Similarly suffocating as the early morning fog along the Bay Bridge many a day, Kevin Durant was a blinding fugue in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Effective, chilling and without peer on this Monday night, last summer’s free agent who was continually derided and judged, had the last word for anyone thinking this didn’t matter to him, this title of world’s best.
Perhaps the Durant not guilty verdict so slow in coming precipitated the Warriors quiet start that was a reminder of Game 5 last year when they looked frozen and shell shocked without Durant. But the acquisition of Kevin Durant plus a bench that has the capacity for big moments drove the Warriors past their worst moment on this same floor a year ago.
But no one wants to talk about that catastrophe now, that horrific series from Game 5 on that exposed a great secret about Draymond Green’s impact. Silence and going forwards (not backwards) on this glorious night when the Warriors redeemed themselves and regenerated talk about a Warriors dynasty, two titles in three years, was the exclamation point. Perhaps that is the beauty of sports, selective amnesia. Like in life, you just soldier on.
In 2017, in Game 5, there was no Steph injury, no Dray suspension, no deer in the headlights for the first timers: David West and JaVale McGhee. West was pure West through and through, executing his toughness and mettle and ready to throw down.
If being a dynasty is the best of all things, the worst of all things is being a twelve month champion, a one and done, as if luck had something to do with it. The calculation is apparent in how these things are analyzed. You are no longer special because you could not extend excellence and therefore someone in the league has figured you out.
Since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson reinvented professional basketball’s love affair with itself, only two teams have three-peated (Bulls, Lakers). The Golden State Warriors were one Kyrie clutch shot from a three-peat, one missed shot from ecstasy, one made shot from a broken heart. That is their truth. They cannot run from it or tuck it away in some drafty but dark corner never to be spoken of all because they are title holders again.
But no longer can the Warriors be mocked as if they are not great. They are not in the category of the 2004 Pistons and 2006 Heat and 2008 Celtics and 2011 Mavericks. One championship and done. By their own brilliance, the Warriors had a historical regular season and followed it up a year later with a historic playoff season. And a title. While nursing their public fall.
This time last year, the Warriors felt like an anecdote more than a true identity, the answer to a trivia question. Remember that time the Warriors won 73 games? And lost. In the moment of their grand ecstasy one year later, it has been replaced with remember the time no one could beat the Warriors in the playoffs?
The Oscar Robertson clique of Warriors deniers, what they said all along about not trusting a jump shooting team over the long haul because jump shooters have those bad shooting nights, is true. But only if that jump shooting team doesn’t play the best perimeter defense in the league and have four players on the floor at all times that can create, get to the rim, pass out the post, and drain a three.
And even with an abundance of wealth, pressure was the equalizer in a way three point shotmaking never could be. The Warriors had to win this game, they had to twist the knife and express blood when the water was warm. Despite all the reflexive memories of last year, this wasn’t it, wasn’t that 3-1 lead, wasn’t Dead Man Walking Harrison Barnes, wasn’t the Warriors trying to hold on.
It was eerily similar to game 7 theater. Heroes were needed and heroes arrived. The Warriors are no longer Stephen Curry’s team. That seems like a lifetime ago, Kevin Durant not in town. Just as he broke OKC’s heart so it was with The Land. Durant destroyed them. Left their one title in shambles so crumbs were left.
No one knows where this Warriors team can go from here after the parade and a summer with multiple free agents among their core They have stepped out of shallow waters into the raging ocean of exceptional, carried there by Kevin Durant’s 39 points and Steph Curry’s 34 points and 10 assists.
The beginning of a dynasty is waiting for them to take that one last glorious step: repeat.
photo via llananba