June 19, 2016, 9:38 pm
In this nasty business of writing about two teams — one the winner and one the loser — it’s hard to convey reasons why one team won and one team lost without diminishing the greatness of the losing squad.
The Warriors flirted with being history’s greatest team, possessing unworldly gifts and a flair for the dramatic to go with those record-breaking 73 wins.
But the warning signs were there. The Blazers played them tough and the Warriors just sort of did their thing and we wrote it off as being related to Curry’s knee injury, the rust and the assimilation period.
Then Oklahoma City showed up to an increasingly quiet Oracle Arena and punched them in the mouth in a game they ultimately lost. The Thunder appeared to have more athleticism and more importantly it looked like they held a god key, being able to switch everything the Warriors ran and hang tough.
The Warriors ran their normal stuff with their normal lineups and found themselves in a 3-1 hole. Draymond Green was in the crosshairs as he continually lost his cool, and the Warriors looked somewhat shook. Steve Kerr was no longer being lauded for his lineup decisions and adjustments. Kerr and his players constantly got caught up in the refereeing. They escaped against the Thunder and again — we wrote their problems off and declared them the prohibitive favorites in the Finals.
Across the court stood a Cavs team with no answers for the superior roster that the Warriors have.
Kevin Love would be rendered a non-factor because he isn’t a great fit for the series any way one slices it. Draymond Green, who ran into multiple Thunder players that matched up well with him, was now in a series in which he could flourish. Tristan Thompson wouldn’t be able to handle the Warriors’ switches on the perimeter, let alone Love, and players like Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes would make J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Richard Jefferson look silly. Kyrie Irving would be blanketed by Klay and Curry would not be covered by anybody that the Cavs could throw at him.
Early on it appeared that way.
But as the Warriors were putting the finishing touches on Cleveland in Game 4, and LeBron and Draymond ignored crunch-time action to have a war of words, it became clear that Green had once again struck the family jewels in a dirty manner. As it sunk in that he wasn’t going to get another pass and a suspension was on the way, the cumulative effect of the Warriors’ journey to that point finally set in.
Draymond, for all of his positives, didn’t care if he was more valuable to the team than his ego was to himself. The Cavs, who had seen LeBron misplace his jumpshot and most of their players lose their confidence, suddenly felt like they were playing with house money.
Get a win in Game 5 with no Draymond. Come home. Get a win in Game 6 and now we’re on to something.
Playing at their best now, the Cavs were locked in and like the Thunder did before them, they decided to switch almost everything and take away what the Warriors do best in their flow offense. And just like the Warriors did for the duration of these playoffs, they kept running their normal stuff and tried to do things their way. Steve Kerr continued to use lineups that clearly didn’t work, in particular with Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao — and continued to demand that the Warriors move the ball rather than isolate their best players in winning matchups.
They wanted to play the Warriors way. The way that got them to 73 wins. As if changing would somehow invalidate their stranglehold on greatness.
Maybe they set themselves up for it by aiming for the title of ‘best ever.’ Maybe the egos of the players involved wouldn’t allow for them to hunker down, take good shots and find winning matchups. Maybe they were too caught up in the refereeing and the ‘us against the world’ mentality that can be both empowering and intoxicating. Maybe they simply did not know how to change.
Ultimately we all believe in ourselves and the things that we do and we do so at our own peril. It’s when we test those beliefs that we truly become the best that we can be. The Warriors have all summer to do exactly that.