Inspired by injured teammate Kevin Durant and facing an emotional must-win game, the Golden State Warriors are counting upon resiliency and fighting spirit to stay alive in the NBA Finals.
Defending champion Golden State, seeking a third consecutive title and fourth in five seasons, entertains Toronto in game six Thursday needing a victory to pull level at 3-3 and force a game seven Sunday at Toronto.
“We’re going to have to will ourselves for another 48 minutes to stay alive,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “And whatever it’s going to take from every single guy in our jersey.
“I don’t know if there’s going to be a speech in the locker room, if there’s going to need to be words at all. We understand the moment and I think we can rally.”
Durant, the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, sat out a month with a right calf injury before making a return in game five Monday only to go down with a right Achilles tendon injury, needing help to leave the court and crutches to exit the arena.
The 30-year-old superstar’s brief comeback effort, leading the Warriors in the playoffs with 34.2 points a game, has provided extra motivation for the teammates who saw him give everything he had in the championship quest.
“We’ll be suiting up in front of Oracle Arena and with the amazing atmosphere and opportunity to play for him, and to kind of honor the sacrifice he made in terms of putting his body on the line,” Curry said.
“We’re going to give everything we got. We’re going to fight. We’re going to compete.”
Golden State guard Klay Thompson will give his efforts in tribute to Durant.
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“It obviously inspires you to play harder knowing your best player can’t be out there,” Thompson said. “You think of him every time you dive for a loose ball or go for a rebound, because I know him and I know how bad he wants to be out there.”
Only once in 34 opportunities has a team that trailed 3-1 in the NBA Finals won the title, that coming in 2016 when LeBron James rallied Cleveland over the Warriors. Only three teams have even forced a seventh game.
“When we step back on our floor for game six, that’s all that matters,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “Everybody is facing fatigue at this point. No one cares who is tired or if you’re facing a little fatigue. You’ve got to do what you came here to do anyway.”
Warriors forward Kevon Looney has a chest injury. Andre Iguodala has a calf injury. But everyone with nagging pain knows they can rest next week.
“It’s a team full of heart. It’s as simple as that,” Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins said.
“We’re fighters. It’s in our DNA. We’re going to go down fighting. Period.”
– End of a Warriors era –
The Warriors will be playing their final game at Oracle Arena, their home venue since 1971. They leave the NBA’s oldest arena for a new $1 billion home in San Francisco next season and hope to exit Oakland as winners after two earlier finals home losses to the Raptors.
“The biggest advantage is being at Oracle Arena one more time, where our fans can really get behind us,” Curry said.
“We’ll be ready for it, but there’s no more statements needed to be made about who we are as a team and our heart and our competitiveness.
“We want to win this championship. We’re going to give everything we got, but I think we’re done with proving people wrong or making bold statements with our play. People know who we are.”
For the Raptors, top scorer Kawhi Leonard says the secret is to keep doing what put them one win from the first title in their 24-season history and the first by any team from outside the United States.
“Just try to come out and match that emotion and drive, come out and do the same thing, just be mentally focused, try to limit our mistakes and be the aggressor,” Leonard said. “Just play hard 48 minutes and see what happens. Play confident.”