TORONTO – The NBA Finals are making one last trip to Oracle Arena.
For the Toronto Raptors, it’s a second shot at a first championship.
For the Golden State Warriors, it’ll be a night to play for a fallen teammate and the fans they’re leaving behind.
Game 6 is Thursday and the stakes could hardly be higher.
“We owe our fans one more game in Oracle,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said.
There have been so many already during Golden State’s stretch of five straight trips to the NBA Finals, the second-longest run in NBA history. But few had all the drama and emotion that will fill the Oakland air Thursday.
Toronto will bring a 3-2 lead into the building and try again to win a title that seemed so close in Game 5. The Raptors had a six-point lead with less than 3 minutes remaining Monday, poised to put an end to a Golden era in the NBA. Then Thompson and Stephen Curry rallied Golden State to a 106-105 victory, fueled by three straight 3-pointers.
Now the Raptors have to do things a little bit better, for a little bit longer.
“Come out and do the same thing. Just be mentally focused, try to limit our mistakes, and be the aggressor,” Kawhi Leonard said. “Just play hard 48 minutes and see what happens.”
It’s the last game in the arena before the Warriors move to the new Chase Center in San Francisco, and the first one for Golden State with the knowledge that Kevin Durant won’t be back this season. The two-time defending champions began the series hoping he could return from a strained right calf, but not long after he did he was lost in the second quarter of Game 5 with an Achilles tendon injury.
Center Kevon Looney also went out again, so the Warriors are nowhere near full strength as they make their final stand.
They can’t worry about that now.
“It’s not like we’re the only team battling,” Draymond Green said. “They’re battling as well. Everybody is facing fatigue at this point. No one cares who is tired or if you’re facing a little fatigue. You’ve got to do what you came here to do anyway.”
The Warriors are trying to become the 12th team to come back from a 3-1 deficit and only the second in the NBA Finals, after the Cleveland Cavaliers did it against them in 2016. Being back home Thursday is a luxury but certainly no guarantee, not after Toronto won Games 3 and 4 at Oracle Arena to go along with its victory there in the regular season.
So the Raptors won’t be rattled by having to go back there, even though they nearly avoided it.
“We came into this series expecting a long series and we put ourselves in a good position,” guard Fred VanVleet said.
A loss Thursday sends the Warriors into a summer they won’t be eager to face. Durant can become a free agent and will have to decide where he wants to play – whenever he can play. Thompson’s contract also expires, so these could be the final days of a dynasty.
But until then, the Warriors are showing they can win with skill or will. They’ve beaten teams for so long just because of their talent advantages, but getting this title would require much more than that.
“We made a lot of different statements over the course of these five years,” Curry said. “Win or lose, I don’t feel like we need to prove anything anymore. It’s just about can we get the job done or not.”
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