In 2015, the NBA championship was a miracle. The Warriors, featuring those fresh-faced splash fellows, came outta Oaktown with a swagger and a shimmy and shocked the world.
The 2016 finals were a disappointment. It wasn’t just that the Dubs lost. It was the way it happened, with injury to Steph Curry and a suspension of Draymond Green. LeBron James topped it off by trolling the guys with Halloween tombstones and taunts about blowing a 3-1 lead.
The 2017 title was vindication. Take that, LeBron — a Kevin Durant 3 right in your mug. It was the year they became a super-team, the standard for the league.
And this year has been … a grind.
Don’t take that the wrong way. The Warriors are actually now, as owner Joe Lacob prematurely once said, “light years” ahead of the rest of the league. Until further notice, conversations about the finals will begin with “The Warriors and … ”
We will, and should, revel in the joy of it all. This is a team that doesn’t mutter about who gets the credit or complain about not seeing the ball enough. They cut and move, make an extra pass and have every old-time ball coach in America saying, “Now that’s how this game should be played.”
But call me a crank, I keep thinking back to the end of the season, when some cracks appeared in the smoothest facade in sports.
You’ll recall it was run-out-the-string time in the schedule. The team wasn’t going to have the best record in the Western Conference and didn’t seem to be concerned about it. Since the final games wouldn’t affect playoff standings, they could coast.
And they did, playing some of the worst basketball seen in Oracle Arena since the days of Joe Barry Carroll. They didn’t just look careless; they looked indifferent.
It was finally too much for coach Steve Kerr and he called them out. He rated their effort “pathetic” and an “embarrassment.” It was a real woodshed moment.
And the players basically said, “Nah. We’re good.”
The effort didn’t improve. Kerr made a point to back off his comments and say he didn’t mean to attack anyone’s character.
They nonchalanted their way to the end of the schedule.
It all blew over. And by the way, you know when the players said they’d turn it on when it counted? That when the big games were played, they’d be as fierce and committed as ever?
They were right. Three rings in four years. That’s the answer to that question.
But it was a moment when the team tuned the coach out. Which is always a concern.
Kerr, I will say impartially, is a genius. His handling of these guys — upbeat, smart and hip — is masterful. The system he preaches — ball movement, smart shots and up-tempo — define the success of this team.
But there’s always that fear — particularly with young, fabulously wealthy men — that they get tired of hearing the same voice.
Or, and this may be scarier, that Kerr gets tired of being that voice and decides to take his double handful of championship rings and go into a less stressful line of work.