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Lowell Cohn: More than just a trophy riding on Game 7 for Warriors

OAKLAND - Steve Kerr didn't like the Failure Question. This was on Saturday when I asked if this season will be a failure if the Warriors don't win the championship in Game 7.

“Failure” wasn't my word. After the Warriors got murdered in Game 6, Klay Thompson said, if the Warriors don't take the title, “we'd feel like we failed.”

Stephen Curry had this to say when I asked if not winning the title would mean failure. “Yeah, pretty much because that was our goal from the beginning. We're here in Game 7. We've had two chances already and haven't gotten it done. Forty-eight minutes to do it. If we come up short, we'll all be very, very disappointed. No two ways around that.”

To recap, Thompson and Curry, two fairly prominent Warriors, consider losing the championship a failure. Now look at this interaction between Kerr and me.

Me: “Steve, after Game 6, Klay Thompson said if you guys don't win this championship, the season will be a failure. Do you feel that way?”

Kerr: “Yeah, but you guys suckered him into that question.”

Me: “I didn't.”

Kerr: “Somebody did. I think it's an unfair question, and I think it's insane. With all due respect to Klay, it's insane to actually say that. Like, really? Come on.”

Me: “There is a lot at stake in this game. Do you think any reputations are at stake, yours, No. 30, the franchise?”

Kerr: “Sure. Reputations from the critics, and that's all part of this machine the NBA is, and that's why we all make a lot of money. That's why it doesn't bother me. So everybody's reputation is at stake in terms of legacy and what people write, but in terms of the people that matter - your family members, your friends, your teammates, the people in the organization - nobody's reputation is at stake.

“We're trying to win a game, and it doesn't change anything about anybody on either team, win or lose. It changes the narrative from the media, and that's the deal we accept when we sign up for this stuff.”

Gee, I must have hit a nerve. For starters, when a reporter asked Thompson the Failure Question, it was not tricky. Here's the question: “After winning 73 games and being up 3-1 in this series, will it be a failed season if you do not win Game 7?”

It was a blunt question, a pointed question. But please show me the trick, the misleading language. And the media doesn't invent the narrative of this series - who wins or loses. The games tell their own narrative.

Kerr overreacted. Doesn't matter. He's an admirable person. When he discusses basketball, he says, “It's just a game.” This disclaimer is his preeminent thought, one he often expressed in the playoffs. He means the world presents things of far greater import than hoops - life and death, war and peace, wellbeing and illness, love and heartbreak, wealth and poverty.

Kerr's wisdom is what we admire about him. And he's right. Game 7 is just a basketball game. But never has a game meant this much in the history of basketball games.

The meaning of the Warriors' season comes down to this one game. The lasting significance of the season is yet to be determined. The Warriors have played 105 games, have decided nothing. Everything good and bad is out there waiting for the outcome of Game 7.

The Warriors' place as the best team in NBA history awaits them along with their place as an epic, monumental flop. The Warriors could be back-to-back champs, or a team that won more regular-season games than any other team and had a finals locked up and couldn't close the deal. Thirty-two teams led 3-1 in the finals and every one took the championship. What an embarrassment if the Warriors become the only team to blow a 3-1 lead.

Even though it's a “mere” basketball game, Game 7 has transcendent importance for the Warriors. It defines a group of players, a coach and his staff, the stature of a sports enterprise, the hopes of a fan base and the nature of a dream.

If they lose Game 7, the Warriors' first championship will be a whisper in the wind. A passing fad. People have compared the Warriors to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. Lose this game, all comparisons are off. Everything the Warriors have accomplished and failed at is just raw material, has no lasting meaning. These finals have been great drama, but drama without an explanation, shape or resolution. It all gets resolved in Game 7. All meanings become permanent.

And in spite of Kerr's passionate disclaimer, reputations will rise or fall. Kerr will be the hero who missed the first half of the season with a debilitating back problem and triumphed in spite of it. Or he'll be the nice guy who got outcoached by Ty Lue.

Ty Who?

Lots riding on this game for Kerr. Ditto for Curry.

Until Game 6, Curry was the golden child of the NBA. Then he threw his mouthpiece, hit a fan and got run out of the arena. Sad to see. He looked like an entitled brat. But if the Warriors win, the Affair of the Mouthpiece will become a humorous incident in Curry Lore.

Everything still to be determined.

Curry understands what the game means. “I need to take it up another notch for Game 7,” he said, “and that's what the greats do.”

Curry is challenging himself to be Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James. It's what the greats do.

I'll leave you with this Curry quote: “The only thing that matters is we have one game left. If we're standing on a podium tomorrow, who cares how we got there? We got there.”

And changed every possible negative into the biggest positives in NBA history. Not bad for just a game.

You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.coh@.pressdemocrat.com.

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