TORONTO — Bill Russell was in the hallway. The trophy was polished. The stage was ready to roll out. The cameramen had plastic over their gear. The champagne was on ice.
The team doctors’ faces were ashen. The general manager was sobbing. The heroes, the guys who hit the big shots and the man who saved the season with a block, had knots in their stomachs, not smiles on their faces.
It was a most terrible win.
There were no victors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night. Yes, the Golden State Warriors had 106 points to the Toronto Raptors‘ 105. But Kevin Durant‘s right Achilles injury and the circumstances around it, both in the present and future, thudded down on everyone’s chest.
“Everybody gets so wrapped up in chasing championships and the greatness that you see on the floor, but life is more important in terms of caring about an individual and what they’re going through,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry. The 3-pointer he made to tie the game with 1:22 left and the last of his 31 points were the furthest thing from his mind.
“I just feel so bad for him, to be honest,” he continued. “Nobody should have to go through something like that, especially with this stage that we have.”
The Raptors lost a six-point lead with three minutes to play, a fact that has the potential to go down in infamy if they fail to win another game in this series — which they still lead 3-2 as it heads back to Oakland for Game 6 on Thursday.
Kawhi Leonard had two minutes of glory in the fourth quarter — 10 points in a flash — that was lined up be a crowning moment in his career.
Kyle Lowry went up for a shot that might’ve ended up memorialized in bronze someday.
A hundred thousand or so people in a three-block radius were on the edge of having the night of their lives.
Instead, the Warriors finished off one of the most remarkable escape acts in their five-year dynastic run with a cadre of different players having a hand — or two fingers — on it.
Draymond Green got just enough of Lowry’s last-second shot to send it off target, and he knew it before anyone else, pumping his fist as millions of eyes followed the ball.
Curry and Klay Thompson, who made the eventual game-winning 3-pointer with 58 seconds left, hit breathtaking back-to-back shots that rank among the biggest of their careers.
Each of these events could have defined this incredible game in this serpentine Finals. But all of them faded almost immediately.
Instead, the lasting image will be Durant dumping the ball and falling in the second quarter. He was in the middle of a command performance. He made his first three 3-pointers. He blocked a shot. He took a hard fall over Raptors big man Serge Ibaka that made the Warriors bench grab their chests only to see him pop up as if it didn’t even affect him.
But the sight of Durant pinching his Achilles tendon, perhaps to check to see if it was still intact, soured everything. The slow-motion replays of his calf, the same one that had kept him out of the last month, pulsating as he pushed off it to try to make another play made their way around social media.
Durant limped to the back with teammate Andre Iguodala on one side and Rick Celebrini, the Warriors’ head of sports medicine, on the other. Curry trailed behind all the way to the locker room. Durant was in there when his teammates came back at halftime in agony, not just from the pain but from the news. The initial diagnosis was the Achilles.
“At halftime when they came out, and I don’t know what the official word is, but somebody on the bench said he tore something,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “And I know Kyle was on the bench sitting there and was shook up by that, and both Klay and Steph stopped and talked to Kyle there at halftime on our bench about it.”
As Lowry explained, “In this league, we’re all brothers. At the end of the day, we’re all brothers and it’s a small brotherhood and you never want to see a competitor like him go down.”
Midway through the third quarter, with his teammates in a dogfight for their season, Durant couldn’t bear to even remain in the building. With an ugly gray boot on his right foot, he used crutches to limp his way out.
Durant’s agent, Rich Kleiman, was behind him with no color in his face. Warriors general manager Bob Myers, his eyes fixed in the dreaded thousand-yard stare, walked alongside Durant. After seeing Durant into a car to take him anywhere but Scotiabank Arena, Myers came back and had to figure out how he was going to tell his owner, his coach, his team and Golden State’s fans.
Rachel Nichols says the Warriors were very emotional after the Game 5 win because they felt for their teammate Kevin Durant after he injured his Achilles.
“I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame, but I understand in this world and if you have to, you can blame me,” Myers said through tears. “I don’t have all the information on what really the extent of what it all means until we get a MRI, but the people that worked with him and cleared him are good people, they’re good people.”
Myers has built three championship teams and runs one of the class organizations in pro sports, and he was not only dealing with the agony of a star player suffering a terrible injury, but also trying to manage the reality that clearing him to play in Game 5 had the type of consequences that might affect people for years.
That’s what this night was, a struggle to process the gravity of moment and deal with the fallout. Normally after a big road win — and let’s be honest, denying a team a close-out victory in their arena is the biggest of road wins — means a joyous plane ride and rising belief that the Warriors could pull off a historic reversal.
Instead, they left fearing the dawn, because the bizarre nightmare they just experienced isn’t going to be over.
“I just told the team I didn’t know what to say, because on the one hand I’m so proud of them, just the amazing heart and grit that they showed, and on the other I’m just devastated for Kevin,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“So it’s a bizarre feeling that we all have right now. An incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time.”