Raptors to key in on Golden State’s lone (remaining) offensive superstar.

Still, a 6-of-17 clip from the field (3-of-11 from three) wasn’t good enough to cut it. Curry missed a good look (especially for him) that could’ve put the Warriors ahead and possibly forced a Game 7.

Though he (and the Warriors) ultimately failed, I still found myself in awe of his floor game last night. I’ve never seen someone strike this much fear into the heart of an opponent.

Green directing traffic

While Curry has always defined the Warriors’ offensive attack, Green has played a large role. As you saw in the clip above, he was the one making the 2-on-1 read. Over the past four years, Green has made countless defenders pay in those advantage situations. Heck, he finished with a game-high 13 assists in Game 6 by taking advantage of the cracks in the Raptors’ defense.

Green’s ability to read the floor has always been a tad underrated, mostly because of the shooting talent he’s played with. It’s unfair to discount his court vision and unreal processing speed. (Ask the Houston Rockets how easy it is for a front-court player to make short-roll reads.)

But the defensive end is where Green’s elite feel stands out the most. It always seems like he can defend two players at the same time. He walks the help-or-stay tightrope better than just about anyone I’ve ever seen.

You always have to be cognizant of where Green is on the floor, though he even makes that impossible at times.

That’s the first possession of Game 6 above. The Raptors work to get a somewhat favorable match-up.

Gasol has Thompson on his hip. Thompson is a stout post defender, but the difference in length is massive. Gasol boogies into a shot over his right shoulder while Thompson goes with a ground-bound vertical contest. The very moment Gasol commits to his shot, Green flies over and swipes the ball out of his hands.

Green does this sort of elite thing countless times in every game he plays.

What I’ll remember most about Green’s Game 6? Beyond the absurd 11-19-13-3-2 stat line? The way he took defensive matters into his own hands late in the fourth quarter.

The Raptors (smartly) spammed high pick-and-rolls to attack DeMarcus Cousins in space. Green apparently had enough and went to a one-man zone. He basically roamed the middle of the floor, directing the back side to stay attached to the players in the corners while also keeping his eyes on the pick-and-roll action at the top of the key.

You have to be a special defender to be granted that kind of freedom. There’s a reason the Warriors have been an absurdly good defensive team with Green on the floor throughout this run. He’s a one-man wrecking crew with a unique combination of strength, lateral quickness, timing and basketball IQ.

Much like Curry, things didn’t go Green’s way all night. He did commit eight costly turnovers. His decision to gamble for a strip against Pascal Siakam failed, giving the Raptors a three-point cushion when the Warriors needed a stop.

Still, Green was phenomenal all series long. His overall impact was consistent with what he’s been during this era.

What comes next is what came before

November 4, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates after making a three-point basket in front of forward Draymond Green (23) against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors have some regrouping to do. Assuming Durant and Thompson are on the roster next season, there’s no guarantee we’ll see them at all. Durant will likely miss all of next season as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles; Thompson should have a lengthy recovery ahead due to a torn ACL. This postseason run has proven that the Warriors need to enhance their depth. More specifically, they need more players that can space the floor.

That’s going to be difficult to do with so much of their cap space tied up in two superstars who will be rehabbing nearly all of 2019-20. A top-heavy roster was already this team’s growing concern, and it just got far worse now that the top is also compromised while the supports continue to erode.

If there’s any solace, it’s that at least the era’s two-man foundation will be back at full strength. It’s hard to argue the Dubs will be anywhere near as scary as they’ve been in years past, but it would be equally unwise to count them out as Western Conference contenders.

With Curry anchoring the offense and Green leading the charge defensively, the Warriors will be extremely tough to knock off, even if the dynasty is officially on pause for at least a season.