Dynasties don’t usually end gracefully. We’ve heard it time and time again, and for the most part, it’s true.
Even by those
standards, what the Golden State Warriors were subjected to over the last week amounted
to cruel and unusual punishment. It would have been one thing to lose the NBA
Finals to the Toronto Raptors because the Raptors were legitimately a better
team. That would have been fine.
But that wasn’t
the case. The Raptors weren’t the better team. They didn’t win the series; the Warriors
lost it. And they lost it because by the end of Game 6 on Thursday, they were
so battered, so beaten up that Quinn Cook was playing pivotal minutes in an elimination
game in the championship.
Cook is a decent player. He can handle the ball well and shoot from deep. He put in an admirable effort given the circumstances. But even on a bad team, Cook might be the sixth or seventh man. On a dynasty like the Warriors, he shouldn’t be sniffing the court in the fourth quarter with the team down 3-2 in the NBA Finals.
That is what
happens, though, when misfortune roars its ugly head.
Kevin Durant was
playing the best basketball of his Hall of Fame career before he hurt his calf
against the Houston Rockets in the second round. Then, to watch him be called
out and criticized for not playing in the Finals despite his injury was
We were all
guilty of this. Durant is easy to pick on because of his perceived insecurity
toward the smallest slights, his social media habits and his attitude, which
can at times be confrontational. And so we questioned his reasons for not
coming back until the Warriors were on the brink of elimination.
All of that made
his Achilles tear even more heartbreaking. Forget this series. Forget that
after his injury, the Warriors’ odds at coming back from a 3-1 deficit were
next to impossible. Forget Durant’s impending free agency. The human side is
far more important. The fact that Durant, who considers basketball his life,
can’t play basketball for the foreseeable future and may never be the same
dominant player again because he came back far too early from a severe injury to
try and save his team from elimination is tragic.
And then Klay
Thompson. We don’t deserve Klay Thompson. We take him for granted at times as
the fourth component of a superteam, the laid-back, low-maintenance sharpshooter
who never complains about his role. He was also playing the best basketball of
his career in the Finals, averaging an absurd 59 percent from three in the
tear in the waning minutes of Game 6 was the knockout blow to a battered and
bruised team that had already been beaten to a pulp. The Warriors withstood
Durant’s injury for as long as they did only because of Thompson’s increased
role, because Draymond Green stepped up and because Stephen Curry reverted back
to MVP form.
withstand one star going down. They couldn’t withstand two. Even if they had
somehow pulled off a miracle in Game 6, they would have been way overmatched in
Game 7. That is the issue with superteams, especially the 2019 Warriors, who
were perhaps the most top-heavy version of the Warriors since their Finals runs
began. No bench player besides Andre Iguodala was a consistent option throughout
the season, and once Iguodala had to start for Durant, Golden State had nothing
on its bench.
There was no way
such a team could prevail against the depth of the Raptors. And that’s the sad
thing: these Warriors weren’t built to sustain injuries. When Durant decided to
sign with the Warriors in the summer of 2016, it was a no-brainer for Bob Myers
to dump Harrison Barnes and let role players like Leandro Barbosa and Marreese
Speights walk. You sacrifice your bench for Kevin Durant, because, well, it’s
Kevin freakin’ Durant.
Nowhere was the
script supposed to call for Durant to be hurt at the wrong time, or for
Thompson to suffer the first major injury of his career when his team needed
him the most. For the better part of five years, the Warriors have been extremely
fortunate with health. All of their key players have stayed on the court, and
for a top-heavy club, that is the most pivotal thing. The best ability is
Ironically, what turned the Warriors into a dynasty wound up potentially ending it. The Warriors aren’t a dynasty if their best players can’t play, because their best players happen to be some of the greatest to ever touch a basketball. The Warriors are good because Durant’s skillset, combined with his length, is unguardable. They are good because Thompson is the perfect ying to Curry’s yang, because he seems to have timely explosions that gave him the nickname “Game 6 Klay.”
and Thompson from the equation and the Warriors are just a normal team that will
struggle to win 50 games next season. Remove those two and there is something
this franchise hasn’t experienced in half a decade: uncertainty. No longer are
the Warriors clear favorites to win the championship. No longer will they
cruise to 20-point wins without breaking a sweat.
And yes, fans of
the other 29 teams will understandably think, “Cry me a river.” Any team will
take three rings in five years. But to have it end like this, with the roof suddenly caving in, the building set on fire
and no water hose in sight — that is the cruel part.
Welcome to uncertainty. It already feels like the depths of hell.
Eric He is a freelance writer and a USC graduate currently interning at the Southern California News Group. He has been Sharks beat writer and covered a variety of Bay Area sports teams for SFBay. His column runs every Monday.