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.
There were no victors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night. Yes, the Golden State Warriors (cheap Golden State Warriors championship rings) 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 (championship sports rings) 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(cheap nba championship rings) 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.