They’ve proven they’re good. They’ve shown greatness. But are they legendary?
It seems a little bit over for the Golden State Warriors. The rage, frustration, resentment, if not despair, can be seen in the eyes of the starting five. Eighty-two regular season games taking each team in the league’s best shot like Foreman before his grills, one step over the Houston doormat—plus a speedy, gritty, who’s-next Trailblazers who took the defending champs to the brink in the second round even though it was over in five.
The exhaustion was manifest Sunday during game three of the Western Conference finals in Oklahoma.
The fatigue of wearing the crown for nearly a year was palpable in the team mouthpiece Draymond Green’s crouching tiger, hidden right foot to Thunder center Steven Adams. And it was on the faces of Green’s contemporaries as they looked with vanquished resignation up at the scoreboard to see that they’d been defeated with prejudice—cheap shots and all—133-105 game three loss.
The Warriors are down 2-1.
True to Golden State form, they’ve done a worse job showing up fresh for Sunday matinees than a divorced dad. One needn’t look back any farther than March 6 when the Warriors, then within 10 wins of the regular season record, were dominated by the West’s worst Los Angeles Lakers—losing 112-95 on while shooting a season-worst 13 percent from 3-point range.
“We got what we deserved,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said at the time. “When the ball doesn’t go in, you have to win with energy and defense and toughness, and we didn’t have any of that.”
The same quote could have been uttered by Kerr Monday morning; the Dubs looked like they left their game spinning at the Will Rogers World Airport baggage carousel to arrive at Chesapeake Energy Arena (does that sound like a Ponzi scheme to anyone else?) like a half-deflated neck pillow.
Many are referencing the Warriors’ falling behind by the same count last May to Memphis, but the team is different, the foes are different.
The situation is different.
And the difference(s) are named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant found his stroke late in game two and went on to score 33 like they were warm-up layups Sunday. Westbrook and his extra gear dropped 30 with 12 assists and eight rebounds—most by the middle of the third.
Curry (24) and Klay Thompson (18) led the Warriors, but the messrs Splash combined to shoot only 5-for-19 from beyond the arc. Beyond issuing a kick in the nards, Green was just 1-of-9 from the field.
The Warriors brushed off regular season losses such as these with the nonchalance of champions. They would admit, grinning, that they’d played lazy and didn’t make the extra pass for the open shot. Sometimes they were road-weary.
Sometimes they simply had the yips.
The problem is there is nowhere to hide now; no Sacramento or Phoenix to go home to. The Thunder is here and, before they’re likely parted out in the off-season, they want to eat.
Monday afternoon, N.B.A. officials cleared Kung Fu Draymond to play game four. Smart move. The league and most of its fans want Golden State to rematch with the king and take a shot at a little history—the chance to put themselves in the conversation with the ’65 Celtics, the ’87 Lakers or the ’97 Bulls.
The only difference between those teams and these Warriors are not so much better than their contemporaries that they can simply put on a show en route to the Larry O’Brien. Westbrook is so fast in the lane he should come with an airbag. Durant, when he’s on, is Magic meets Kareem. It’s not just a formidable duo—it may be one of the great pairs to ever don the same jersey at the same time.
The Warriors are gassed. They have only led at the half once this entire playoffs. It’s always a come-from-behind story. A throw it in neutral and try to start it again while cruising down hill going 70. That may work once or twice—but it’s not a sustainable plan.
Allowing the opponent to score 72 points in the first half isn’t either.
So this is it. This is the crossroads. This is where good teams become legendary. This is where the could-have-been-greats turn into a third-round bar trivia answer. Seven wins are all that separates the Warriors from immortality. But like the last seven miles of any marathon, sometimes there’s only enough to finish—finishing strong is a different challenge entirely.