Neither could the fans, most of which were standing well after the final buzzer, possibly waiting for some kind of release. The waiting was rewarded as Mark Jackson's team trundled back out of the locker room, out onto the court. A mic was given to Stephen Curry, whose 10-of-25 night for 22 points was not reflective of the star turn he has taken since the All-Star break. Curry had been hurting physically all series, and appeared weary as he addressed the crowd.
"We just wanted to thank you guys," Curry began, his voice cracking. What followed was inaudible to all but recording devices close to the microphone. The crowd was roaring over the words. Eventually, Curry settled on a final call and response of "Just us!" As the crowd screamed it back, the season was finished.
In the end, the Warriors had acquitted themselves nicely considering the circumstances. "Just us!" was the symbolic chant that ended this season, but the harbinger of doom arrived much earlier. The death knell likely came when Curry sprained his ankle (again) in the fourth quarter of Game 3.
This is not to say that Golden State wins this series if Curry stays healthy. The Spurs were the better team, due to their superior defensive communication and ball movement. It's just that, the injury took an improbability and turned it into an impossibility. The sprain ripped off the hand of the puncher's chance.
Golden State just did not have enough to win a series against such a complete, strategically impeccable team. Curry was not his usual zig-zagging self over the last three games. Andrew Bogut was pained to the point of sitting out all but five minutes and 44 seconds of the second half of Thursday's action. After the game, the big man said, "I played terribly. My ankle just didn't hold up." David Lee was half a player, due to a hip flexor tear in the Denver series.
And finally, a bad situation turned awful when Harrison Barnes landed horizontally to the floor with a sickening thwack. Barnes was motionless for minutes, eventually leaving under his own power to the training room, where he received six stitches. Barnes later returned to action but wasn't as effective. The Warriors claim that he passed their concussion tests.
In the background of blood, strains and sprains, the Spurs were outplaying the Warriors. Since switching onto Klay Thompson after Game 2, Kawhi Leonard had essentially erased Thompson from the series. Game 6 was another night in which Thompson shot poorly (4-of-12) under Leonard's watch. With Tony Parker and Tim Duncan struggling for stretches, Leonard may well have been San Antonio's MVP of the series. He allowed the Spurs to focus max attention on Curry as he excised the other 3-point threat, while putting up steady numbers himself (14.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 60.7 true shooting percentage).
On the other end, the Spurs regained their 3-point stroke just in time to push Golden State over the ledge. A flurry of three corner 3-pointers put the game out of reach. Tony Parker had been struggling mightily, but two of his three made shots were corner 3s with less than four minutes to go.
That should serve as a reminder of what Golden State needs to work on next season, aside from getting healthy. The Warriors give up the most 3-point attempts in the league.
For now, few on the team are focused on that, and understandably so. During the postgame interview, after making mention of the three rookies getting major minutes, and the injury pileup, Curry settled on, "You have to be happy about how far we went and how hard we fought."
Curry's coach was certainly pleased with the effort. Mark Jackson eulogized the season as follows: "Guys battle, guys gave me everything they had, and we fought. And I could not be prouder of any group. I could go on to win championships, and I will not be prouder of any group that I ever coached."
Such praise of the loser might seem ridiculous to those who follow habitually great teams like the Spurs. That's to ignore the backdrop of a perpetually hopeless franchise, and the young players tasked with turning it around. For a season, and probably beyond, the Warriors are indeed turning it around. Nothing beats a title, but the long-awaited return of competent basketball can move thousands into chanting "Just us!" with the young, improving team they've come to love.