Paradise Lost

On April 13th, 2016, inside the cacophonous building known as Oracle, on the last day of the NBA regular season, the Golden State Warriors played host to a depleted Memphis Grizzlies team in what was the 82nd game of the year. Before this game on a Wednesday night, the Warriors had only lost 9 games. They had tied the iconic ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls 72 win mark. It was one more win for history. Naturally, it was a crazed raucous atmosphere that nearly blew the roof off. Many who were there that night would compare the game to a Game 7 NBA Finals atmosphere, as misplaced and hyperbolic as that comparison was. Blame it on the alcohol.

History in the regular season can’t match the electricity or the anxiety of a Game 7 where perfection is the key. No lazy passes. No bad shots. No mistakes on defense. A Game 7 in which everything was on the line wasn’t what everyone said it was. It was 48 minutes of hell; you survived it or you died from it.

April 13th was nothing like that, nothing like June 19th, 2016. In that April game, Steph Curry set the record for 3-point makes, crossing the 400 threshold. He had 46 points. He had yet to be crowned the unanimous MVP. Infamously, Curry said, “who knows how far we can take this thing?”

Two months and seven days later we know the answer to that. The Warriors took it as far as possible before it exploded in their faces. The only celebration of the year in Oakland was that Wednesday night in April.

As Steph Curry was walking off the court, someone told him an incredible thing he couldn’t believe. Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his farewell debut on that same night. Bryant took 50 shots. Curry just shook his head. That seemed unlikely. But not impossible.

Losing a 3-1 lead in the Finals was the reverse. It seemed impossible. And unlikely.

As Curry tried to explain what happened on a Sunday night in June, on his home floor, it sounded a little bit peculiar, the words coming out his mouth. How in the hell did it happen? How did Curry play his worst when it mattered the most?

But back to that April night. After the Warriors broke his hallowed record, Michael Jordan said, “The game of basketball is always evolving and records are made to be broken.”

Records like not winning a title in 52 years. Records like not winning on the road in a Game 7 in almost 40 years. Records like being the first team to come back from a hugely insurmountable deficit.

In April, when the game ended, Draymond Green was pure emotion. “It means I am part of the best team ever. Not many people can say that.”

The Warriors can’t say that either, not after their Finals disaster. They are the best regular season team in NBA history. But there are no rewards for that. No parades. No trophies. No one really gives a damn after today when the Warriors clean out their lockers for the summer. It feels like something has been broken apart and to put it back together again is going to take a lot of amnesia and a lot of effort.

Once upon a time, the Warriors bragged about their revolution and how they were far ahead of every NBA franchise. Dismantled by the Cavaliers old school NBA style where the ball was in iso scorers hands and they dominated, was the bitter ending the Warriors could not change. They couldn’t control the glass with athleticism. Nor were they tougher than the team they played.

This win was supposed to vault the Warriors into the class of the Lakers, Pistons, Rockets, Bulls and Heat, back-to-back champions. Instead they were exposed at the end for what they couldn’t do. Their strength in numbers didn’t amount to much when in Game 7 their bench scored a total of 16 points and Harrison Barnes continued to look like a man exiled to some faraway land. The Warriors were finally put down and by the team they flaunted their greatness over last year who were diminished by injury. This year it was a reversal of fortune. The Warriors injuries and suspension changed the complexion of the series.

Concerning for the franchise is two years in a row Steph Curry has not been the best player in the Finals; he struggled mightily. No one wants to say he choked because he engenders so much love and faith among the tribe but if he played for the Lakers, Spurs, Bulls, Heat, Knicks or Cavs, they would say he didn’t show up for the biggest game in his career. His careless turnovers, his stupid fouls, his lack of energy to will the game and make it his own will haunt him all summer long.

But he won’t be the first to lick his wounds. Lary Bird lost in the NBA Finals. Magic Johnson lost in the NBA Finals. Isiah Thomas lost in the NBA Finals. Patrick Ewing lost in the NBA Finals. Reggie Miller lost in the NBA Finals. Jason Kidd lost in the NBA Finals. Allen Iverson lost in the NBA Finals. Shaquille O’Neal lost in the NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant lost in the NBA Finals. Dirk Nowitzki lost in the NBA Finals. LeBron James lost in the NBA Finals. Kevin Garnett lost in the NBA Finals. Tim Duncan lost in the NBA Finals. Dwyane Wade lost in the NBA Finals.

So it was Steph Curry’s turn.¬†And yet. None of those iconic players who lost in the Finals had a 3-1 lead and collapsed.

This is the truth. The team that made history had history choke them. What hurts most? Giving up a 3-1 lead? Or giving up a 73 win arrogant swagger?

Summer is here for the Warriors. They won the title last year, came up short twelve months later. They were tied with under a minute left but couldn’t make shots. Their jump shooting faltered. Their small ball didn’t get it done. Curry, Thompson and Green never played well together at the same time. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

But it was. It was perfect for 7 months. It was paradise. And then it wasn’t.

 

photo via llananba