Warriors Mystery Theatre: Who The Hell Is Playing Tonight?
The Golden State Warriors have been playing Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for much of the 2019 NBA playoffs. You just never know who’s going to show up for the show.
They’ve played for a month without Kevin Durant, considered 1-2 with Kawhi Leonard as the best player in the league. Their brilliant shooting guard Klay Thompson missed a game with a hamstring injury and was clearly limited late in Game 4 by the injury. Forward Kevon Looney reportedly has “a non-displaced first costal cartilage fracture on his right side”.
Ouch. It’s also not helping that Steph Curry, the nonpareil shooter for the Dubs appears to be wilting under the added burden of carrying the offence.
The novelty has been that, until the dinner bell rings, no one has any idea who will be in uniform for the Dubs. According to the conjecture, KD has been ready to come back every game since he tore his achilles… er, strained his calf. Thompson’s hamstring was a bigger mystery than the D-Day beaches. Looney was out for the season. Till he wasn’t.
Now, with other sports leagues, the Warriors would have been obliged to put out injury reports that bear some semblance of reality to the injuries we’re talking about. But, for all its wisdom, the NBA thinks it’s more fun to do the slow reveal. “You’ll see them when we tell you you’ll see them, goddamnt!”
(Which may be okay with fans, who will take any abuse. But it’s going over like a lead balloon in the gambling world. The same gambling world that is now legal and has zillions to spend on partnerships with a league that jerks them around. You do the math.)
So the hours before Monday’s Game 5 were replete with Durant revivals. He’s coming back. He’s good to go. He’s itching to put a licking on those lousy Raps. The problem with this speculation is that if he has a major Achilles tear, he can’t play. It’s physically impossible. Always has been.
So why play cute? Because it might upset the Raptors thinking they’ll have to defend KD. But also, Durant is entering free agency, and the last thing he wants to tell those salivating teams is that he’s damaged goods. Face it, no one comes back from an achilles tear brand new. You are damaged goods. Which damages your bargaining power.
Hence the fog of war. Even before the Toronto Raptors had their shot at winning the NBA title the apologists were tightening this injury message. “The Raptors are only winning because Golden State has so many key players hurt.”
Indeed the invincible Warriors, media darlings, are in dire straights against an apparently healthy Raptors squad that has been able to win despite rotating just nine players in the lineup. Their bench has filed for EI. The starters have entered Force Of Nature territory.
Still. The demise of Golden State and the eventual destination of Durant, not the upstart Raptors, has been the dominant media narrative in this NBA Final series. Okay, there’s a land-rush business in speculating about what Leonard will do with his free agency this summer. But that’s only because it means the ESPN types can talk about high-profile American cities such as LA, Brooklyn and New York who are planning to roll out a welcome mat for him this summer.
So are the Raptors being sold short? Is this anti-Canadian bias? Should anyone really care?
First, it needs to be noted that Canada has a bad case of the Needies when it comes to winning the NBA title. For a whole slew of political and cultural reasons, the city of Toronto and the nation in general are craving the acceptance that comes with Americans noticing them. We haven’t seen its like since… oh, 2016 when the bat flip of Blue Jays’ slugger José Bautista defined the desire for a World Series crown.
Press availabilities with Leonard quickly devolve into pleading sessions where Canadian media types like Rod Black pester him to say that Toronto and Canada are swell places to live or that Raptors fans are the best. The gormless mayor John Tory has talked about the enticements the city might make to encourage Leonard to stay here for about US $30 M a year. The Klaw might be thinking if these fawning interviews are all he has to look forward to it might be best to head south soon.
Frankly, Americans don’t care that he might break Canada’s heart. Well, that’s not entirely true. They’re charmed by the national anthem, the tidiness of the streets and largely inoffensive tone of the razzing Raptors fans deliver to opponents. We’ve seen several “loudest building I can remember” comments from respected U.S. bingo callers.
Don’t let it go to your head, Canada. This could fall apart like crumble cake in the coming weeks if Leonard decides that Toronto was nice but he’d prefer to be elsewhere in October. A championship is fabulous, but now the price might be paid in lost years of the players. Just look how quickly the Blue Jays went from heroes to zeroes (swept at home by Arizona? Really?)
So if they win, have a great parade. But anyone who thinks the past four games have been about Toronto is visiting the cannabis shop.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them is now available.