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.
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.
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.