Location: Evergreen Ave.
Personnel: Me, KT, miscellaneous domestic felines
T-shirt: Local Heroes
It’s been a wild, topsy-turvy year in the NBA playoffs. Last night the #8 seed in the East, the Miami Heat — who only snuck into the playoffs via the back door of the play-in tournament — eliminated the #1 Milwaukee Bucks. Meanwhile the Lakers, who also qualified through the play-in, are on the brink of bouncing the cocky young Memphis Grizzlies in a series that has put many of us longtime Laker-haters in the uncomfortable position of sort of rooting for them. And perhaps most surprising of all, the New York Knicks won a playoff series. The Knicks!
For a minute there it seemed like the Stark Fist of Removal was coming for the Warriors too. When they lost the first two games of their series, and then Draymond Green got suspended for Game 3, there was much doomsaying in the Nation: It wasn’t just the season coming to an end, it was the world. The group chat became a deathwatch.
Is it OK if I give myself a pat on the back here? It was at this point that I texted my friends:
In the end this will just be a dramatic moment in our 2023 championship video.
Which is a long way off, I know. We’re still in the first round and there are still games to be played. Last night I was reminded of the sad tale of Tracy McGrady, whose Orlando Magic went up 3–1 on the Detroit Pistons in the first round in 2003. Feeling euphoric, T-Mac told the press, ““It feels good to be in the second round.”
Which was a mistake. Not only did the Magic go on to lose the series, McGrady would never once get to the second round in the course of his illustrious but injury-riddled and ultimately underachieving career. That old saw about the chickens and the hatching: there’s some wisdom there.
Having said all that, there is every reason for a Warriors fan to feel good today. We finally won a game in Sacramento, quieting the cowbells and keeping the beam unlit. Everybody did their part, including Draymond, who scored an uncharacteristic 21 points to go with his usual stellar defense and playmaking. Also as per usual, he threw a couple of absolute bonehead moves into the mix, but that’s just Dray being Dray.
Klay was also Klay, scoring 25 on 10-for-19 shooting and going 5-for-11 on threes, with several of his shots being the kind where you start to jump up to yell at him for being such a chucker, then meekly sit back down again when it goes in. You’d think that after all these years I’d know better, but apparently not.
Oh, and what about Kevon Looney? For the second time in the series, he had exactly 4 points in a game to go with 20+ rebounds. The formerly anonymous Loon has suddenly become everybody’s favorite feel-good story; yesterday he was the subject of a long piece in the NYT focused on his yoga regimen.
Andrew Wiggins quietly played great D and scored a basket every time things were going sideways. Before coming to the Warriors, he was widely considered a bust. It is to laugh.
Shoutout to Gary Payton II, who in 16 high-energy minutes scored 8 points, got 6 rebounds and 2 steals, and hounded the pesky De’Aaron Fox to distraction. Fox ended the night with 24 points but took 25 shots to do it, which is what we like to see.
Out of kindness I won’t talk about Jordan Poole, the only part of the machine that is currently not functioning up to spec. He’ll be back, I’m sure.
And finally, Steph. What can I say about him? Let’s get a little Malkovich with it: Steph Steph Steph Steph Steph Steph Steph Steph. I long ago ran out of superlatives to describe him, but the superlatives are kind of beside the point now. We rarely see the Human Torch anymore, partly because he draws so much defensive attention, and partly because he figured out over the years that H.T. mode is not how you win. You win by making the people around you better, and he has become supremely good at that.
But he can still take your breath away. As the clock was winding down in the 4th quarter and the Warriors were trying to protect a small lead, he did this:
I wish I could have seen my face at that moment. I’m sure it had a big, dumb smile on it, as it has so many times in the last decade.