Awaiting the Warriors is a rabid Raptors fan base so thirsty for a NBA championship there won’t be a lot of sleeping Sunday night as the Monday countdown begins. To their discredit, there won’t be fan shenanigans either. This is Canada. No undercooked burgers or hot water cut off or fire alarms ringing at three am. Canada doesn’t need to go that far. They have a stranglehold on the series and are only one win away from their first ever title. Only once has a team come back down 3-1 in the Finals and that was with LeBron James orchestrating everything.
The Warriors have to do everything right in order to win Game 5, and the Raptors have to choke in the moment. It’s been known to happen. This bit of housekeeping to remind everyone of the stakes: the Warriors earned three titles and the Raptors players, absent Kawhi and Danny Green, own none.
There would be a lot more confidence if Kevin Durant and Monday night was a sure thing. If Kevin Durant was just waiting for this moment and he’d bust through the locker room and onto the court draining threes and midrange jumpers, dishing off to Steph and even blocking some shots. He’d be the celebrated hero in the Superman paraphernalia. He would be responsible for a mythological ending, something Steph was unable to do in his greatest MVP year. But dreams are dreams for a reason. They are far from reality.
On Sunday, Durant practiced but what that means is anyone’s guess. He can be a cheerleader on Monday night. Or, he can try to play. But his Sunday practice time didn’t offer any ray of optimism and several tweets from connected writers indicate his teammates, frustrated at the situation, are starting to question the entire calf strain scenario.
A league over 60 years old has seen it all. The NBA has been here before, albeit not on an NBA stage, and it was almost 20 years ago. In 2000, Tim Duncan was injured in the playoffs. He had the ability to play but chose not to. The Spurs were playing the Suns, and without Duncan, the end game was vacation. Everyone insisted (meaning fans) Duncan play but he wasn’t comfortable and, by the way, he was a free agent, the one in which you make the boatload of money. Duncan didn’t play. Popovich didn’t force it and the Spurs lost the series.
Before the game Thursday night, a Durant inner circle nameless face said something to the effect of better a calf strain than an Achilles tear, implying the Durant camp is playing it safe. What does one more ring matter to Durant? He’s been Finals MVP twice. The contract is the thing. Stay healthy.
What exactly does Durant have to protect by playing? He came into this dynasty thing in the middle. He wasn’t an originator. He isn’t invested like Klay, Steph, Iggy, Livingston and Draymond. If Durant doesn’t play, Durant is thinking about Durant and that is his right. He has to consider his future. If he does play, the myth is alive and well. Can KD pull it off?
In spite of Durant, or perhaps because of Durant, the Warriors will give effort and their 3-point shooting, dribble and go hard best, will try to stop the more athletic Raptors who have been pushing the pace and are getting shocking contributions from Serge Ibaka.
If the Warriors lose, the dynasty loses. It would be a karma circle. The ones who couldn’t capitalize on a 73 win season are back again, unable to make history and threepeat.
It had nothing to do with Durant in 2016, the best regular season team having nothing to show for it. It has nothing to do with Durant now as Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and a host of others take it to the NBA champs.
Though I have to admit it is strange to see the Fred VanVleets of the world dominate and Shaun Livingston look 100 years old. But this is part of the bargain when you start winning. Steve Kerr, a Gregg Popovich disciple, is committed to keeping the players that got him there, ala the long run with Parker, Duncan and Ginobli. But eventually everyone gets old.
There was a reason Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. He summed up that it was over. Might as well be proactive.
The Warriors aren’t there yet. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are still the Splash Brothers. Draymond does his all around thing without evidence he is letting up or letting go. Boogie though looks ancient and uncomfortable, as if the game is a stranger. Andrew Bogut is old and slow. The mismatched bench who performed against the Rockets are just spare change against the athletic and defensive Raptors. The Warriors, if they lose the title, and I think they will, don’t need to tear the house down. They just need better parts.
Of course with Durant in the lineup, we wouldn’t be discussing this. We wouldn’t be discussing the Raptors smelling victory. We wouldn’t discuss injuries and recovery. We wouldn’t be discussing the dynasty on the rocks because sometimes these things happen. And we sure wouldn’t be discussing Superman putting his cape on and saving the Warriors from themselves.
Superman will be in the building on Monday night but the cape will probably be on a hook in the locker. Unused. For the Warriors, that is the worst case scenario and a quiet end to what has been a thrilling five year run.
41 years after the Washington Bullets team motto was it’s not over until the fat lady sings, we are here. She’s not signing yet, the fat lady in a Dubs jersey. But her voice is in warmups as she eyes the tunnel for a Durant return.