Can the Warriors make it to game seven without Durant?
The tension in the air was palpable when Kevin Durant hobbled off, leaving the Golden State Warriors to cling to life in the NBA Finals without him. Their lack of superstar power has been clear in this final series, with Kawhi Leonard threatening to steal the show.
It returns to the Oracle Arena this Thursday, with many feeling that it is inevitable that the Warriors are going to do it again and take it to game seven. If they manage that, their experience at this stage could well show, and the Raptors could be rattled, blowing their initial 3-1 advantage.
The Warriors won 106-105 last time around, and the finest of margins in that win will have been a big blow to the Raptors. However, what will worry Golden State is that without Durant, they have looked ordinary in this series. He is not expected to return even if they make it to game seven, and his replacements have not seemed effective at the highest level compared to the Eastern Conference final, when it was more of a breeze.
Everything now comes down to mentality. If the Warriors come back from this, they will be lauded as all-time greats, the champions who simply cannot be beaten. Should Toronto find a way to win on Thursday night or in game seven, they will not care about their mistakes in game five, and that lingering feeling that losing by a point in that game changed everything.
However, the Warriors need to find a way to win without Durant, and fast. Home advantage can mean a lot, but both sides have flipped the script during this postseason, and have shown that it doesn’t count for all that much when the other side gets their tactics right.
Durant was the finals MVP the last two years in a row, and many of their first-quarter points in game five came through him, when he managed 11 points before going off after just 12 minutes. They will need a new centre, and while Steph Curry is always capable, it does leave spaces in behind that a top team could exploit if all their players are ready for the challenge.
For the Raptors, the likes of Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol can step up at this level, and are not going to shy away from responsibility. If the Warriors try to pin back Leonard in the absence of Durant, this could be their undoing if we see a repeat of when Toronto won their first game in the series and Siakam nailed 32 points.
Words: Noah Hart