The Warriors have made this trip so many times already. As the Warriors gathered for practice on Wednesday at Oracle Arena, though, this felt different.
"It hit me a little bit today driving here," Warriors guard Shaun Livingston admitted.
The reason? The Warriors play the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday in what will mark the team's final game at Oracle Arena. The Warriors will move next season to Chase Center in San Francisco next season so they can enjoy more modern amenities and a higher profit margin stemmed from privately financing the arena.
Draymond Green called the development "bitter sweet" because of the organization's 47-year-old history at Oracle Arena. The Warriors have also become emotionally lately because they lost a player that helped them win two consecutive NBA titles with two Finals MVP's. They will play Game 6 without Kevin Durant, who had surgery on Wednesday to repair a rupture in his right Achilles tendon. All of which gives the Warriors an interesting backdrop entering a potential elimination game.
"I expect us to obviously come out and play as hard as we can," Klay Thompson said. "We're not even thinking about the future. We're just thinking about enjoying this last show at Oracle we're about to give our fans. And I expect our fans to be the loudest they have ever been, especially in the name of Kevin and bringing his type of spirit he would bring to the fight. I know our fans will do that because we deserve it, but more importantly Kevin does for what he gave this team and this organization. There wouldn't be banners if it wasn't for his presence. So we expect our crowd to be loud for him."
Perhaps many in the crowd carry signs titled "In the name of Kevin." It would only be appropriate considering what the Warriors have experienced. Nearly all season, Durant's presence caused a looming shadow for various reasons.
The good? Durant averaged 26.0 points on 52.1% shooting and a league-leading 32.3 points on 51.4% shooting in the postseason. The bad? Durant's pending free agency sparked endless speculation about his future and even an argument with Green.
The stupid? After Durant injured his right calf against Houston in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, an unfair narrative emerged that the Warriors are better without Durant simply because they won a decisive Game 6 and then swept Portland in the Western Conference finals. The emotional? After scoring 11 points in 12 minutes in his return in Game 5, Durant injured his right Achilles tendon and prompted the team to support him and defend his character.
No wonder Warriors forward Andre Iguodala described this season as "a circus more than a roller coaster." Hence, the Warriors might experience one wild ride in Game 6.
"You try to take any type of inspiration, and you put it into the game in the right way," Iguodala said. "But it can work both ways."
After all, the Warriors have not exactly fared better at home than on the road. They went 30-11 this season at Oracle Arena as opposed to 27-14 on the road. They lost all two of their home games in the Finals, while winning two out of three on the road.
The Warriors have more of a reason to put on a show in Game 6 before a crowd that might feel more like Oakland instead of Silicon Valley. Yet, that might make the Warriors feel too much pressure in writing a compelling last chapter.
"We want to close Oracle out the right way, but we're trying to win a championship," Green said. "We don't have time to be crying tears because we're leaving Oracle. We're trying to win a championship."
The Warriors also don't have time to be crying tears because Durant is not on the court. The Warriors survived those emotions without Durant in Game 5 by relying on their other All-Stars to make key plays. Thompson and Curry combined for the last 3 3's of the game. Thompson and Green also made two key defensive stops. Can the Warriors make those plays again?
"I'm sure the fans will be fully engaged and there's going to be a lot of emotions and a lot of passion in the building, so it's going to be an epic night," DeMarcus Cousins said. "This team is together regardless. Obviously, we got one more thing to kind of motivate us. Obviously we want to come out and try to win this thing for (Kevin) as well. So I guess you can say it's another added motivation."
So when those on the Warriors drive up to Oracle Arena on Thursday for one last time, surely memories will trigger. They might remember the awful rebuilding seasons. They might reflect on the recent dynasty that has yielded three NBA championships in the past four years. They might day dream about closing this building and holding their passport for a decisive Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday.
"Even when the Warriors weren't any good, to come in here as a visitor and feel the energy in this building, you could tell that the fans loved the game," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "This was a basketball hotbed. And just the atmosphere out there, the energy, the noise, over the last five years with our team's rise, combined with that organic energy, this place has always had it. It's just been an incredible experience to coach here."
The Warriors pledged to add more incredible experiences for one last time here, even if they cannot do so with one of their key star players.