TORONTO — Stephen Curry doesn’t remember what he was thinking Monday evening. He had run to the locker room to walk those final steps with Kevin Durant after Durant’s comeback had turned from triumph to tumultuous, a stunning Achilles injury collapsing one of the greatest players to the court in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Durant’s exit drained the Golden State Warriors, and yet all Curry knew was that “the spirit” told him to follow behind his fallen teammate.
“You could kind of just feel the life just go right out of us,” Draymond Green said. “But to Steph’s credit, he kind of rallied the troops. He talked to everybody, went around the huddle and just told everybody to stay locked in and do this for Kevin. And I think we did a good job of coming together.”
On a night when it looked like the Warriors’ championship run had finally come to an end — with all of Canada poised to celebrate the Toronto Raptors’ coronation — Curry and Klay Thompson delivered yet another great escape. Fighting through heartbreak and hostility, they rallied Golden State in the closing minutes for a 106-105 victory that sends the series back to Oakland’s Oracle Arena for Game 6 on Thursday.
The victory was even more remarkable considering the Warriors’ diminishing health. Curry looked worn down in the second half of Game 4, fatigued from the grueling minutes of his 47-point Game 3 masterpiece. Thompson was in uniform for Game 3 but held out by the team for fear of re-injury — a decision that now appears all the more prudent. For much of these Finals, Curry and Thompson hadn’t synced on the floor when it mattered most. After Kawhi Leonard put the finishing touches on his personal 10-0 run late in Game 5, the NBA was headed toward putting Leonard’s name on the Bill Russell Finals MVP Award.
The Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) celebrates at the final buzzer as Golden State defeats the Toronto Raptors 106-105 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Toronto on Monday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Then with the Warriors down six, Thompson eluded Leonard off a screen. Splash. Curry followed suit off an old-fashioned, Reggie Miller-style curl. Repeat. Klay added one more triple with 56.6 seconds left — hopping back like he did that May night in Oklahoma City three years ago when he single-handedly sent the Western Conference finals back to Oakland for a Game 7 finale.
Whether Durant’s injury provided an emotional numbness for the Warriors or fueled them with more urgency, they couldn’t tell. They’ve all pressed through injuries, knowing they’re trading on their bodies and that the basketball gods don’t discriminate on such matters. Still, at this moment, with everything riding on the future, they couldn’t process the devastation.
They merely played through the fog. During Durant’s initial injury, it seemed like they were motivated to show they could win without him. Now, they want to win for him — and they’ll take that extra weight on the floor, molding it into opportunity.
“It’s not that we think we have to take on the scoring load,” Thompson said. “But when Kevin’s not out there … the ball’s going to find us a little bit more because you know what he can do, averaging 35 a game in this postseason run.”
Curry has always talked about embracing the moment, and when Raptors coach Nick Nurse called a timeout following his team’s big run, the champions sensed their opportunity, even though they trailed and had lost momentum. There have been openings throughout this series, however slim, and the Warriors haven’t been able to follow through. This time, they rallied. The longest-tenured Warriors — the players who made this franchise must-see TV before they became champions — found themselves standing together with stiff backs even as their hearts stayed with their fallen teammate.
“Maybe what people don’t know is how competitive they are, and I think they showed that tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I’ve seen it an awful lot. It doesn’t happen every night but it seems to happen most nights.
Thompson and Curry didn’t play perfectly. They never do — the gift and the curse of playing so close to the edge, either with nonchalance or joy or arrogance that maddens more than anything.
Thompson stuck his chest in front of Leonard during those critical possessions, a necessary aid to his seven triples and 26 points. Curry’s 31 might not have been as important as his inspiration, keeping this team afloat when everyone inside of Scotiabank Arena was prepping for a championship celebration.
Thompson and Curry were as emotionally exhausted as they were physically spent from the exercise — the only two people in the building who seemed to realize when Kyle Lowry’s 3-pointer was tipped by Green that the game was over. Everyone else was left in a state of pause while Curry jubilantly backpedaled near rapper Drake and the Raptors bench, unsure if a night that had so many twists, turns and raw emotions had finally reached its conclusion.
“We made a lot of statements over the course of these five years,” Curry said. “Win or lose, I don’t feel like we need to prove anything anymore.”
Whether that was a nod to Durant’s possible motivations for a return that proved so costly or the perspective and freedom that comes with being a champion three times over, Curry seemed to tacitly admit that their fuel has run its course.
“Tonight was an emotional roller coaster from start to finish, and we have another game to play on Thursday,” he said.
A few moments prior, Curry hadn’t even considered the reality of Oracle Arena opening its doors for a Warriors game for the last time on Thursday. It didn’t even hit him while he was getting dressed. So much happened, so many thoughts ran through his mind, that he couldn’t even articulate himself adequately.
The Warriors survived an elimination game and now are 48 minutes away from sending this to a winner-take-all Game 7 that could eliminate any remaining doubters of this team’s collective will.
“There’s no more statements needed to be made about who we are as a team and our heart and our competitiveness,” Curry said. “We want to win this championship, we’re going to give it everything we got, but I think we’re done with proving people wrong or making bold statements with our play. People know who we are.”
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