On one hand, there’s something to be said for trying.
It’s commendable that most of the rest of the NBA’s prospective title contenders — the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder, and even hopeful future challengers like the Minnesota Timberwolves — looked at the Golden State Warriors’ dominant 2016-17 regular season and their stomp through the playoffs en route to a second championship in three years, considered their options, and decided to ante up.
James Harden gets Chris Paul and a cache of new perimeter defenders. Russell Westbrook gets Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward link up with Al Horford. LeBron James gets Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Dwyane Wade. Given the choice between punting and pursuing, the rest of the best — with the notable exception of the San Antonio Spurs, forever content to keep doing their thing their way and winding up with 55-plus wins, thank you very much — chose to compete. There’s something to be said for that.
On the other hand, there is also this to be said for it, from the lips of never-bashful Warriors talisman Draymond Green, in a fantastic interview with GQ’s Clay Skipper:
“They didn’t stand a f*****g chance,” he says of the Cavs, who lost [the 2017 NBA Finals] in five games. “It pissed me off we didn’t sweep them, though.” […]
“It’s so funny sitting back and watching this s***,” he starts, before pausing to pull his phone out of his jeans, looking through the Golden State Warriors’ group chat. (The team has one, and the Hampton Five—Green, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Kevin Durant, the five guys that were in the Hamptons in the summer of 2016 to recruit KD—has another.) He wants to relay something that Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey had said in an interview, reacting to the Warriors’ title. The team had texted it to each other: “They are not unbeatable. There have been bigger upsets in sports history. We are going to keep improving our roster. We are used to long odds. If Golden State makes the odds longer, we might up our risk profile and get even more aggressive. We have something up our sleeve.”
Then he pauses, scoffing at Morey’s comments.
“What the f*** are you talking about?” he says to me. “They are really trying to rethink their whole strategy” — here he bumps a table repeatedly with his hand for emphasis, getting excited — “because teams know they don’t have a f*****g clue.”
Well, yeah, Draymond. That was kind of the whole point of the murderous two-way basketball Voltron that general manager Bob Myers, head coach Steve Kerr and the rest of y’all built.
Stopping an attack that featured two of the greatest 3-point shooters in NBA history and a top-five defense was tough enough, even when the offense focused less on ball and player movement and more about mismatch hunting under Mark Jackson. It became even more difficult when Steve Kerr came into town and installed a more free-flowing, fast-paced scheme that unleashed Curry to become a two-time Most Valuable Player, deployed Green as the modern era’s prototypical playmaking power forward and small-ball center, and established a new standard for basketball excellence.
And after arguably the greatest postseason performance of all time toppled a Dubs team that struggled to generate offense against a locked-in defense with a limited Curry and no other individual isolation creators, Golden State took advantage of a historically unique sequence of events — and some well-timed Draymond recruiting — to land Durant: the perfect antidote for what ailed the offense in the 2016 Finals, a hand-in-glove fit in Warriors lineups both big and small, and the linchpin of the return to the top of the mountain.
This was the point: to become inarguable, irresistible, unsolvable save for acts of the basketball gods like catastrophic injury or impossible performances. More from Skipper:
On a roll now, [Green] remembers the Warriors’ lone playoff loss, in Game 4 of the Finals, when the Cavs sank twenty-four three-pointers, an NBA Finals record.
“That’d never been done!” Green exclaims. “They don’t come out and hit twenty-four threes and they’re swept. And that’s the second best team in the world. It’s pretty f*****g sick to see how everybody is just in a f*****g panic about what to do. You sit back and think, like, these motherf*****s, they know. That’s the fun part about it: They know they don’t stand a chance.”
That’s not how they see it, of course. LeBron James will never view himself as an underdog in any matchup, game or series, because that’s not how monarchs think. Gregg Popovich knows that his team’s been able to bully Golden State out of its comfort zone at times, and that San Antonio had a 25-point lead at Oracle Arena in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals before some unfortunate Zaza-ing, and he’s eager for another shot with a fully ambulatory Kawhi Leonard. All of the other All-NBA players and talented coaches who’ve gotten together in outposts across the map have at least some belief that, with full health and perfect execution and a break here and there, they can at least be in the fight.
Sometimes, though, all “being in the fight” means is that you’re seconds away from being knocked out. From a third-quarter Curry explosion that leaves you down 15 and staring at the lights. From Klay scoring 60 in 29 minutes on 11 dribbles. From Durant, somehow now a damn-near All-NBA center, bossing the game on both ends. From Draymond blowing up your sets, again and again, before rampaging downhill like a freight train with faulty brakes, finishing through traffic and flexing his way into your nightmares.
That’s what it’s like to go up against these Warriors, and that’s why 93 percent of the NBA’s general managers, and an even higher share of NBA fans and observers, are picking a repeat. Sure, it’s obvious and self-evident. But so are these Warriors — a team that had the NBA’s No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense, won 67 games and a championship, and expects to be better this time around with more depth and better continuity in Year 2 with Durant in the fold. That was the plan all along, and it’s coming to fruition, and it’s left the rest of the league scrambling to try to figure out what the hell they’re supposed to do next.
While they do that, Draymond Green’s going to sit back and smile at 29 other teams trying to rake leaves in a whirlwind. Then he’s going to get up and start making his way back to the Promised Land.
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