By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Board Man gets paid, but Warriors never die.
The Canadian coronation will have to wait until Thursday at the earliest as the NBA Finals have decided that we haven’t seen anything yet in regards to drama. There will be a Game 6 after the 106-105 win by the Golden State Warriors over the Toronto Raptors within the claustrophobic confines of Jurassic Park.
The Raps were anything but “clever girls” in trying to clinch their franchise’s first ever NBA championship (I mean, Kyle Lowry? Come on…). Still they played their part in producing one of the most dramatic Finals games in recent memory and pretty much ensuring that this series will be compelling enough to make the possible post-LeBron Finals era that we are entering seem welcome and not something we all may suffer through.
Except if you’re a money person for the NBA, that is. They’re likely in the same boat with the ABC execs. They were likely hoping for a big city to match GSW in the Finals, but not the only one from another nation whose ratings don’t relate to good ‘ol American data.
That said, Game 5 brought in viewers, likely cause there was a sense that a conclusion could be reached on Monday. Also cause any night is better than Friday to have a big basketball game. But the sense of closure is even more important, just ask Kevin Durant.
What we learned about the would-be “Slim Reaper” leads the list of important things we should take away from this thrilling Game 5. Normally the “all-important” fifth game derives its drama from putting one team ahead in a 2-2 situation, but this game could have only been more dramatic if it was a deciding Game 7.
In fact, Durant’s act of self-sacrifice, which resulted in the likely exacerbation of an already-injured Achilles tendon, parallels an ultimate act that all NBA historians should know well. It may seem like a reach for those who lived through Willis Reed’s Game 7, but in his attempted and heroically-failed Game 5 comeback, Durant set himself up to be a possible Willis Reed for the 21st Century.
On top of the sure motivation of wanting to win Game 6 in what is set in stone to be the final NBA game played at Oracle Arena, the ultra-prideful — and, as of this writing — still reigning champs will also be out to win one for “The Servant,” or maybe “The Server,” to further play out the whole “Gipper” scenario.
As surely lame as Durant’s chosen nickname remains, he deserves the right to be called whatever he wants in light of his Game 5 effort. If ever there has been a man who played himself into a position to not give a damn about anything but himself it is Kevin Durant, but likely knowing that he was risking his complete health and ability in the near future, one that fortunately includes a big money re-up one way or another, in order to finish the job and earn one more title that he feels he and his Warrior teammates deserve.
Its a hell of a turnaround for a man who I honestly once thought was afraid of competition at its purest level. In the years since his controversial transition to Golden State, Durant has gotten the rings that he wanted and completely assured his place as a first-ballot Hall of Famer — you can even comfortably call him the most dangerous weapon in the NBA today, if not the best player in the game flat out.
What has eluded Durant, though, is the kind of endearing moment that he really hasn’t had since taking his game to the Rucker in 2011, a moment which made explicit the man’s love for the game of basketball. Monday night we got such a moment from him again, as well as a moment that illustrated Durant’s willingness to let the game deny him his health and spiritual well-being in the moment if it only meant a better chance at winning for his team and for all those who are devoted to them.
It’s the reason Bob Myers fought back those tears he had in public. Maybe he shouldn’t take as much of the blame as he’s taken but how could you feel any different knowing that you played any role in possibly derailing one of the most amazing pro basketball careers of all time? Especially knowing that career belonged to a guy who can’t be labeled now as anything less than selfless. Myers knows he wouldn’t have made that sacrifice. Drake knows it too. And so do you and I.
This piece was gonna list off several things that we learned from Game 5 — Durant may be the most dangerous, but Kawhi is the guy you want today if you want to win a title; we’re pretty much assured a Game 7; yeah, the Toronto fans suck but every arena outside of Golden State would have reacted the same way in the moment — but in writing them out they all seem rote and obvious in comparison to the one thing that this game taught us above everything: sensitive-ass, burner-account making, impossibly slim and talented Kevin Durant is worthy of nothing less than our respect indefinitely.
Sure, he won’t be playing for any of our favorite teams next season, but we must all root for his full recovery and the full possibility that he’ll light up the NBA once again and play out his brilliant career as it deserves.
We can’t have a secondary lesson from this latest NBA Finals game be that giving it all for your team isn’t worth it when big money and the risk of embarrassing failure is on the line.
For so long we’ve all thought that Durant cares too much. Turns out he does care too much, and that’s why he’s the man he is today.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR