Last Friday night I was sitting outside at the Oakland Athletic Club watching My Golden State Warriors thump a hapless-looking Chicago Bulls when Andre Iguodala bent the fabric of spacetime and threw a basketball through it.
In one sense this was just another play in another regular-season game in another long, long NBA season. In another sense it is the most stunning example you will ever see of split-second decision-making combined with physical dexterity and sheer chutzpah. As Willard said of Kurtz, “He just thought it up and did it. What balls.”
If beauty were indeed truth, and truth beauty, I would be sitting here right now writing about how Steph Curry hit a buzzer-beater last night to send the NBA Finals to Game 7. That is undoubtedly the better story.
Things were all set up for it to happen. The Raptors, nursing a 1-point lead in the waning seconds, committed a horrible turnover to give the W’s one last shot. Steph received the pass, got a good look at the basket, and let it fly. It should have been glorious.
Unfortunately, in the timeline I currently find myself in, the shot clanged off the rim and caromed back toward halfcourt. All 10 of the large men in short pants scrambled for the ball; Draymond Green ended up with it and the W’s tried, as one does, to call time out before the clock expired. Unfortunately, they were out of timeouts, which resulted in their being assessed a technical foul. (In basketball this is known as a “Webber.”) And that was pretty much that. The dream was over.
After years of being lucky as well as good, the Warriors found themselves rolling snake eyes over and over in this series. First they brought back Kevin Durant and quickly lost him to a torn Achilles; then in the 3rd quarter last night Klay Thompson went up for a dunk, was fouled in the air by Danny Green, and came down awkwardly on his left knee. After writhing in pain for awhile he headed back to the locker room.
“We’re alive!”, Steph Curry was heard to say as he jogged through the tunnel to the visitors’ locker room after Game 5 of the Finals.
It is true. And so are the Dub Nation’s hopes for a third straight title, after a tense, hard-fought game came down to Kyle Lowry on the left wing in the final seconds, Raptors down one. He rose to take a jump shot that could have won the game, and the trophy, for the Canadian upstarts. But Draymond Green, who was lurking nearby, extended one long arm and brushed the ball, causing it to fall way short. The clock expired and the Warriors lived to fight another day.
This came after the W’s found themselves down 6 with three minutes to play. Toronto had all the momentum and their fans were starting to celebrate — prematurely, as it turned out. It was at this point that Raptors coach Nick Nurse chose to take a timeout — a decision that has been hotly debated all day today by those who care. He says that he wanted to give his team a rest, but he gave the Warriors one too, as well as a much-needed moment of calm amidst the frenzy.
All of Canada and most of America is rejoicing today, after the two-time defending champion Warriors were laid low by the upstart Toronto Raptors. The Raps now lead the series 3–1, and historically such a lead is all but insurmountable.
That “all but” is important, though. Both Warriors fans and haters are acutely aware that back in the 2016 Finals, the W’s held such a lead against Cleveland and let it slip away — a loss both painful (leading to endless mocking memes) and productive (prompting Kevin Durant to join the team).
Speaking of Kevin Durant — a lot is riding on that right calf of his. It’s now been a full month since he sustained what was initially called a “mild sprain,” and has apparently turned out to me more than that. News from the team about the injury has been sparse and cryptic; outside sources reported that he went through a workout before Game 4, that “it did not go well,” and that he “suffered a setback.” All coach Steve Kerr would say was,
“We’re hoping [Durant] can play Game 5 or 6. And everything in between I’ve decided I’m not sharing because it’s just gone haywire. There’s so much going on, and so it doesn’t make sense to continue to talk about it. He’s either going to play or he’s not.”
And I don’t have much more to say either. I don’t necessarily care to talk about the subpar performance by My Personal Savior Steph Curry, who managed 27 points but on 9 of 22 from the field and 2 for 9 on threes in what could end up being his last game at Oracle Arena.
Or not. With or without KD, the Warriors will have to reach deep down inside and find the best version of themselves if they want to win Game 5 in Toronto. In a situation like this you can’t even think about winning the series; you have to focus on what’s right in front of you and hope to live to fight another day. That’s all we can ask for.
Acceptance of what is, and of what must be, is an important life skill. The Dub Nation is getting a chance to practice ours today, after our shorthanded team dropped Game 3 of the NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors.
Kevin Durant remains sidelined almost a month after suffering a “mild calf sprain.” Kevon Looney sustained a season-ending rib injury in Game 2. And Klay Thompson, who tweaked his hamstring the other day, was listed as questionable right up to gametime. “I don’t see myself not playing,” quoth the Klay; but alas, he is a basketball player, not a doctor or a soothsayer. He ended up sitting on the bench, in uniform but inactive, as his team went down double-digits early and never really threatened afterward.
This despite a heroic performance from Steph Curry, who poured in a career-playoff-high 47 points to go with 8 rebounds and 7 assists. But No One Does It Alone — Steph desperately needed some help on offense, and none was forthcoming; only Draymond Green (17) and Andre Iguodala (11) reached double figures.
I had spent three days psychologically preparing myself for the possibility of the Warriors going down 0–2 in the Finals. This would be uncharted territory, and while not a death sentence necessarily, certainly a stiff challenge; but all the omens seemed to be pointing that way.
And at about 8:00 New Orleans time, it was looking like my preparation had been all too necessary — the Dubs were down a dozen and sinking, looking lost on both ends of the floor, scrambling on defense and unable to find shots on offense. I was watching on a smallish screen at a crawfish restaurant, slow-drinking double ryes and chanting my chosen words of self-comfort as despairing texts came in from my friend in Denver, the only fan I know who takes these things harder than I do.
But the W’s battled and scrapped and managed to pull the difference back to 5 at halftime, which seemed like something of a miracle. Then we had to relocate because the restaurant was fixing to close, and by the time we Lyfted to the Bayou Beer Garden and got in front of the screen, the Warriors were ahead by 5. I did a double-take and continued to goggle as the run ballooned to 18–0, turning a 5-point deficit into a 13-point lead.
The Raptors were now the ones looking lost, and the arena full of hopeful Canadians sat in stunned disbelief. My only regret is that I could not actually hear the eerie silence that settled over Toronto in those six glorious minutes.
Mind you, I have nothing against Canada, or Toronto, or even the Raptors per se — it’s not like the Houston Rockets, or the Clippers of old, or the Dallas Cowboys always. But they are the opponent, and so all warm neighborly feelings must be put aside for the nonce; diplomatic relations can be resumed once the series is over.
Which reminds me, His Obamaness was in the audience, which must have helped. He probably didn’t go to the visitors’ locker room at halftime and chant “Yes We Can” with the team, but I’d like to imagine that he did.
But what did actually happen? I’ve been trying to piece it together all day, and especially enjoyed this piece by ESPN’s Jackie McMullen:
The champions cranked into overdrive with such ferocity and cold-blooded efficiency, it was as if the Toronto Raptors were unsuspectingly mugged in a dark alley after midnight.
Never mind that the Golden State Warriors implemented the theft of these NBA Finals under the bright lights of the Scotiabank Arena in front of 19,800 incredulous witnesses wearing red shirts and the stupefied daze of a crowd that just had their wallets swiped. This is what coach Steve Kerr’s team does when it discovers its collective rhythm, feeding off a savage defense that clamps down with impunity, extracts turnovers and transforms them into transition artistry that douses the spirit of even the most resilient opponent.
It seemed that everybody chipped in — Andrew Bogut, Quinn Cook, Jonas Jerebko, and especially DeMarcus “Don’t Call Me Boogie” Cousins, who got the start and responded with 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. And of course Old Pro Andre Iguodala, who got his head half taken off on a Marc Gasol screen in the first half, but was a key cog in the big run and then — after the Raptors had clawed it back to within two with seven seconds left in the game — found himself standing all alone behind the three-point line with the ball in his hands.
Watching Andre shoot is always an adventure. He’s quite capable of making them, and also quite capable of missing badly. You’re never quite sure which Andre you’re going to get.
But in this case it was the good Andre. The shot did a little pas-de-deux with the rim before finally dropping in, and that was that. The drunk Warriors fangirl near us who had been finding and taunting the Raptors boosters throughout the second half stepped it up a notch, and the Dub Nation breathed a big sigh of relief, knowing we’d gotten away with one.
Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney had sustained injuries of unknown severity along the way; Steph Curry had fought off flu-like symptoms and struggled mightily to put 23 points on the board; Iguodala was just plain beat up all over; and the status of Kevin Durant remained a question mark. Despite all that the series is tied 1–1, the next game is in Oakland, and today is a good day to be alive.