On a Saturday night in a hostile arena colored blue, with everything on the line-their title, their pride, their 73 win season- the Golden State Warriors hung around as Klay Thompson was the best player on the floor. The underrated shooting guard gave the Warriors the opportunity to be the Warriors at the end. In the last five minutes, the Warriors created turnovers. They created space. They fed off of confidence. They drilled tough shots. They rotated and defended and had quick hands and executed their offense and suffocated on defense. In other words, the Warriors reintroduced the public to their biography, as if to say, don’t you know who we are?
They are the defending champions. Everything that has defined them these past eleven months, heart, persistence, perseverance, trust, faith, teamwork, created a tsunami. The Thunder scored 5 points in 5 minutes. The Warriors scored 19 points in 5 minutes. They scored more points in the last 5 minutes than the Thunder scored the entire quarter.
There are two lasting images that linger in the aftermath of the Warriors display and the Thunder’s choke. The Warriors trusted the Warriors all the way to the end, while Kevin Durant trusted no one. As simplistic as that is as an explanation to what the hell happened, it is the truth. It is the gulf that separates the two teams apart from their geographic location and personnel. It is their basic fundamental difference. We vs. Me.
That said, let’s give the Warriors credit for their ability to stay attached to their principles. Under pressure, in a situation with high stress, when things were bleak, they didn’t flip the script. No one went rogue. No one looked at the situation as I have to save my team. No one forgot why the Warriors are who they are. They continued as planned. If it worked and they could climb out a 13 point hole, then they would win. If not, then they would lose. The Warriors go out the same way they come in; they use the same door.
It sounds overly simplistic and a no-brainer but when everything is on the line, and you are not playing the best ball of your life and when you have “appropriate fear”, which is what Klay Thompson called the emotional tenseness surrounding the game, there is a tendency to do too much. The Warriors are not constructed that way. Steph Curry is great but he never goes hero. Klay Thompson is magnificent but he doesn’t try to make the game be about him. Draymond Green is relentless but he can slip into moments when impulses take over; his humility after the fact doesn’t result in a barrage of shots. It is in the Warriors DNA. Wait. Be Patient. Our turn is coming.
Kevin Durant? Not so much.
Durant was trying too hard to win the game and not have a game 7 in Oakland. He failed on every level. In fact, considering everything that was at stake, this was a career worst game for Durant. On the most important night, he needed generosity. He needed trust. He needed calmness. He needed pace. But what he ended up being in the two plus hours of the biggest game in four years was erratic, selfish, anxious and negligent. The Thunder trusted him and he failed them. Now he has to live with what his performance wrought, packing up and going to the Bay and facing a raucous Oracle crowd and trying to erase the imagery.
We remember what we see last. The last thing we saw was unacceptable-Kevin Durant damaging his team, over and over and over again.
And so here we are after two weeks and a great conference final, the best since the Kings and Lakers went to a game 7 in 2002. Then, one team was the defending champ and the other team was thirsty. The game 7 home team was the ball sharing, selfless, it’s all about us not about me team, while the other team was iconic and had two superstars, the two best players in the league. The difference was the two superstars showed up in a big moment AND Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal allowed Rick Fox and Robert Horry and Derek Fisher to be a part of game 7, to thrive.
Not that they needed any more evidence, but the Warriors, last night, lived up to their reputation as the best team money didn’t buy. Because money can’t buy chemistry. Money can’t buy trust. Money can’t buy relentlessness. Money can’t buy poise. Heart and conviction and the habits of a defending champion who embraced the “appropriate fear” of the moment was on center stage in Oklahoma City. Because of it, game 7 is what the Warriors earned.
The Warriors last playoff game 7 was a loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles. Two years later, they are here. Win, and a trip to the NBA Finals is yours. Win, and a 73 win season is legitimized. Win, and get a chance at back-to-back titles.
Simple enough. Even when it’s not.
photo via llananba