In action movies, the credits rarely roll immediately after a climatic battle. There’s usually a little epilogue in which the heroes—battered and bruised, arms in slings—reconvene to take stock and crack wise about what they’ve been through. It lets the audience know that everyone’s OK. Phew!
The 2019 NBA Finals were not an action movie. The Golden State Warriors may have gone out in a blaze of glory, but they’re not OK. Thursday’s Game 6 loss to the Toronto Raptors was definitive. The season is over, they’re moving out of Oracle Arena, and two of their star players must now recover from injuries catastrophic enough to delay any sequels for at least a year.
That’s not to say there wasn’t cinema-grade heroism. After tearing the ACL in his left knee while getting fouled on a dunk attempt, Klay Thompson jogged back on the court, drained two free throws, and told head coach Steve Kerr that he needed just two minutes to stretch and get right. He would not return, and ABC soon aired footage of Thompson leaving the locker room on crutches.
Kevin Durant’s gutsy return to action in Game 5 ended with a similar scene, and the all-world forward limped out of the Finals with a ruptured Achilles. Both players are eligible for free agency this summer, though their recovery timelines will likely keep them off the court for most if not all of next season. (Thompson could, theoretically, return sooner.)
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Golden State intends to offer max contracts to both Thompson and Durant. It’s a nice gesture that, assuming luck and modern medical technology are on their side, will be rewarded sometime in the middle of Marianne Williamson’s first presidential term. The meteorlike salary cap hit that such deals would require would ensure that next season’s Warriors roster will consist of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and a bunch of guys making way less money than the Silicon Valley magnates who liquidated their stock options to pay for premium seats in the Chase Center, the team’s new billion-dollar home in San Francisco. Hopefully they won’t mind watching a whole lotta Alfonzo McKinnie.
A torn ligament and ruptured tendon—that’s how the 21st century’s most indomitable basketball dynasty transformed into a scrappy playoff hopeful in just one week. Even if you believe in karma, this feels like a massive overcorrection. Sure, a courtside VC shoved an opposing point guard. But it’s not like two courtside VCs shoved two opposing point guards.
Ever since Durant arrived in California in 2016, and probably before that, most of the NBA essentially conceded defeat to the Warriors. On Thursday night, the Raptors were rewarded for trying to win. Now that Golden State’s core has been decimated, the rest of the league seems likely to follow Toronto’s win-now template. The usual offseason flurry of roster moves and trades feels more consequential than ever, and we’re primed for the most wide-open NBA title race in memory.
We won’t know who the prohibitive favorites will be until the major trades and free agency decisions are made. Will Anthony Davis join LeBron James and resurrect the Lakers after their blooper reel of a season? Does Kawhi Leonard stay with the Raptors or leave Canada on the highest of high notes? Can the Knicks, uh, re-sign Luke Kornet? These things actually matter now that the Warriors can’t be penciled in for their annual Finals reservation. The NBA has parity, and it only took horrible injuries to a pair of beloved and entertaining stars to obtain it.