The NBA Finals got underway last night, and not a moment too soon; after a week-plus of Super Bowl–style blather and hype, it was great to see some basketball being played.
The result of the game was not what I would call “good.” Although as this map shows, most of the continent would disagree with me:
It is assumed that all of Canada was rooting for the Raptors, who were making history just by appearing in the Finals. Also historic: This was the first time in their five-year run that the Warriors played Game 1 of the Finals on the road, and the first time they lost.
The Warriors lost. I just keep saying this, because though I had been telling anyone who would listen that the W’s needed to be worried about the Raptors and Kawhi Leonard — who is playing at a Jordanesque level right now — in practice I was not quite prepared for it. Fortunately I had inoculated myself against any pain I might have felt with a large Redwood Rye Manhattan.
Last night the Warriors completed their sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, claiming a place in their fifth straight NBA Finals. This is something that has been accomplished only once before, by the Boston Celtics — who went to the Finals 10 straight years (from 1956–57 through 1965–66), winning all of them but one, including eight in a row. Chances of the Dubs matching that: effectively zero. But that was the NBA’s Age of Titans, and to even be included in the same paragraph with those Celtics (who won two more titles in 1967–68 and 68–69) is an enormous honor.
The feeling for the Nation is a little different than it was after the Houston series; there is not the same joy in standing over the battered and bruised body of an opponent you feel an affinity and empathy for. The Blazers are a class act (and as for what that says about the Rockets, you can draw your own inference).
They just had the bad luck to run into a Warriors team that has rediscovered its mojo and does not look inclined to lose another game to anyone, ever. In each of the last three games of the series the W’s went down double digits at halftime, shrugged, and took care of business down the stretch. Though Game 4 got pretty dicey — it took an overtime, a bit of good luck, unexpected offense from Draymond Green, and Steph Curry playing the whole second half and overtime to seal the deal.
For reasons having to do with the alphabet, I’ve been listening to the band Blancmange this week. They are generally filed under “80s Anachronisms” with other synth/voice duos, but I think they deserve better: All three of their vintage albums — Happy Families (1982), Mange Tout (1984), and Believe You Me (1985) — are magnificent. (A spate of recent reunion albums, some featuring only one member, is another matter.) The sound is High Eighties, to be sure, but one of the best specimens thereof, and the songwriting is both sturdy and imaginative.
This song from Believe You Me is a great example of what Blancmange were capable of. 34 years later — Jesus, is that right? I guess it is — it still sounds pretty great to me.
This is a weird time to be a Warriors fan. Good weird, but weird nonetheless.
Since Kevin Durant went down with a calf injury about a week ago, it’s like someone flipped a switch on a time machine and all of a sudden it’s 2015 again. The illusion is strengthened by the presence of Andrew Bogut, who after apparently dropping off the face of the Earth is not just back on the team, but back in the starting lineup.
Before KD’s injury the Warriors had been winning but sometimes looking vulnerable, dropping two games to the Clippers and two more to the Rockets. What’s worse, throughout this season they had gone through troubling stretches of lassitude, and sometimes even (perish the thought) discord — very off-brand.
But ever since Durant left the floor in the 3rd quarter of a touch-and-go Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals, they have looked like the Dubs of old — playing with joy and pace, moving the ball, getting superb performances from role players, the Splash Brothers splashing. After polishing off the Rockets they steamrolled the Blazers in Game 1 and last night overcame a 15-point halftime deficit to take Game 2.
Up to this point I haven’t written a single word on this site about the 2019 NBA playoffs, which says something about how jaded we Warriors fans have become. Our team is now an established power that has gone to the Finals four times in a row and won thrice, no longer the young upstarts who took the league by storm in 2014–15. And there’s no getting around the fact that we are not the giddy virgins we were back then.
But last night’s victory was especially sweet, coming as it did with the W’s short a Kevin Durant (out with a calf strain) and facing a Rockets team whose sole purpose in life is to beat them. That last part is no exaggeration — Houston GM Daryl Morey has gone on record more than once saying that his team was built specifically to match up against the Warriors. And last year they almost pulled it off: If Chris Paul hadn’t missed the last two games with a hamstring pull, or if the Rockets hadn’t suffered a historic cold stretch where they missed 27 straight three-pointers, they might be the defending champions right now.
Might be. Hypotheticals are just that, and you never know what’s going to happen until the ball is tipped and the game is played. After Durant’s injury the buzz was that the Warriors were in trouble, even though they had pulled out Game 5 of their Conference Semis series to take a 3–2 lead. I personally was pretty sanguine about it; with Durant out and Andrew Bogut starting, this was the same lineup that won the title four years ago.