OAKLAND - Canadian rapper Tory Lanez hovered over the Golden State Warriors huddle during a timeout with about three minutes left in Game 5 Monday evening, trying to catch eye contact when any Golden State personnel in sight.
Midway through the timeout, the rapper - with the champs down six - motioned to his neck, telling the crowded huddle around Warriors coach Steve Kerr "It's a wrap."
For the last six months, assumptions of the Warriors eventual demise have been prevalent, aided by curious losses, all-star disenchantment and the inevitable end that comes with the construction of a dynasty. Now - after a 106-105 win extended their title run for the moment - Golden State showed its resilience once more.
"I've seen it over and over again," Warriors coach Steve Kerr. "So it's not really surprising, this is who they are. They have accomplished so much over the years, and that doesn't just happen and it doesn't just happen with talent."
Their latest feat came with a caveat. Twelve minutes into Monday's game, Kevin Durant tumbled to the ground attempting to drive past Raptors big man Serge Ibaka, injuring his Achilles. In the weeks entering Game 5, Durant - who injured his right calf last month - endured a frustrating rehab process, pushing his eventual return date to Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
All the while, the Warriors recalibrated, as Stephen Curry averaged 35.4 points, 6.1 assists, and 6.8 rebounds over a eight-game stretch, steering the Warriors to a 6-2 record in Durant's absence. As the Warriors progressed through the playoffs, injuries piled up. DeMarcus Cousins' torn quad sidelined him for a month, while Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney all missed at least one postseason game due to injury.
In a season that was supposed to put a bow on the greatest five-year run in NBA season, the Warriors offered anything but sustained dominance. Following a 10-1 start to the regular season, the Warriors finished the month of November 7-7 in a stretch that was lowlighted by an on-court argument between Durant and teammate Draymond Green. Following the All-Star break, complacency led to curious home losses to the Boston Celtics and lowly Phoenix Suns.
Internal battles with complacency extended to the postseason, with reminders of dominance sprinkled in. Two nights after dominating the LA Clippers Game 1 of a first-round matchup, they squandered 31-point lead at home, victims of the worst postseason collapse in NBA history. Two weeks later, with Durant out, the Warriors rallied in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, closing out the Houston Rockets on the road.
We have been doing this for years, so it's natural. It's not that we think we have to take on the scoring load.
Following Durant's injury Monday evening, the Warriors somehow maintained its strong play. DeMarcus Cousins scored nine of his 14 points in the second quarter, as the Warriors built a 14-point lead. After Kawhi Leonard scored 10 straight points to put the Raptors up 103-97, the Warriors walked to the bench with Lanez waiting to tell them the series was effectively over.
What followed was a 10-2 Warriors run, aided by two straight 3-pointers from Thompson and Curry to put the Warriors up 106-103 with 57.6 seconds to go. Fifty-seven seconds later, Green blocked a potential game-winning 3-point attempt from Raptors guard Kyle Lowry - sealing an improbable win.
As news trickled out of Durant's injury late Monday night, Warriors tried to grapple with their latest test. Warriors coach walked somberly out of Golden State's locker room, past the tunnel Durant made his final journey hours earlier, conflicted with the joy of winning and the pain of a star player going down. Curry - clad in a three-piece suit - made a similar, conflicted journey.
"Tonight was an emotional roller coaster from start to finish, Curry said. "And we have another game to play on Thursday. So we'll be ready for it, but there's no more statements needed to be made."
About 30 minutes after Golden State forced a Game 6, Lanez walked through a corridor in the bowels of Scotiabank Arena, making a similar journey past a makeshift press conference room and into the night having just witnessed the latest display of resilience from the champs.