It’s hard to remember an NBA Finals with more mutual respect than in 2019. Save for a brief, and seemingly good-natured bit of banter between Kevin Durant and Fred VanVleet, the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors showed nothing but respect for each other as they battled for the league’s top prize.
It made the devastating injuries suffered in the series that much more painful. When Durant suffered a ruptured Achilles in Game 5, the entire Raptors team fell silent, and angrily stopped the home fans who were cheering.
And when Klay Thompson tore his ACL in Game 6, the impact was so severe that Kawhi Leonard - soaked in champagne a few hours later - said it had been hard to focus on the game knowing Thompson had been seriously injured.
A lot of that mutual respect came towards, and from Raptors wing Danny Green. Green fouled Thompson on the play on which the injury occurred. It was a bang-bang sequence: one second Thompson was out in transition, and the next he was writhing on the floor with an injury that will keep him out until well into next season.
Green’s shot contest was not dirty. The video certainly shows that, as does the aerial view seen at the top of this article.
Still, it can be hard to not feel guilty when you’re in his position. But to hear Green tell it, the Warriors made a point of letting him know, then and there, that he’d done nothing wrong.
"You went up for the ball, he just came down funny."— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 17, 2019
Danny Green was comforted by Warriors players after Klay Thompson tore his ACL. pic.twitter.com/c9ey2xoHbH
“As soon as he came down I was just like, ‘Damn,’” Green recalled at the Raptors season-ending media availability. “And then he was laying there for a while, and I knew it was more serious than just a normal bone bruise. The rest of those guys, they were making sure that I didn’t, I guess, take it the wrong way, or feel too bad or guilty about it. They knew it was a clean play. . . Draymond was like, ‘You went up for the ball, he’s just came down funny. It’s not your fault. Don’t even worry about it, we know you’re not a dirty player.’ And I wanted to check on him at the foul line, he was like, ‘I know you didn’t do it purposely. Weird play, it happens.’”
While the injuries to Thompson and Durant are heartbreaking to see, the respect among competitors is great.