Legends of the fall

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Sunday night, the Golden State Warriors played themselves into the zenith of greatest collapses in professional sports history. Below, a breakdown of how it happened.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

As exhausted mentally and physically as the Warriors are, there is no other team in the league more ready for next season to begin. While to a person the members of the greatest regular season team in history have the resources to go to an island far far away and shut it all down — including the social medias — the dream that collapsed in front of them over three short games will still occupy the empty chair in the corner of the room.

The analysts will analyze and the pundits will pontificate — but for me, I hope the Warriors choose to leave the 2015-’16 season like a failed relationship that should have been but never was. At times they were perfection, but nothing gold(en) can stay. The ones that are meant to be give you courage to get out there and keep running even when you’ve got nothing left. And this season, ultimately, was not meant to be.

Their car is packed with boxes of books and Hefty bags full of T-shirts they never wear and the key is turned in.

But before they go, a few final thoughts on the greatest season of all time that never was.

Steve Kerr needs to do some soul searching:

Kerr showed flashes of passion and brilliance this post-season. He weathered a very young, very physical group in Portland mostly without the services of his MVP. He brought his team back from the brink of self destruction and a 1-3 deficit to a quick and able OKC. He lost the team’s heart in Draymond Green to suspension and did not point fingers. But up 3-1 in the Finals, you have to close, period. And he did not.

Kerr’s offensive set pieces were not working from the opening tip of Game 5. And instead of rotating till he found the right combination — a strategy he’s become masterful at — he stuck with Harrison Barnes, watched in dismay as Andrew Bogut got hurt, completely forgot about Brandon Rush and Marreese Speights and refused to show the same kind of clipboard-breaking urgency that he did in Game 1 to get his team passing and moving in transition again.

It was as if he let the squad become cardboard cutouts of themselves.

Luke Walton, who can, like Kerr, execute the triangle offense, was over the course of the season the more relatable of the two coaches. They were a one-two punch and Walton did his best to step up when needed (see: 28 straight wins to start the season.) But when they needed him most, Kerr did not deliver.

Kerr’s post game speech was emblematic of the kind of drained and outmatched look he wore during the final twelve quarters: “I’m not sure I learned more from one thing than the other. You go through the whole season, you play, you compete, you do your best. We had a phenomenal season. Obviously we did something that’s never been done before. Couldn’t finish it off. It’s not about learning anything or life lessons or anything like that. The only thing it is about is getting better as a team, and that’s what we’ll try to do next year.”

Kerr simply wasn’t fiery and available when it counted or when he was being counted on. He was coming off a major back surgery in the offseason and running his team into the red for virtually 24 months straight. But the last two games was when his prowess and wisdom from the bench mattered and he resembled every bit the sophomore coach he is.

The record will reflect that Tyronn Lue bested him. And no offense to Lue or his accomplishments as a nice complement to field marshal LeBron James, but Cleveland’s current headmaster falls somewhere on the coaching spectrum between Kurt Rambis and Jason Kidd. In other words, Kerr just lost a tennis match to his little sister. Sure he may have spotted her a couple sets, but when it came time to get serious, he had nothing but double faults and volleys into the net.

The Lacob Curse:

I’ve written about it before but Warriors’ owner Joe Lacob’s hubris got the best of him when he was quoted in the NYT Magazine earlier this season saying things like: “The great, great venture capitalists who built company after company, that’s not an accident. And none of this is an accident, either.” And, “We’ve crushed them on the basketball court, and we’re going to for years because of the way we’ve built this team. We’re light-years ahead of probably every other team in structure, in planning, in how we’re going to go about things. We’re going to be a handful for the rest of the N.B.A. to deal with for a long time.”

Lacob made his money as a partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. KPCB is a Menlo Park-based VC firm and Lacob funds mostly medical technology practice start-ups. He’s also led the firm’s investment of large online presences that don’t make money including AutoTrader.com and Sportsline.

Other investments that have yet to turn a profit on Lacob’s watch include GloriOil, in microbial enhanced oil recovery, and SunDrop Fuels, a company turning biomass and natural gas into clean fuels. The Warriors are likely his only profitable venture.

Everything else is a neoliberal VC shell game of buying/selling properties, using federal grants for research then attempting to sell that technology back to the government and moving around the bottom line to make it pencil out for the board and investors. But there really is no there there. No problems being solved and no real money being made. Lacob’s quotes clearly reflect the desires of a man self-possessed. His next move, win or lose, is to take the team out of Oakland and move it to San Francisco. And everyone knows today’s San Francisco comes with plenty of small plates but no soul.

But being the ultimate VC master of the universe, Lacob will find a way to spin it — after all, he wins when he loses.

And he is now the face of professional sports’ latest curse. The clock started Sunday.

Don’t blame Harrison Barnes:

It is easy to point the finger at Harrison Barnes’ futile-to-the-point-of-conspiracy-theory cold snap the last three games — he was a combined 5 for 32 shooting, and missed 20 of his last 23 two-pointers. Or, to put it differently, if Barnes sees just six more shots fall to shoot 30 percent the Warriors win two of the last three games.

But one should resist blaming it solely on Barnes.

Barnes is well-liked and well-regarded both by his peers and the organization, but the former first-rounder is also in a contract year and seems to be the scapegoat. The team needs to move some salaries and start fresh next year, so that’s fine. Just remember that Barnes was getting so many looks because the ENTIRE offense was sputtering.

I can only recall two or three occasions over the last three games that the Warriors weren’t bringing (walking) the ball up with Cleveland already set. This resulted in Steph Curry doing what James did the first four games: standing at the top of the key, trying to create and either a) making a terrible pass that either rolled off someone’s foot or sailed out of bounds. Note to Kerr, please fine every Warrior that makes a behind-the-back pass from now on b) shooting from well beyond the arc, which is fine if you’re regular Steph Curry, not OK if you have no knees Steph Curry or c) trying to get the ball rotation going with seven seconds on the shot clock.

Often times Barnes, who got more bad looks than good, was the man left holding the ball as time ran out. He shot when he had to shoot, but in the end, his dismal outing was a reflection of the Warriors simply not playing their brand of ball and an indicator of a top-down systemic breakdown.

Steph Curry is human:

Maybe we all got a little ahead of ourselves with the Steph Curry coronation. Maybe he shouldn’t have released his stephmojis till after the finals (or at least maybe he can add a couple in the offseason, including the mouth guard toss and the get out of James’s house rejection.)

…And sure those geriatric Under Armour Chefs released during the Finals are just DARING fans to second-guess his decision to not sign with Nike…(or even British Knights….In fact, they’re probably the worst superstar shoe vehicle since Karl Malone’s L.A. Gear collection. Woof.)

The reality is, Curry was playing hurt. Maybe he didn’t show it with his overtime flourish his first game back all adrenaline-addled against Portland, but there were times during the OKC series and especially the waning moments of these Finals when he was playing at half speed, at best.

It was as if he gave his quicks away to his wife’s Twitter feed.

Kyrie Irving may not be human:

Not enough credit can be given to Irving and the amount of clutch he was this Finals. He defended like a Tiger Mom, selected shots as if they were engagement rings and was more complementary to James than his headband.

The Cavs’ point guard, who fractured his kneecap a year ago in Oakland, also sunk the final dagger into the Warrior faithful with a net-caressing three in winning time to seal the series with 53 seconds left — over Curry.

Announcer Mark Jackson, still not over the sting of being ousted as Warriors HC two seasons ago, had a nice anecdote about the 24-year-old Irving taking over in one of his son’s high school Christmas tournaments. As then, Irving was quickest to the ball all series and as soon as he and James decided to pick up the pace, he seemed to be finding every spot, defending every shot and grabbing every board. He was everything the Warriors had been all season — and everything they were not when it counted most.

The N.B.A. front office capitulates to James:

Do not adopt the new narrative of the Cavs being the greatest comeback team in N.B.A Finals history without acknowledging that they got the most generous gift from the front office in league history — and the league in return got 30+ million viewers for Game 7, a threshold not reached in almost two decades.

After a no-call skirmish between Golden State forward Draymond Green and James in Game 4, the league, almost 36 hours after James requested a review in the postgame, suspended Green.

The problem is in real time, James was equally (if not more so) at fault knocking Green to the floor then stepping over him in the most “muthafuck you” of all basketball moves. Green, getting up, shook his arm toward James. In slo-mo it looks like Green is swinging at James’s junk, but reaction plays like that aren’t meant to be reviewed in slo-mo. His arms were flailing as he was being dissed. That’s it.

Green received a flagrant foul which means he did it with intent or that James’s health and safety were put in peril. Not true in either case.

Green’s absence from Game 5 threw the entire Warriors’ team off for at least eight quarters. Finally, in the first half Sunday, Green was fully back and dialed from outside while battling down low. If the Warriors had gone to close out, Green’s suspension would have still been noteworthy, but now it takes on added significance as it appears Adam Silver dictated the tone of this series with opaque strings.

While we’re talking rule book, James is the Bob Ross of using his shoulders to bump, nudge, barrel through and brush basically everyone off the court. He creates unfair advantages, space and, well, a rhythm all his own. I’ve already said enough about the lopsided reffing and its overall influence by calling it for the Cavs prior to games 6 and 7, but the league should consider a deli sandwich punch card foul system “LeBron Rule.” After every 10 violations, the refs are mandated to blow the whistle for a ‘free’ foul against James. That may not level the hard court entirely, but it will go a long way to prevent me from having to stand up and yell at the TV every other possession.

This: #chroniclecurse

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Cry me a burning river for your so-called ‘dry-spell’ Northern Ohio:

Sure, it’s been a half-century-plus between professional franchise titles, but Northern Ohio has at the same time been home to one of the most dominant, prominent — and professional programs in the land.

Since the greater Cleveland area last hoisted a store-bought trophy for one of its big-three (Indians, Cavs and Browns) THE Ohio State university has won an unprecedented 23 conference titles and four national championships in football and has also been to the NCAA basketball tournament 23 times, scrapped to 11 final fours and won it all (’60, close enough) once. Now, I know Columbus is a couple hours south of Sandusky’s biggest ‘burb, but for Ohioans to say they haven’t tasted victory since the year The Beatles debuted on Sullivan is a statement as egregious as most Buckeyes’ sense of entitlement.

…But at least all of Northern Ohio had a good excuse — for the first time in decades — as to why they weren’t working Monday.

There will be no more talk of Warriors Basketball here till at least Halloween.

photo: sfgate.com

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. My take away was Curry is the MVP, but Bogut is the piece that’s hardest for the Warriors to actually replace when he’s out. The moment the Cavs took off was the moment there was no fear of having their shot blocked in the paint.

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