An ode to the Golden State Warriors
People, suspiciously in my opinion, seem to delight in the mighty being brought low. The Golden State Warriors, for the past five years, have brought a whole new meaning to the word mighty.
In the last half a decade they have produced something we’ve never, ever witnessed on an NBA floor. The level of dominance, the shattered records, the wins are all just one side of the story. The longer-lasting, somehow more impressive aspect is the style with which they’ve done it. In just a few short years the Warriors reinvented a century-old game. They plunged so deeply into the unimaginable that the very league itself warped its way around them in an effort to play copycat. If we cast our minds back to 2014, just five years ago, the way teams played then looks like a different era entirely. It’s been that fast.
The Warriors have been momentous, been revolutionary, been awe-inspiring. And finally, they’ve been stopped.
Last Thursday Night, in the final game to be played in the home of the basketball renaissance, Oracle Arena, the Golden State Warriors lost game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors, ending their quest for a three-peat and four championships in five years. That is a hard blow to deal with for anyone, but the Warriors had so much more to bear. Not only had they already lost Kevin Durant to an Achilles tear in the previous game but Klay Thompson, Game 6 extraordinaire and official flamethrower during this game, went down with a torn ACL in the middle of his amazing run. It was another punch to a deflated Warriors squad, adding to the bumps and bruises of Durant, Kevon Looney and Demarcus Cousins.
That is to take nothing away from the Raptors, who certainly earned their title instead of it being handed to them and are enjoying their championship parade on this very day, but the biggest takeaway from the end of Game 6 was how, even after this latest hurdle -one which they likely knew sealed their fate- they did not give in. Think how easy it would have been for the beaten and weary Warriors to roll over and allow the inevitable to take them. They’ve got more than enough injuries to excuse them. They’ve all been playing into mid-June for five years straight. There are already three championships to their name; no damage can be done to their place in history. Just let it happen.
But no, the Warriors did battle.
And it almost worked. There was a shot to win it at the end of Game 6. Something close to an offensive rebound. Three of them dived on a loose ball…but then called a timeout they didn’t have. With 0.9 left on the clock. (Calling a timeout with none left constitutes a technical foul, giving one free throw and then possession to the other team. Ironically it was the only thing that could have given the Warriors even a sniff of overtime, but was almost certainly their death knoll too). What happened next was a perfect representation of what makes this team so special in the first place.
Steve Kerr, Warriors coach, leader and grand architect, calmly walks towards Draymond Green and Steph Curry as the frenzy of the loose ball stops – and you can see this perfectly on the broadcast- he nods to Draymond and says something like “yup”, likely confirming that they are out of timeouts, and as it settles on the two players what is happening he puts his arms around both and says something that looks like “It’s OK.”
The pride is beaming on his face, even with the heartbreaking loss, even with two devastating injuries waiting to be dealt with. Steve Kerr, in the same way as his mentor and former coach Gregg Popovich, has the approach worked out. It’s a basketball game, not life. They are proud, they fought till the end, and if this is the signal of their dynasty waving goodbye, they are secure in the knowledge they were part of one of -if not the- most special team in NBA history. Curry and Green, the only two Warriors stars capable of standing on both legs, share a smile with their coach. They know what they put in. They know they deserve to be proud.
It is no surprise Steve Kerr walks so closely in Gregg Popovich’s footsteps. We see it in the aura of the team, but we’ve it even more brazenly in their play. Easy as it is to think of Golden State as three guys who are absolute machines from behind the three-point line, one need only actually watch their offenses from the past few years to figure it out. Their offense is about movement, cutting, sharing the ball. Far from the hero-ball antics of a James Harden or Carmelo Anthony, far from the singularly focused teams of Milwaukee with Giannis or, previously, the Cavs with Lebron, this is a team that would be accused of over-passing, if anything. It is beautiful, beautiful basketball to watch. It is basketball as it’s supposed to be played. The closest comparison would be the last western team other than themselves to make the Finals: The 2014 Spurs.
That 2014 squad might have actually been the perfect iteration of basketball. The Warriors were able to take their fluidity, their unselfishness, their team-first approach and then add unimaginable firepower to it. The Warriors at their 73-win peak or 2017 dominance were as much concerned with great defence as they were deep three-pointers, but the structure of it all was the loose, sharing, fun offense they installed. None of it would work without Curry, so singular a player that rookies for years will be slated as “The Next Steph Curry” whenever they can shoot a bit. It wouldn’t work without Klay Thompson, the ultimate pass-it-back-out option. It certainly would fall to pieces without Draymond Green, one of the greatest glue guys we’ve ever been lucky enough to see. That is not to mention the timely and perfect additions by bench presences like Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, or the many-headed centre rotations of the past five years.
And none of it would work without Steve Kerr either. His demeanor and approach seems to mesh perfectly with Curry’s, while his competitiveness and desire to win sit well with Green. Between them all they created a phenomenon most sports fans have never seen before, and I suppose I just wanted to use this little platform as a place to say thank you. Am I saying thanks for beating Lebron three-out-of-four times in the Finals? Yes, absolutely I am, because I really appreciate it, but I’m grateful for more than that. For people who’ve been watching the league as long as I eras and times will eventually solidify in your memory, often times matching up with the time periods of your own life. Certainly, there is no way I will forget the kind of basketball the past five years have given me. There has been nothing like it in my viewing lifetime, and though I remain a life-long Spurs fan (Grr 2017 Western Conference Finals) I appreciate good basketball when I see it. Steve Kerr and co gave it to me in bunches, so thank you.
Glory often has to end for people to call it glory. The Warriors aren’t subject to that. We knew how good they were once Kerr took the reigns. But we also love to recognise an ending, which is odd. The Warriors still exist. Kerr, Curry and Green will all be starting afresh in their new stadium come October. There’s a good chance Thompson might join them. Maybe Durant too. But so eager are people to put a bookend on their dynasty. Would a lack of injuries make people feel different? Probably, but it seems kind of fitting anyway.
Oracle is going. Anthony Davis is moving to L.A. The free agency class of the decade is coming up. I think perhaps the gods are just aligning and trying to remind me of my mortality? I already wrote a few months ago that everything seems to be ending…Game of Thrones, the Avengers, the Star Wars trilogy, now the Golden State Warriors too? Oh! And Tony Parker has retired. So really all that’s left to me is Gregg Popovich (fine by me!). I suppose that is the nature of things.
Then again, the nature of things once was that taking three-pointers five feet behind the line was a good way to get benched. It was thinking that firing up three after three after three was a good way to get beat. It was playing a lineup without a seven-footer was a death sentence.
Nature changes, and is done so by the mighty.
The Golden State Warriors have been mighty for the past five years, much to our luck. It takes something to be mighty. It takes even more to be mighty and keep the right attitude. It’s something the Spurs have been able to do for twenty years. Let’s see how long the Warriors can keep it up, and what they’ll do next.