OAKLAND — “We do it for Kevin.”
That was Klay Thompson’s assessment of Golden State’s motivation after the two-time Finals MVP went down with a torn Achilles.
Thursday night also will be the final Warriors game inside Oracle Arena. Ever. After 47 years in the gritty, loud building in the heart of Oakland, the team will pack up and move to a glitzy, expensive new arena in the middle of San Francisco next season. Thursday night is a chance to exit Oracle and Oakland in style.
“This has been just an incredible environment in which to coach, and play back in the day,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Even when the Warriors weren’t any good, to come in here as a visitor and feel the energy in this building, you could tell that the fans loved the game. This was a basketball hotbed. And just the atmosphere out there, the energy, the noise, over the last five years with our team’s rise, combined with that organic energy that this place has always had, it’s just been an incredible experience to coach here.”
Throw in the fact that the Warriors still have their backs up against the wall, down 3-2 in these NBA Finals, and it’s obvious Golden State has a lot to play for.
This is the Warriors’ last stand in Oakland.
Will that be enough?
It’s going to take more than motivation for Golden State to force a Game 7.
The simple fact is the Toronto Raptors have been the better team in this series — including taking the two Finals games played at Oracle already. Toronto has won 14 of the 20 quarters played this series, the Warriors four (two were tied). One of those Warriors quarters was the first quarter of Game 5, when Durant was playing.
This will have to be another Splash Brothers’ game. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot 12-of-27 from three in Game 5 — including three makes from beyond the arc in the final three minutes to secure the win. The pair combined 57 points. It was a game that added to their legacy and fueled a Warriors team that shot 20-of-42 from deep.
The Splash Brothers will have to do it again, this time against a Raptors team that knows it needs to be better dialed in on defense.
“We don’t want to give up that many to those guys…” Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse said of Curry and Thompson’s 27 threes. “Still, we got to figure out a way to control those two. There’s transition. There are pin downs. They’re excellent at pushing off to create space. Their screens are long, wide and moving that they’re coming around a lot. So you got to work doubly, triply hard sometimes. You got to absorb contact at the start. You got to absorb contact coming off the screen. Sometimes you put two on the ball screens. There’s lots of stuff going on out there. But we do need to do better.”
Expect to see a lot of the Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll, because the Raptors (like pretty much the entire league) have not been able to slow that play down.
DeMarcus Cousins also is going to have to have another good game. Cousins had 14 points and six rebounds in Game 5, stepping up when Durant went down and providing an offensive spark. Cousins needs to score like that to balance things out because the Raptors are attacking him on defense — both Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry had success in the second half going right at Cousins off switches and picks.
How much Cousins plays depends on what Kevon Looney can give, Looney is questionable but likely will again try to play through the pain of his fractured collarbone.
Green also has to have a huge impact on both ends of the court for the Warriors to win.
One other thing to watch: How does Pascal Siakam respond to being benched the final nine minutes of Game 5? Norman Powell was getting some of those minutes, and that’s a tradeoff the Warriors will take.
It’s hard to imagine the Warriors dropping a closeout game — both for the series and the arena — at home on Thursday night… then again, it was hard to imagine the Warriors losing Games 3 and 4.
This is an elite Raptors defense that has smothered the Warriors in the halfcourt most of this series. The Warriors need transition buckets, and they need some breaks and baskets in the halfcourt.
If not, well, the story of Oracle may not have a fairytale ending.