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 by included in the same paragraph with those Celtics (who won two more titles in 1966–67 and 67–68) 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.
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.
At the beginning of this year’s playoffs, the conventional wisdom was that whoever won the West would hammer whoever came out of the East. And sometimes the conventional wisdom turns out to be right. Last night the Warriors completed a sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers with a definitive, whistle-to-whistle domination on the Cavs’ home court.
And there was much rejoicing. Though maybe not quite as much as last year; one is forced to admit that after three championships in four years, a little bit of the novelty has worn off. When the Champagne (actually Anderson Valley Brut) was gone and the coverage of postgame revelry gave way to local news, the feeling here on Evergreen Avenue was of pleasant exhaustion more than active jubilation.
Do I feel bad about my boys claiming another title when the fans in Houston, in Oklahoma City, in two dozen other cities would give their left arms to see their teams hoist the trophy? Not really. Does any fan ever say, “Enough, please stop winning now.”? If they win three or four more we might be there; but probably not.
On the 4th of July two years ago, when Kevin Durant announced his intention to sign with the Warriors, we knew there would be nights like this. Nights when the Splash Brothers were struggling (3-for-15 combined on threes) and the Warriors were having a hard time putting points on the board.
Two years ago, the Dubs would have lost this game. But last night KD calmly went about his business, scoring 43 points to go with 13 rebounds and 7 assists. Again and again throughout the night he jabbed daggers in, and then with 49 seconds left, he finally hit the heart:
This game unfolded strangely for me and mine, as we had tickets for the Ween show at the Arvest Bank Theatre in Kansas City that was starting just a few minutes after tipoff. The plan was to DVR the game and maintain a news blackout until we could watch it in the A.M., and things were going swimmingly until about an hour into the show. This was when Dean Ween — somewhat randomly, if you ask me, since Ween is from New Jersey — asked the crowd, “Does anybody know the Cavs score?”
I managed to clamp my hands to my ears fast enough to avoid spoilers, but not so lucky was my wife, who around the same time received an unexpected text message from her mother revealing the result. From her subsequent demeanor I gathered there wasn’t much to worry about — but it was still fun to watch Steph Curry slowly tunnel into the Cavaliers’ chest cavity and ever-so-gently pull their hearts out.1Also fun: Hearing the crowd chant “MVP” for J.R. Smith everytime he touched the ball in the first half, by way of thanks for his gave-saving gaffe in Game 1.
Of special note is the shot that occurs about 1:15 into this video, where Steph is moving away from the basket as the shot clock expires, then suddenly turns and tosses up an apparent prayer that swishes through. What’s truly amazing about it is that if you look close, you can see that it is no accident; he knows exactly what is about to transpire. He gathers himself, pivots on one leg, raises up, and launches a rainbow that doesn’t even ruffle the net.
I long ago ran out of superlatives for this kind of thing, but I never get tired of watching it. I am, on the other hand, just plain tired; I don’t handle this rock’n’roll lifestyle as well as I used to. That’s all for today. Game 3 is Wednesday.