Moore: The End of the Roar at Oracle

Moore: The End of the Roar at Oracle article feature image
Credit:

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: The Toronto Raptors fans cheer after game four of the 2019 NBA Finals

  • Following a loss in Game 4, the Golden State Warriors now trail the Toronto Raptors 3-1 in the NBA Finals.
  • Matt Moore analyzes what could be the end of the Warriors dynasty, as well as the final game at Oracle Arena.

OAKLAND, Calif. — This great old building, which was never great because of the building but because of what happened within, was ready. As opposed to Game 3, a quiet, strange, almost dispassionate affair, Game 4 of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena was raucous from the jump.

The ghost looming in the shadows was that this could be the last game for this building, soon headed to posher super-suites and even higher levels of being priced out for the fans who once made this place Roaracle.

A “Waarrrrrrrriorrrrrsssss” chant broke out 15 minutes before tip, something absent from Game 3. It was a relic of the “We Believe” Warriors, of that first playoff run from Curry and Draymond back in 2013, of the first title run, of a time when winning felt new and fresh.

Yes, it was nostalgia night at Oracle, and everything was set for a throwback, feel-good night. Sure, the Raptors have been faster and smarter and more efficient. But it was going to be one of those nights when the Splash Brothers splashed and Draymond flexed. It was going to be one of those nights where the Warriors’ empire stood its ground and forced the opponent to stake its claim to the throne somewhere, sometime later.

Instead, the lasting image from what may be the last game at Oracle was a group of fans waving the Canadian flag, chanting “Raps in 5!” and “one more win!” and “We the North!” as Oracle’s Silicon Valley denizens trudged their way toward their vehicles.

By the end of the Roman Empire, it wasn’t really the Roman Empire anymore. Empires don’t end abruptly in a final Phyrric defeat, they end with the slow transition. You wake up one day and that empire simply isn’t an empire anymore. It’s just a nation state.

That’s what the Raptors have exposed in these playoffs. This isn’t that Oracle; there have been comments from Warriors players and media all year about how different it is. And these aren’t those Warriors.

Golden State always sparked the imagination with its offense, threes firing through the air like Roman candle spheres and exploding through the net. The secret, however, was always defense. They could get a stop, to get out in transition, to find those threes. They could force a turnover to spark chaos and rattle the opponent. They could answer what the opponent brought and then swiftly strike before they realized it.

Their defense is broken, now. It’s been broken. It was mediocre in the regular season. It was bad vs. the Clippers. It was mediocre vs. the Rockets. It was unimportant vs. the Blazers. It’s been exposed vs. the Raptors.

The Warriors are now averaging their worst defensive rating in the Steve Kerr era, a brutal 115.1 mark, worse even than the 114.7 mark they gave up to the Cavaliers (who they honestly didn’t need to try against).

So when the Raptors’ shooting regulated itself in the third quarter of Game 3, there was no supernova from Golden State. Curry was mortal, as he finally finds out what all these other superstars have had to live with when they’re not surrounded by star players that perfectly fit and accentuate all his strengths and cover for all his weaknesses.

Thompson was great, but it wasn’t enough, and Draymond Green was, again, non-impactful. Green has always been the tempest on the floor, capable of just making things happen with his sheer will and fight. He is the ultimate plus-minus player. He’s a -19 in this series.

They aren’t the same.

And these Raptors are something else. Heady, smart, athletic, physical, poised, and led by Kawhi Leonard who not only likely won Finals MVP on Friday (the odds tomorrow will no longer be a reasonable investment unless you’re hedging against a Golden State bet), but staked his claim for the third series in a row as the best player on the planet.

He beat the Sixers and hit the defining shot. He outplayed the MVP. And he’s ending a dynasty with those two giant hands of his crumbling all the Warriors’ championship pedigree to dust.

There will be talk of 2016 and the Warriors’ comeback against the Thunder. But these just aren’t those Warriors and this Raptors team isn’t that Thunder team. That Thunder team might have been better than this Raptors team, but it’s also not as stubborn nor as volatile. The Thunder unraveled under the weight of those Klay Thompson bombs. The Raptors take the hits and keep coming like a supertank.

There’s very little value left in this series, though Raptors -3.5 in Game 5 looks attractive now in the afterglow and given that the word after Game 3 about Kevin Durant is not good. A lot can happen in 72 hours, but there’s also a sense of history in play.

The Warriors will not vanish from history after this season, no matter what Durant does. But Oracle Arena will no longer host these exhibitions of explosive firepower, will no longer present the greatest home-court advantage in sports. We thought they might have one more moment in them, one more night to split the heavens with the roar.

But much like it is with these Warriors, things just haven’t actually been that way for a while.

The Raptors are 3.5-point favorites in Game 5, with an opportunity to win their first franchise NBA championship, Monday in Toronto.

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