The Golden State Warriors got too fresh.
And they are now paying the price, a do-or-die Game 7 staring them in the face. It shouldn't have come to this. These are the Warriors, a team of destiny, set on establishing the new gold standard, a recognition the 1996 Bulls have held for so long. After two games in this series, the Warriors were supposed to cruise to the championship. The real Finals was the Western Conference Finals against OKC, and the Cavs were a mere formality. Durant was crying in the shower—"We would have beaten this Cavs team!"
Now, it's down to a veritable coin flip. It's a scramble to the finish line. The Warriors remain a mighty squad despite the recent slide. The Cavaliers have been able to win on the road. Remember those ladder matches in the WWE where fighters climb a ladder to reach the belt hanging from the top? This series has become just that with both heavyweights pulling out all manners of crazy, comical stunts to grab the elusive prize. LeBron James' back-to-back 41-point performance is the proverbial steel-chair-to-the-head just when the Warriors thought they had the belt in their hand.
Why has this script become so theatrical, and the plot twists so twisty? It's partly because the Warriors allowed it. They were acting in ways unbecoming of a champion.
In Game 2, Stephen Curry had his silly celebrations. In reaction to his team's bombardment of the Cavs, Curry leaned back on his chair and dished out a flurry of threes to the heavens like a rapper flinging dollar bills from his palm. In another instance, he covered his face with a towel, lying on the bench in seeming disbelief. It's not murder, but these celebratory moves don't seem like grounded behavior. In other words, they were buying into their own hype a little too early. "We'd just come back from a 3-1 deficit against a championship-caliber Thunder team; ain't no one beating us now! This is going to be easy," the celebrations seem to say.
In Game 4 of the 2011 NBA Western Conference Finals, Kevin Durant mimed placing imaginary championship belts on his waist after putting his Thunder up by 15 points against the Mavericks with five minutes to go. The Mavs came back to beat them, 112-105, in overtime. Later, in Game 2 of the that year's Finals, the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade knocked down a three to put his Heat up by 15 with seven minutes to go. He held his shooting hand up high long after the shot went down, and LeBron rushed in to feign punches into his shooting guard's chest. The Mavs also came back, and eventually won the trophy.
There is no evidence that says your team loses if you celebrate prematurely. But it just might make a team think that it's going to be easy from here on out. On a stage as big as the Finals, a team can't allow itself to think that. That other team is in the Finals for a reason and that reason is because they're also pretty fucking good. Can't forget that.
Curry's running mate, Klay Thompson, may have forgotten. After Game 2, the sharpshooter was caught on tape saying "We're better than the Showtime Lakers," after being asked if they could beat said team. Reports clarified that the declaration was done in a humorous light, as if Klay were giving reporters the answer they wanted—and well, his dad Mychal, a Showtime member, was in the room. He scored brownie points from the media...and lost a few of them from the Basketball Gods.
Showtime legend Magic Johnson said no, they'd beat the Warriors. Klay's dad, Mychal, disagreed with Magic. Maybe the joke flew over Magic's head, cooking up a small distraction for Klay, but a distraction nonetheless. Klay was comparing his team to a dynasty—at a time when they still had to beat a real, living team twice before they could get to their second championship.
Magic and his Lakers have five championships.
Beyond the Splash Brothers, Draymond Green was talking with certainty as well. After Game 5, he said, "I have a strong belief if I played in Game 5, we win." It's a sensible, well-worded reply. He returned for Game 6, and they still lost. It was a reminder from the Basketball Gods: Don't be too sure.
The Warriors seemed too sure. That they're playing in a Game 7 should be enough of a reminder that nothing truly is—even if you're a record-setting team. It's the toughest test yet for the NBA's biggest story in 2016. Right now, the 73-9 record doesn't matter nor do comparisons to historic teams. Right now, it's just two really, really good basketball teams needing to outscore each other in the next game. The sooner Golden State realizes that, the better they'll play.
Lose, and Cleveland gets to serve history's biggest humblepie as The Team That Beat What Could've Been The Greatest Team In NBA History.