A round of applause is in order for the Golden State Warriors. Their dominance in the regular season was a tremendous feat that we probably won't see for another 20 years or so. That's what makes their loss so painful for those closely watching the records. They could've made history instead they're now the top contenders for the "Biggest Letdown In NBA Finals History."
If you're a Warriors fan, let's join hands and scream like Angelica Panganiban in That Thing Called Tadhana: "Ayoko na! Ang sakit sakit! Ayoko na!"
It hurts. We're mere observers, thousands of miles away from the Oracle Arena where the unthinkable had happened but the pain is palpable. Imagine winning all those games, building up this tremendous momentum on the way to the throne, only for the crown to be snatched at the last minute. What a troll LeBron James is. An amazing troll. An incredible troll. A troll for the ages. We bow down to this troll. He was truly sublime, and transcendental. It's hard to hate on him, but this king of chase-downs metaphorically blocked history and its rewriting. You're a horrible person, Mr. James—at least for Warriors supporters, that's the thinking.
Objectively, he laid out a performance for the ages that invalidates all the arguments. Call him a bitch, a flopper, a superstar diva—none of these names carry weight right now. Right now, he is Leonidas, the Spartan King, the chopper of heads, the stabber of torsos, a hero of legend that redirected the course of history. Or as his shirt says: The Ultimate Warrior. (You troll!)
The Golden State Warriors were the Persians, numbering in the millions. #StrengthInNumbers, their battle call goes.
The Warriors descended upon Cleveland in these Finals. No one was going to stop them. They're the Juggernaut at full speed. They're the kings from the West and no one out East had the capability yet to counter them.
That's what the Warriors had believed. It was going to be easy. They were loose and cool, dangerously so. "We're 73-9, the opponents are 57-25," their body language seemed to say. Mathematically, the difference in regular season wins and losses was all the evidence they needed to see to know that this was going to be a short series. They've beaten this team last year and dominated them in the regular season. What's four more victories? For a while, it seemed that way. The Warriors went 3-1, and their confidence only grew. In hindsight, by a little bit too much. We've discussed how impetuous they became in the first few games of the series, not displaying the kind of respect a team should accord to any team that has reached this stage.
Klay Thompson was the biggest culprit. He declared that the Cavs made a mistake drafting that other Thompson (Tristan) instead of him. He openly grumbled about being selected to the All-NBA Third Team and not any higher. He wore a variant of his signature shoes in Game 5, the Anta Klay Thompson 1, called the "Back To Back"—a special edition for their supposed repeat championship.
He mocked LeBron with the arrogance of someone who felt like there was no danger in teasing such a beast. They were 3-1 at the time. Klay tempted the basketball gods. He's one guy but his behavior made us believe there was no one else in the team reeling in his overconfident ways. No one reminded him that the close-out game was going to be the hardest (a statement you constantly hear in the Playoffs because it's true to an extent) and that again, it was going to be an easy last win.
And the basketball gods respondeth: "Hey, these guys deserve a spanking. They aren't acting like champs right now." The first punishment came in the form of Draymond Green being suspended. Many will tell you that James instigated that affair but hey, that's gamesmanship for you. Dray could have behaved in a way that didn't court such attention. Later, Andrew Bogut—a piece that could've helped against James' rim attacks and Tristan Thompson's rabid scavenging—was lost to an injury.
That should even the tide, sayeth the basketball gods. Or as we've just seen, tip it over completely to the Cavaliers' favor. In disrespecting their opponents, the Warriors disrespected the game itself. And as the game giveth, so does it taketh.
The Warriors fought hard this season. Right when they were on the cusp, their eyes grew wide and greedy and their mouths loud and spittle-filled—they had revealed themselves to be unworthy champs. Now, they learn a lesson—the lesson that it can't be that easy.
Since cruising to the championship last year, that had been the case for them. Now, they know it never is. As they try to mount another run next year, they'll live with a kind of pain that Jordan carried before winning it all in his ninth year; like the 2006 Mavericks who were up 2-0 against the underdog Miami Heat before losing the next 4; or the 2011 Miami Heat Superteam who thought they were on their way to the championship—the first of many, they said—before succumbing to the Mavericks.
This difficult experience, now sewn into the team's fabric, should only make them a scarier opponent. (Stephen Curry with an ax to grind? Yikes!) They now know the pain of losing in the Finals, they're still young, and who knows, they might just get lucky enough again next year to go for the big records. So embrace the pain, Warriors, and may it carry you to greater heights next season.
Thank you for what was still an incredible display of basketball.
Image via NBA.com (Stephen Curry) and Complex.com (Klay Thompson)