NBA

Who The Hell Knows How This Ends, But At Least It's Not Without A Fight

Nope, I have nothing for you. I cannot explain how the Golden State Warriors won Game 5 of the NBA Finals, and neither can any of you. A team in tatters refused to shred, and it remains obstinate in the face of a hockey team’s list of injuries. This is almost not at all about the Toronto Raptors any more, which is a shame and perfectly in keeping with a series that has been working overtime to defy all the logical imperatives imposed upon it by an outside world that thinks it understands more than it does. That smartest-guy-in-the-room worldview has been exposed by a fascinating series that is now a complete and utter shambles. It’s as if nobody is allowed to enjoy this championship, neither the heroic nor the smug.

But let’s start in the logical place—not with Golden State’s 106-105 victory but with Kevin Durant and his new injury, an Achilles tendon offense that ends his series, throws his summer into doubt and shatters all the arrogant assumptions about his character. He came back too soon from a calf injury, or maybe found a new way to get hurt by cruel accident. He played well in Game 5 until his leg stopped functioning. He became a sympathetic figure at long last, by demonstrating that all the time we spend on plotting strangers’ futures ignores their essential fragility, and that all our brainboxing about how their minds work are basically time-filling guesses.

As for the Warriors, they endured this affront to their survival by cheating the inevitable, including a 9-2 run at game’s end with treys by Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Thompson again. The Warriors, cast as weak and conservative, arrogant and insufficiently driven, proved otherwise. Even with doom as their chew toy, they proved that their spiny exoskeleton reveals itself when needed rather than when requested. They proved themselves more obstinate than either side of a tavern political argument, less comprehensible than a statistics class taught by a dog, and in the end they made steaming mockeries of every analyst’s analysis. This was the game that defies everything we believed we knew about the game and its characters, and this was the game that shows the only way to consider Game 6 is with our hands over our ears and belting out show tunes to drown out the voices in our heads.

And with Durant going all-in for the Warriors in the worst possible way, we are left knowing nothing about anyone’s future.

In a way, this is good. All the video clips, all the turgid prose, all the yammering yammerers yammering their yammery yammerings to make sense of a game in which the Warriors lost Durant and Kevon Looney—AGAIN—and still failed to fail, just shows some things are incomprehensible, or at least shows how much we don’t comprehend. And yes, that includes Jalen Rose, whose cautionary words about analytics seem to be visionary but really aren’t, and the Warriors’ medical people, who apparently told head coach Steve Kerr that Durant couldn’t make his original injury worse (“couldn’t get more hurt”) but hadn’t sufficiently considered a new injury in the same general area.

There may be historical series that have been less logical, or even less linear, but maybe it helps in some rudimentary way to know that this is the first series in 19 years in which the visiting team won four consecutive games, and the first time in the 2-2-1-1-1 format that such a thing happened since 1974. 1974, you ignorant hyenas. Forty-five bleeding years. This stuff doesn’t happen. It definitely doesn’t happen when the winning team loses its best singular player (Durant) and then its most reliable center (Looney), after its previous victory yielded an injury to another vital cog (Thompson). That the game ended as a push (Golden State closed at minus-1) and that nobody got paid off based on that line is Satan’s work, and Satan’s alone.

So I guess, well done Satan. Nice win to you.

By any measure, the Warriors played their best game until Durant went down, and took another boot in the nethers when Looney went down later. They should have decomposed before our eyes, but DeMarcus Cousins, who has risen and fallen throughout the series in his own return from injury, was the perfect support after Durant’s start was eradicated by his own accordioned Achilles tendon. Even the much-praised crowd cheered Durant’s injury before remembering its duty to civility moments later. (Twitter had its predictable seizure, but Twitter works for Satan too.)

If you want order out of this, it is that Curry and Thompson were so relentlessly and classically bloodless. If you want Xs and Os, the Warriors’ ball movement was better than it had been at any point since early in the Clippers series. If you want heart-of-champion cliché-o-rama, general manager Bob Myers wept through his postgame presser explaining Durant’s injury and asked that all blame be run through him.

As for the Raptors, having the Warriors in emotional disarray and with an available lineup already shown to be short on firepower was somehow not sufficiently inspiring. Toronto never really found an easy offensive rhythm, which is to say they shot the ball terribly, and expended so much energy just getting back into the game that they didn’t have enough of the clinical closing power that the game was offering. The Warriors were there to be had, but Monday’s Raptors could not do what Wednesday’s or Friday’s probably could. The lesson in that is that this is such a disjointed series that neither team is consistently one thing from one evening to the next, and the Warriors are barely the same roster from night to night.

And then there is the timeout Nick Nurse called with 3:05 to go and all the momentum going Toronto’s way. His reason, that he didn’t want to lose the timeout due a newish NBA rule that doesn’t allow coaches to stockpile timeouts for crunch time, marks the first real time he went with coaching orthodoxy rather than his reliable gut. He probably figured the momentum would carry over, in the same way that the Warriors thought Durant’s leg was as bad as it could get, but sometimes educated guesses end up disastrously wrong.

That said, there is no condemnation to cast anymore unless that is how you power through your day. Even if Durant feels he has been medically wronged (and there is no current indication that anyone but the Internet Instant Medical Society believes that), the Raptors have revealed their weaknesses with their strengths, and more importantly, the Warriors have shown the spine their detractors have always wanted to believe was nonexistent. This may all end Thursday, or go until Sunday, and hell, it may defy the last bit of analytical hoop-de-blah and result in one final parade in Oakland, though that probably isn’t the way to bet. But even those of you who came to hate the Warriors and Durant have been driven to your knees. They had more snarl than you wanted to credit them with, and they will either go out a champion or go out behaving like one.

Ray Ratto knows that every once in a rare while nobody loses, even if it seems like everyone does.

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